JONATHAN CHAIT APRIL 1, 2010
Good column from Jill Lawrence:
Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican nominee John McCain called himself a political maverick with "the record and the scars" to prove it, in contrast to a rival he portrayed as a spineless party man who never challenged Democratic leaders or interest groups. At this point, as President Obama launches a new era of offshore oil and gas drilling, the two men have largely reversed roles.
McCain, facing competition from the right in the Arizona GOP Senate primary, has abandoned his past as a champion of comprehensive immigration reform and climate change legislation. He has turned against the TARP bank bailout (which he supported when he was a presidential candidate). And he went along with his party in saying no to the Democrats' economic stimulus and health reform bills.
Obama, on the other hand, seems to be annoying an increasingly broad swath of his party.
Lawrence ticks off numerous examples. Now, to be sure, the difference is mostly in the positions the two men find themselves in: Obama needs to deal with a Senate where conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans hold swing votes, and McCain is fending off a right-wing primary challenge. Still, acknowledging that fact itself undermines McCain's contention that his breaks with his party, most of them occurring from 2000-2003, were a mark of character. If they were a mark of character, then his current behavior suggests that McCain lacks character. But I think the evidence suggests that reading characterological traits into "maverick" votes is, at best, a wildly overstated exercise.