In his May 23 online column, "The Upside of Anger," Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman wrote that he "can't blame" Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his propensity toward angry outbursts because "his courage forever is being tested by his bad luck." Fineman lauded the 24-year Capitol Hill veteran as an "outsider" and furthered the baseless media narrative that McCain is a different type of candidate, writing that McCain "seems uncomfortable" pandering or "overcompensates by being too enthusiastic."
Fineman also wrote, "The war, of course, has been disastrously run, which isn't [McCain's] fault" -- even though McCain voted in 2002 to give President Bush the authorization to begin the Iraq war and has had oversight responsibilities as a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee for the entire four-plus years of the conflict. As Media Matters for America has noted, The Hill reported in April 2006 that McCain deferred to Bush by not recommending that then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld resign, stating instead that the decision on removing Rumsfeld was Bush's alone.
Fineman's column included two examples of McCain's "courage": his continuing support for the Iraq war and for immigration reform. But in both cases, Fineman himself observed that McCain may simply be stuck with unpopular positions he's taken publicly. On the war, Fineman noted, "Having come this far with Bush, it would be difficult for him to withdraw from the role ... of cheerleader in chief for the president's policy in Iraq." Fineman also wrote: "It's the same story with immigration reform. He has devoted years to it. ... Maybe he has no choice but to stick with it."
Fineman is not the first Newsweek staffer to attempt to portray McCain's campaign stumbles as virtues. As Media Matters noted, Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas wrote a May 14 cover story about McCain's "profile in courage," noting that McCain "is not the front runner in fundraising." His explanation for McCain's poor showing was that McCain "is not, at heart, a politician. He is a warrior."
From Fineman's May 23 Newsweek column:
In other words, Romney was a pampered phony. It was funny, in a biting way, the McCain we reporters came to know and love: Popeye McCain busting Dudley Do-Right with a tattooed fist.
The Romneyans didn't find it amusing. Said one at the top of the command structure (who should have had the guts to attach his name to his comments): "That's what happens to a guy of McCain's age when he doesn't take his Metamucil. I don't think he is the kind of angry fellow we want to let alone with the nuclear arsenal."
McCain has lived this movie before, which is why he is angry, and I can't blame him. His courage forever is being tested by his bad luck.
McCain rarely mentions that he, too, is a Son Of: third-generation Annapolis grad and namesake of admirals. But he is entitled to feel like an outsider. Six years in a POW camp during Vietnam gives you that right. His rise has been pretty much self-propelled.
At 70, he feels that this should be his time. He has valid reasons for thinking so. He waited his turn in the traditional Republican fashion. We are in the midst of a slow-motion war, and McCain is a warrior. He knows the world, its dangers and wonders; he knows the military, its powers and its limitations. He knows Washington. He has a big campaign organization, and substantive knowledge of most every issue.
He deserves credit for courage, too. Yes, he has pandered to the Bush crowd and religious conservatives (though he seems uncomfortable doing it, or overcompensates by being too enthusiastic, and all in all looks like he is following a dance-step chart).
Having come this far with Bush, it would be difficult for him to withdraw from the role that Tony Blair has now abandoned -- that of cheerleader in chief for the president's policy in Iraq.
Still, there is courage. His support for the Bush war policy exceeds what is politically necessary; even in the world of the GOP primaries, it is risky at this point. This is a course he genuinely believes in, and will pursue even if it costs him, which it well might. It's the same story with immigration reform. He has devoted years to it. The compromise he has worked on for years, and helped to fashion recently, is unpopular on all sides. Maybe he has no choice but to stick with it. But he is.
Now to the luck. The war, of course, has been disastrously run, which isn't his fault. Romney, who is moving up in Iowa and New Hampshire -- indeed, he is functionally the front runner in the "early" states -- can dip into his vast fortune if circumstances require. McCain's most prominent evangelical supporter, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, died last week. McCain fell behind in early fund-raising, and now has to catch up -- and miss vote after vote in the Senate. A friend and ally, Fred Dalton Thompson, is waiting in the wings for McCain to falter, and may well soon join the race.