‘Maverick’ and ‘Reformer’?

We’re told the John McCain, the Republican candidate for President, is a ‘maverick’ who won’t necessarily follow the traditional Republican orthodoxy, and a ‘reformer’ who will stop corruption. After eight years of Our Fearless Leader, it sounds like a refreshing change. But is it?

McCain was long known as a hell-raiser who wanted his own way. In the Naval Academy, he graduated near the bottom of his class, not so much for poor grades, but for accruing large numbers of demerits for breaking the rules. Nobody has said this, but I will: could it be that the flippant and careless attitude that he had towards the Academy rules carried forward to his active duty, and was part of the reason he was captured by the enemy?

In 2000, McCain ran a moderate Republican candidate, and was derailed in one of the early primaries, in South Carolina, by an aggressive smear campaign. In early 2001, he even contemplated leaving the Republican party. But since then, he has followed the Republican line very closely. Today, despite the ‘maverick’ persona, he is a clone of Our Fearless Leader in terms of his actual decisions.

Through 2007 and early 2008, his candidacy for President seemed moribund, but then it was suddenly resuscitated. Perhaps the Republican leadership realized that there would be a backlash in their base against voting for a Mormon (Romney), and that they would have difficulty getting swing voters to go for a former preacher (Huckabee). McCain still had the glow of being a contrarian, even though he wasn’t any more, and he’s old, and could be expected to delegate much of the work of being President to his subordinates.

As far has his actual tendencies as a reformer, he is against ‘pork-barrel’ politics, where politicians get money voted for their favorite projects. It’s the closest that one can come to legally sticking one’s hand in the cookie jar of public money, and it’s odious.

Until you consider the alternative. In the wake of the initial destruction of the Iraq war, we spent billions of dollars to rebuild the place. As a practical matter, we had the moral responsibility to do that after busting the place up. Since there is no Congressional district that covers Iraq, this was not an instance of pork. No one stood up in Congress and said that Baghdad needed a new generator for its airport.

Instead, the money was dished out through an army of bureaucrats, without clear guidelines. Large firms with political ties snared the biggest contracts. Phantom contractors appeared to take the money and run. (I missed my calling: why do I have to work hard to function as a real contractor in New York City, when I could have easily been a fake one in Iraq?) Much of the work was poorly constructed, and over half the money was effectively pissed away, with nothing to show for it.

And this is better than pork-barrel spending…how?

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