Do We Really want a "maverick" President?

For the moment I’m not going to debate whether John McCain and Sarah Palin really deserve the mantle “maverick.” What I’m wondering is whether we really want a maverick in the White House.

Samuel Augustus Maverick was a cattle baron and politician in Texas in the 1800s. He refused to brand his cattle and the term maverick first came into use as a description of unbranded cattle. Based on Maverick’s personality, it also describes a person who is stubbornly independent.

Stubborn independence is a quality admired in cowboys. And a quality we might even appreciate in a senator. But stubborn independence is a bad quality in a president. Frankly, there’s a liberal dose of stubborn independence in George W. Bush’s personality, and look where that got us.

Flexibility and a willingness to work towards meaningful compromise are qualities we need in our President, not stubbornness. Presidents should be more collaborative and collegial than independent. Despite the Bush administration’s attempt to operate without any legislative checks and balances, we do not live in a dictatorship, and under our system, the president needs to work with, not without, the legislative branch. And our next president needs to work to restore good relations with our friends and allies abroad. He’s not going to do that by being stubbornly independent.

John McCain is a candidate who seeks to exploit and foster the differences that divide us in an attempt to win the election. He chooses a running mate who virtually causes the extreme right wing of his party, the conservative Christian fringe to weep for joy. (This may signal the coming of the rapture!) His first choice on receiving the nomination of his party, the first decision by which we can measure his competence as the future president, is to pick a running mate who is far outside the main stream. She’s a wedge. A woman who gleefully compares herself to a pit bull. A woman who referred to Barack Obama as “Sambo” and Hillary Clinton as “the Bitch.” McCain’s choice demonstrates a strong streak of stubborn independence, but also a deep insensitivity about the kind of political discourse we need in this country.

McCain may bristle at being linked with George W. Bush, but he has done more than just vote with the president 90% of the time during the past few years. He is emulating Bush’s cynicism. And running this campaign using the Bush/Rove playbook. Combine that with McCain’s reputation for having a temper and you’ve got potential for a disastrous continuation of Bush’s failed strategy of the past eight years.

I’m a lifelong, diehard progressive. And despite my strong support for Obama, I would have been perfectly happy to support Hilary Clinton had she been nominated. I think it’s about time the United States has a female president. I don’t have a problem with Joe Biden, but I was pulling for Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius as the Democratic nominee for vice president. The fact that Sara Palin is a woman is a plus for the Republican ticket in my view. And if her policies were not so radical, and her beliefs not so far out on the fringe, I would not even be pondering this question. But by comparing herself to a pit bull she’s staking a firm position as a stubborn independent. Again, not a quality that I characterize as presidential.

If I were advising the Obama campaign, I’d reinforce the perception of McCain and Palin as mavericks. I’d encourage and cajole them into defining themselves that way, and then I’d drive home the point that mavericks are just cattle with no brand. Neither McCain nor Palin strikes me as having any creative or positive vision. The don’t put forth ideals that demonstrate leadership. That’s a hallmark of the maverick personality. They’re running against Senator Obama, they’re not running for the best interest of the American public. And that’s not the kind of leadership we need.

Posted 10 September 2008 by Mark ·