In 1998, while speaking at a Republican fundraiser, John McCain cracked a joke:
Q: Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?
A: Because her father is Janet Reno.
Two years later, during his first presidential bid, McCain said "I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live." He later apologized, insisting that he was referring only to his captors, and not all Vietnamese people.
Now, I don't buy for one second that John McCain is a racist (ask his daughter Bridget if he judges people by the color of their skin). Nor do I begrudge him a mean-spirited joke at the expense of a seventeen-year-old girl. Hell, I love a good mean-spirited joke. For instance:
Q: Why did John McCain cross the road?
A: Because he's an adulterer.
But I'm troubled by the fact that McCain didn't think twice about saying these things publicly. He may be old and wise in the ways of Washington, but he's continued to demonstrate a serious lack of judgment when it comes to choosing his words.
For instance, when the press called McCain out for his 2007 "bomb Iran" Beach Boys cover, his response was "lighten up and get a life." When asked if he was worried that he was being insensitive, McCain answered "insensitive to what -- the Iranians?" and snickered, as if there was nothing wrong with insulting Iran -- a country we were (and are) trying to avoid a war with. The lesson? When given the chance to back off his comments and take a more reasoned approach, McCain chose to fire the afterburners and add insult to injury.
In many ways, he reminds me of another "Maverick" America once fell in love with. Like the Senator, this Maverick was a fighter pilot. And like the Senator, he operated on pure instinct. Said and did whatever came to mind. Played volleyball with gorgeous, glistening men. Oh sure, he was fun to watch. But in the end, he got his best friend Goose killed and lost the top spot to a more disciplined pilot.
Mavericks make for great fictional characters. But this is the real world. A dangerous, complicated world where the president's every utterance has real consequences. Sometimes, those consequences are economic, as when President Bush switched the words "deflation" and "devaluation" and sent Asian markets tumbling. Sometimes, those consequences are American lives.
John McCain is a great man. A hero. Only the blindly partisan would deny him that respect. But he's the wrong man. America doesn't need another maverick...
America needs an Iceman.