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Requiem for a Maverick

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John McCain and Sarah Palin, after all, represented two completely different approaches to Republican conservatism. McCain comes from the school of politicking that goes after as many votes as possible by waving a flag and saying as little as possible, which is to say he was basically a third-way Democrat with a Goldwater fetish. His basic plan heading into the general election seemed strikingly similar to that of the dipshit vice president character from the uninspiring but weirdly prescient Chris Rock movie Head of State, who ran on a platform of "I've been vice president for the last eight years, I'm a war hero and I'm Sharon Stone's cousin."

McCain's shtick wasn't exactly that, but it was close. He was a war hero who married an heiress to a beer distributorship and had been in the Senate since the Mesozoic Era. His greatest strength as a politician had up until this year been his ability to "reach across the aisle," a quality that in the modern Republican Party was normally about as popular as open bisexuality. His presence atop the ticket this year was evidence of profound anxiety within the party about its chances in the general election. After eight disastrous years of Bush, they thought they had lost the middle — so they picked a middling guy to get it back.

Which made sense, right up until the moment when they stuck him with Pinochet in heels for a running mate. Sarah Palin would have been a brilliant choice as a presidential nominee — and she will be, in 2012, when she leads the inevitable Republican counter-revolution against Obama's presidency. She's a classic divide-and-conquer politician, an unapologetic Witch Hunter and True Believer with a gift for whipping up the mob against the infidel. In a way that even George W. Bush never was, she is Karl Rove's wet dream, the Osama bin Laden of soccer moms, crusading against germs, communism, atheism and other such unclean elements strictly banned by American law.

Palin is exactly the kind of all-or-nothing fundamentalist to whom the career of John McCain had long existed as a kind of sneering counterargument. Up until this year, McCain had firmly rejected the emotional imperatives implicit in Bush-Rove-Gingrich conservatism, in which the relentless demonizing of liberals and liberalism was even more important than policy. While other Republicans were crusading against gay marriage in 2004, McCain bashed a proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment, calling it "antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans." While the president and other Republicans wrapped their arms around the Falwells of the world, McCain blasted those preachers as "agents of intolerance." He talked of seeing the hand of God when he hiked in the Grand Canyon, but insisted loudly that he believed in evolution. He even, for Christ's sake, supported a ban on commercial whaling. If there's anything that a decent Republican knows without being told, it's that whales are a liberal constituency.

But McCain didn't care. Back then, his political survival didn't depend on keeping voters artificially geeked up on fear and hatred for Mexicans or biology teachers or other such subversives. He was, after all, a war hero, and Sharon Stone's cousin.

In short, McCain entered this election season being the worst thing that anyone can be, in the eyes of the Rove-school Republicans: Different. Independent. His own man. He exited the campaign on his knees, all his dignity gone, having handed the White House to the hated liberals after spending the last months of the race with numb-nuts Sarah Palin on his arm and Karl Rove's cock in his mouth. Even if you wanted to vote for him, you didn't know who you were voting for. The old McCain? The new McCain? Neither? Both?

On Election Night, even those at McCain's farewell party seem to sense that their candidate had taken a seriously wrong turn. "It might have been better if he hadn't tried to appease the hardcore conservatives so much," sighs Tawnya Pfitzer, a 36-year-old Arizona doctor. "I think he should have concentrated on what made him who he is."

Maybe. But it probably wouldn't have made a difference.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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