I can’t spell it out better than David Zincavage.
John Sidney McCain III comes from a three-generation career Navy family. His father and his grandfather were both four-star admirals. His family’s roots are in Mississippi. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958, making him part of the older-than-Baby-Boom generation. He served in combat in Vietnam. He was imprisoned and tortured by the Communists, and behaved exceptionally honorably in refusing early release from his captivity.
Later, he became a friend of Texas Senator John Tower, who encouraged him to go into politics. He settled in Arizona at the time of his second marriage, and became personally involved with the business community in Phoenix. He was elected to the House of Representatives, and later to the Senate with Barry Goldwater’s support, and currently occupies Barry Goldwater’s former seat.
By birth, background, education, career, culture, and associations, you would expect John McCain to be a rock-ribbed conservative and a loyal Republican. Unfortunately, he has been anything but either of the above.
John McCain has supported Gun Control, Electoral Advertising Control, and Environmentalist nonsense. He has, since the 1970s when he assisted John Kerry in ending POW/MIA inquiries and normalizing relations with Vietnam, been a frequent supporter of liberal foreign policy preferences and perspectives. In recent years, almost any time the Senate vote on a controversial polarizing issue was close, John McCain was right in there, voting with the democrats.
Thinking about why McCain so commonly, and so unaccountably, takes the liberal side, I am forced to conclude that his class rank at Annapolis was not an accident, he really is a stupid man.
American Conservatism, after all, takes in general comparatively unpopular positions, resists facile solutions, sweeping measures, and emotional appeals. Conservatives are skeptics concerning conventional wisdom and the consensus of the media. Conservatives are the purists of American government, the critics on behalf of Constitutionalism and the defenders of the fundamental theory of American republicanism.
And Conservatism, outside fiscal areas, has little appeal to John McCain. He is always perfectly willing to brush aside the fine points of the meaning of the Bill of Rights and individual rights theory. One tends to suspect that the rigid authoritarianism of the Naval Academy and the unlimited command authority ruling over military life seem normal and natural to John McCain.
While Conservative theory and fundamentalist Constitutionalism have little influence on him, when the voice of what Thomas Sowell likes to refer to as “the Elect” is heard speaking from the high ground of the Establishment media, John McCain typically comes eagerly to attention. Even on military issues, like the non-reciprocal extension of Geneva Convention privileges to violators of all the laws of war, McCain marches at the Establishment’s command and vigorously defends their position.
Here, I think, one detects in John McCain’s behavior another recognizable military cultural meme, that of the apple-polishing subaltern jumping to obey the orders and loyally following the flag of his Senior Officer in Command, from whom all good things –including promotion– flow. John McCain’s commander in recent years has obviously been the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
And that, I think, explains John McCain. He’s a just-not-very-deep guy, who recognizes the power of the liberal establishment and naturally defers to it. He is not loyal to us, and he is not one of us.