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Even as it seems like the defections of former McCain fangirls in the punditocracy like Joe Klein and Richard Cohen that previously constituted his "base" are becoming practically happenstance now as the conventional wisdom shifts away from the maverick myth to that McCain has "changed" there was yet another devastating rebuke of McCain from a former supporter on Tuesday that caused my jaw to literally [/joebiden] drop.

It was ELIZABETH DREW writing in Politico today in her stunning and personal piece "How McCain Lost Me."

Why is this stunning? And who is this Elizabeth Drew person?

Only the woman who had as big a role as anyone in inventing the myth of John McCain as "the maverick" modern-day Teddy Roosevelt in her fawning 2002 account of his crusade for campaign finance reform:


Drew starts out with a confession:

I have been a longtime admirer of John McCain. During the 2000 Republican presidential primaries I publicly defended McCain against the pro-Bush Republicans’ whisper campaign that he was too unstable to be president (aware though I was that he had a temper). Two years later I published a positive book about him, "Citizen McCain."

That book's narrative is shaped around the author's total support for and trust in purported maverick centrist John McCain and his friends (and disdain for the Tom DeLayish Republicans and some Democrats) on his bid for campaign finance reform.

The reason it's a worthwhile journalistic read is the amazing ACCESS that Drew has in her reporting into all of the personalities and backroom negotiations that went into drafting BCRA.


In fact in the acknowledgments she offers lengthy appreciation and praise for several McCain staffers by name and says

McCain himself was enormously patient with me --- especially when I persisted in trying to know the various levels on which he functioned and thought --- as well as extremely generous with his time.

Now with that context, back to the Politico piece...

After a few paragraphs mournfully eulogizing the old honorable John McCain, Drew gets to the heart of the matter:

While McCain’s movement to the center was widely popular (if not on the right) – and he even flirted with becoming a Democrat – there’s now strong reason to question whether it was anything but a temporary, expedient tactic.


In moving to the right, McCain began to trouble Drew with his caves to right wing conservatives on not just campaign finance reform but also torture and she even began wondering if that Bush "whisper campaign" about McCain's temperament issues in 2000 had some merit.

He seemed disturbingly bellicose. He gave the Iraq war unflagging support no matter the facts. He still talks about "winning" the war, though George W. Bush gave that up some time ago. As the war became increasingly unpopular, he employed the useful technique of blaming its execution rather than recognizing the misconceptions that had led him to be one of the most enthusiastic champions of the war in the first place.

Similarly, in making a big issue of having backed the surge (and simplifying the reasons for its apparent success), he preempts debate on the very idea of the war. He has talked (and sung) loosely about attacking Iran. More recently, he oversimplified this summer’s events in Georgia and made intemperate remarks about Russia, about which he’s been more belligerent than the administration for some time. (He has his own set of neocons.)  

Drew doesn't excuse or even agree with the logic behind the political considerations that led to him embracing the Republican base to win this election.


I had already concluded that that there was a disturbingly erratic side of McCain’s nature. There’s a certain lack of seriousness in him. And he does not appear to be a reflective man, or very interested in domestic issues. One cannot imagine him ruminating late into the night about, say, how to educate and train Americans for the new global and technological challenges.

Elizabeth Drew no longer is certain she knows who John McCain is and she doesn't like who she thinks he is.

Despite that in 2002 she was so enamored of McCain's work on the passage of BCRA in the Senate that she wrote of McCain that "one man, through his determination, guts, steadiness, political acumen, and feel for the American people's better nature made it happen."

Now, in 2008, she writes:

McCain’s recent conduct of his campaign – his willingness to lie repeatedly (including in his acceptance speech) and to play Russian roulette with the vice-presidency, in order to fulfill his long-held ambition – has reinforced my earlier, and growing, sense that John McCain is not a principled man.


I agree. I just wish you and the "liberal" media had figured this out sooner, Elizabeth.


Quit reading here if not interested in an egotistical pat on the back about how I knew Elizabeth Drew got played FOUR YEARS before she realized it.


Now if you're wondering why the heck I as a lifelong Democrat and an Obama supporter spent so much time reading and thinking about the work of a McCainiac --- it's because I had to.

When I took a class on campaign finance at the University of Illinois at Springfield in the fall semester of 2004, it was required reading of the professor, Ron Michaelson (a really brilliant teacher).

So much so that what I learned, discussed and read in his class really stuck with me. Especially because as I was taking his class I was watching the implications of McCain's campaign finance reform bill play out with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth derailing the presidential bid of John Kerry.

So when I saw on Tuesday that Elizabeth Drew, of all people, was now bringing McCain to task my first instinct was to go back and re-read what I wrote about Citizen McCain for that final exam. In December 2004.

Here's an excerpt:

Even after Congress passes BCRA, McCain never seems certain whether the president will sign off on campaign finance reform, but I feel like Drew doesn’t do enough critical thinking and writing when examining why McCain pushes so hard on campaign finance reform in spite of this. It also seems unfathomable to her that the Democratic leaders maybe, just maybe, got the campaign finance reform bill through Congress with the hopes of an unpopular Bush veto being something they could use to get Democratic votes in the midterm elections.

Drew believes that McCain and others push for campaign reform because they think it is right. I don’t think she does a good enough job showing that this is indisputably the case with McCain, rather than him trying to advance his own stature for another possible presidential run.

Yep, I called it. FOUR YEARS AGO.

