Some day, somebody, somewhere will need to explain to me why in the world the Washington press corps still pays attention to John McCain.
For the umpteenth time since he became irrelevant, he is inexplicably garnering press attention — this time, because he’s in hyperbolic overdrive about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
In his mind, the Obama administration has apparently perpetrated some sort of crime/coverup that should rank with Watergate and 9/11 on the scandal meter.
Although, actually, the alleged deceptions about Benghazi seem far more important to McCain than our 9/11 intelligence failures ever did, given the fact that he never got this grumpy after 3,000 Americans were killed on George W. Bush’s watch. He never went after Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the way he’s gunning for our current U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice. As a frequent guest this week on the complicit cable networks, McCain has fulminated that Obama’s Rice, in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, “went out and told the American people something that was patently false and defied common sense” — even though it’s well documented that she was merely repeating the CIA’s best early intel, that the attack seemed more spontaneous than terrorist-inspired.
And if McCain had bothered to attend a private Senate briefing yesterday — a session conducted by the director of National Intelligence, the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and senior military leaders — he would have learned that, even now, the U.S. is still not quite sure who or what triggered the attack. As one U.S. official told a reporter at day’s end, “You had people there (outside the Benghazi building) doing a mix of things with a mix of motivations.” But McCain was way too busy going on TV and lapping up more ill-deserved attention. But he wants that attention on his terms only. When a CNN producer asked him why he hadn’t gone to the briefing, he did his get-off-my-lawn number: “I have no comment about my schedule and I’m not going to comment on how I spend my time to the media. Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment and who the hell are you to tell me I can or not?”Hey, dude, show a little gratitude, why don’t ya? Count your blessings that the press comes your way in the first place.
Because, seriously, why at this point does John McCain rate more than a second glance? Who cares what he thinks anymore? Why is he a Sunday show regular, as ubiquitous on that morning as bacon and eggs? He’s a failed presidential candidate who lost by the biggest popular vote margin of any Republican since 1964. (If “failed presidential candidate” was truly a credential for the Sunday shows, we’d be getting Michael Dukakis twice a month.) But McCain’s ’08 washout is hardly his only disqualifier. He has been on Capitol Hill for 31 years, yet in all that time, he has successfully authored one major law — campaign finance reform, which has since been dismantled by the high court. He’s a member of the minority Senate party, he isn’t part of the minority leadership team (no surprise there, because he and the minority leadership team have little rapport), many of his Republican colleagues dismiss him as a grandstanding showhorse, and — worst of all — the stuff he says is often preposterous.
Two random examples: Remember what happened in 2008, when Russia launched military attacks on the nearby nation of Georgia? McCain quickly declared, “We are all Georgians,” and, having swallowed the neocon Kool Aid, he agitated for a U.S. confrontation with Russia. Ninety nine percent of Americans couldn’t find Georgia on a map, but McCain, in hothead mode, was already jonesing to put us there. And remember in 2010 how McCain behaved when the Senate finally eradicated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and voted to allow gays to serve openly? He fumed that his colleagues were acting “in direct repudiation of the message of the American people” and grumped that repeal of the gays-in-the-closet law would spark “high fives all over the liberal bastions of America,” and in “the salons of Georgetown” — whereas, in reality, landslide polling majorities supported repeal. He also insisted that open gay service would wreck the military, a prediction that he seems to have conveniently forgotten. On that issue, he was history’s roadkill.
And yet, despite everything, McCain is still front and center on cable and the Sunday shows. And here’s my best guess why:
Washington journalists are suckers for Republicans who give them the time of day.
McCain has worked the press hard since the ’80s, providing a lot of access, saying lots of unscripted stuff on the record, and, as a result (in the words of Chris Matthews), “The press loves McCain, we’re his base.” The press loved him back when he was allegedly so mavericky, and they love him now when he’s so provocatively grumpy. Whether he’s making any sense about Benghazi, and whether he’s just playing out his anger at losing to Obama – hey, what’s the difference. If he opens his mouth, it’s deemed to be news.
So, ultimately, this is not about McCain at all. This is really about how Washington works, and I use that verb advisedly.
The good news about the 2012 super PAC explosion is that a lot of rich people wasted a lot of money. Tbe bad news is that the super PACs are here to stay, and the 2016 money bazaar could be even bigger. My Friday newspaper column is here.
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