You can sense the mutual hurt feelings in the headline of this front-page New York Times story: “Once a Rebel, McCain Now Walks the Party Line”.
The Times is lamenting, twice over, John McCain Version 3.0:
Absent is the maverick who bucked his party on the environment and campaign finance, and verbally towel-snapped Republicans and Democrats alike on the Senate floor.
Gone, too, is the far-right leaning Mr. McCain of 2010, who found himself in a primary fight back home that caused him to retreat from his stances on immigration and global warming.
Now he’s just another predictable blowhard who “walks largely in step with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader with whom he previously had an adversarial relationship that went all the way to the Supreme Court.”
McCain, too, is bitter. The Times notes parenthetically that “Mr. McCain, who disputed some coverage of him by The New York Times during the 2008 campaign, has a policy of not speaking directly to reporters from The Times.”
In retrospect, it’s clear the relationship between McCain and the mainstream media was one of dysfunctional co-dependence. By bucking the party line on issues like immigration, climate change, and campaign finance, McCain garnered a reputation for seriousness, despite sheepishly admitting at one point that “I don’t know as much about the economy as I should.” In turn, McCain’s media-courting centrism gave the media a handy cudgel with which to pound Republicans as extremists.
Of course, the most damaging outcome of this codependent relationship was that it gave McCain cover for his foreign-policy bellicosity. Here was the “extremism,” if you will, lying in plain view. In the heady days of the Kosovo air campaign, McCain (the “de facto secretary of state,” Bill Kristol would call him then) criticized the Clinton administration for “stumbl[ing] into war without adequate planning.” The Bush administration vigorously sprinted into war without adequate planning — and with McCain’s enthusiastic support. (He eventually came to criticize the Bush administration, especially Donald Rumseld, for its prosecution of the war — far too late and with more than a hint of opportunism.)
The mainstream media glorified a maverick who, basking in that glory, glorified war: That’s the costly legacy of a love affair for whose end we should all be grateful.