Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mavericks and myths

The image of the maverick runs through the American consciousness. Originally a calf that had been separated from the herd, from its mother, and which, if they made it to adulthood were wild and unpredictable, being branded a maverick has become almost an endorsement for a politician. I use that turn of language, being branded a maverick, with full knowledge that a true maverick was not branded, ran free, belonged to no one.

The lore of the West is filled with tales of the lone trapper, explorer, miner who got uncomfortable when civilization got too close and moved on, preferring a lonely freedom to controlled comradery.

You can learn a lot be examining three politicians who were either labeled as mavericks by others or who have consciously sought to position themselves as such.

At the top of any list of political mavericks, you would surely find Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey. It would almost seem that the term was invented to describe him. He is now most well known for three things: helping to draft the Endangered Species Act, being one of the co-chairs of the first Earth Day and being the first member of Congress to call for Nixon to step down as Watergate unfolded around him.

Still, the manner in which he did these things indicates that his acts were those which arose out of an innate sense of what was truly the right thing to do. His decisions often followed long periods of worrying a subject but often came very quickly and once the rationale clicked into place, were followed by almost immediate action in which he did not falter. Anyone writing about him now should take care to read Lou Cannon's The McCloskey Challenge if you can find a copy. It is amazing how a book that dealt with Pete's challenge to Nixon comes so close to defining the manner in which he took on Richard Pombo and, most recently, left the Republican Party after his family had been California Republicans since James Buchanan was president.

Then, there is John McCain. Like McCloskey, he is a veteran having had to learn to survive in unthinkable circumstances. McCain has taken care to brand himself as a maverick, from the first days of the straight talk express. He always seems to talk straight from the heart and seems to love taking on the power structure.

But, you get the sense that this is truly branding at work. There are just too many times when that talk that makes up his image and the things that he actually does just do not match. In particular, I was astounded to that McCain would spend such an effort to support Pombo, even though they agreed on almost nothing. When it is for the good of the party, when it is for McCain taking the next step up, principles do not matter as much and the self anointed maverick, McCain goes back to the herd.

Even McCain's old "Straight Talk America" web site in now just johnmccain.com.

The other example of the maverick is Dana Rohrabacher. Except, while consciously grooming the image of the maverick he has only succeed in making himself colorful, and a pale reflection of even McCain at that. The idea that the Congressman for Huntington Beach who actually surfs is about as colorful as it gets. Unfortunately that is about as colorful as Rohrabacher get also.

When this country needs serious discussion about our direction, we get feeble jokes. When we need to understand what our government is doing for us... or to us... we get a Congressman whose staff can't even keep his own web site up to date, or he hasn't made a vote since the summer of '05.

If we in the West love our mavericks, you just know that McCloskey is the real thing, that McCain is trying to be and that Rohrabacher is for the dude ranch.

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