And for the non-existent person who wants to know EVEN MORE of what I think about Elizabeth Drew and John McCain here's my analysis of the general thrust of Citizen McCain in full that looks at not just how McCain used campaign finance reform to advance his career politically but also stuff like how it screwed over his closest ally on campaign finance reform --- Tom Daschle:

  1. Citizen McCain

Citizen McCain gave a very informative, comprehensive insider’s perspective of John McCain’s crusade for campaign finance reform between November 2000 and November 2002. The very favorable portrait of McCain presented by Elizabeth Drew tries to cast him as a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt Populist figure. He is shown to be a man who is very principled and independent-minded, but also practical in the way that he is able to reach deals with moderate Republicans and some Democrats and the way he uses the media to generate public support for campaign finance reform.

Drew uses her truly amazing access to paint a full and vivid picture of McCain’s pursuit of campaign finance reform, but reading it I wondered if the access affected her objectivity in writing this book. At times the amount of praise she throws at McCain and the amount of passing scorn she shows for other Washingtonians doesn’t really advance the narrative, but just serves to build up McCain as this century’s Teddy Roosevelt, which I don’t see him being. I’m sure that without McCain, campaign finance reform would not have passed in 2002, but it took the work of others to stand beside McCain as well so I’m not sure that Drew gives them as much credit for that as they deserve.

After Tom Daschle’s loss in South Dakota, you have to wonder if the Republican Party would have targeted him the way they did had he not stood with McCain and if he could have defeated John Thune had he ran the campaign under the old campaign finance laws. It is clear that without Daschle, McCain would not have been able to keep his Senate Democrat coalition of campaign finance reformers together.

Drew starts the book when Bush has just been elected president narrowly and the country is wondering if Bush and Congress will be more centrist and bipartisan than they have been in recent years because of the tightness of Bush’s victory. McCain seizes on all the attention focused on the previous election to try and finally push through his campaign finance reform agenda.

In previous years, House members had passed campaign finance reform with their fingers crossed that the Senate would block the reforms, so this time McCain decided to start out in the Senate. McCain saw a lot of resistance to campaign reform from members of his own Republican party, with longtime opponent of reform, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, providing the heartiest opposition and pushing for alternative campaign finance reforms like Chuck Hagel’s that would codify soft money in the campaign finance law. McCain would not accept these alternative reform proposals and found a great ally in Democratic Leader Tom Daschle when it came to campaign finance reform.

In the Democrats’ support of BCRA, they were actually putting themselves at a campaign fundraising disadvantage as soft money had been what kept them so competitive during the Clinton years. Republicans tried to exploit this fact when it came to the Black Caucus’ concerns about get-out-the-vote efforts being hampered, but those folks were brought back into the fold due to the efforts of Dick Gephardt, who was also a great ally of McCain’s. Republicans also tried to rile up the most progressive of Democrats, ones like Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, with plans to increase hard money contribution limits. When these things didn’t work to break up the reformer coalition, the House Republicans refused to call McCain-Feingold to the floor until they were forced with a petition. Drew said Republicans were adamantly opposed to BCRA because they still feared Democrats’ power over labor unions, which just seemed funny to me considering how unions have weakened so much in the past two decades. I also was left uncertain whether McConnell and some others opposed to BCRA truly believed that BCRA violated the First Amendment.

McCain’s push for BCRA was halted suddenly with the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Drew gushes over McCain’s leadership after Sept. 11 and even remarks that the Arizona Republican "offered more leadership than the president." Maybe that is how things seemed to her being with McCain day in and day out. But as an American outside of Washington thinking about the events after Sept. 11 and leadership, I remember Bush standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center and nothing that McCain said or did in the days following the terrorist attacks. In this portion of the narrative, Drew seemed to be letting a little anti-Bush bias get in the way of telling events as they really happened. McCain lays off campaign finance reform for a while after Sept. 11, and instead pushes for national security concerns like making airport security workers federal employees. This issue and the tax cuts favored by Bush put cracks in the surface of bipartisanship that showed up after the terrorist attacks, but McCain doesn’t stop working with legislators based on where they stand on issues rather than their party affiliation. In January of 2002 McCain finally gets the signatures he needs to force Denny Hastert to call the campaign finance reform bill and Republicans begin realizing that fighting BCRA is hopeless so give up.

Even after Congress passes BCRA, McCain never seems certain whether the president will sign off on campaign finance reform, but I feel like Drew doesn’t do enough critical thinking and writing when examining why McCain pushes so hard on campaign finance reform in spite of this. It also seems unfathomable to her that the Democratic leaders maybe, just maybe, got the campaign finance reform bill through Congress with the hopes of an unpopular Bush veto being something they could use to get Democratic votes in the midterm elections.

Drew believes that McCain and others push for campaign reform because they think it is right. I don’t think she does a good enough showing that this is indisputably the case with McCain, rather than him trying to advance his own stature for another possible presidential run. I also think there has to be some psychological satisfaction for McCain in getting that bill through Congress whether the president signs it or not, because he gets to force the man that defeated him in the Republican primary into signing something his campaign doesn’t really care for just because McCain made it politically unpopular for him to veto BCRA.

In her conclusion, Drew seems to be aware that the reform bill isn’t perfect and that those in Congress know the bill isn’t perfect, but she gives little hint at what possible problems might come up. It’s also funny now looking at her conclusion so laudatory of McCain for this campaign finance reform bill that was basically rendered a moot point very quickly with all the money flowing into the 527s and both candidates opting out of public financing in the 2004 primaries. I would have liked to have seen more about what Congress thought might happen in the future and whether McCain would push for more reform knowing that what he got passed was not a "perfect" bill. I also find it interesting that it was Democrats, not Republicans, that aided McCain in getting his huge popularity and stature when it came to passing campaign finance reform, yet McCain remained a good soldier of the Republican Party during Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 – even as the Republican Party targeted McCain’s ally, Democrat Tom Daschle in his South Dakota Senate race.

Originally posted to modemocrat on Thu Sep 18, 2008 at 03:52 AM PDT.

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