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John McCain & Lindsey Graham: The Mean Girls of the U.S. Senate

4 years ago
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I have a theory about human social evolution: life doesn't progress much after high school. This week, I can thank John McCain and Lindsey Graham for providing empirical data that supports this hypothesis.

Here's how government should work: lawmakers ponder the great issues of the day in serious manner and then decide, according to their own beliefs and values, which policies are best for their constituents and the public. But in the past few days, we've seen government-by-hissy-fit, with Sens. McCain and Graham, the Batman and Robin of cranky self-proclaimed GOP mavericks, placing personal petulance ahead of the common good.

As the Senate on Saturday was in the process of repealing the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans out-in-the-open gays and lesbians from serving in the military, McCain practically threw a tantrum on the Senate floor, decrying "this bizarro world" and denouncing senators in favor of repeal for "acting in direct repudiation of the message of the American people." (Never mind that most polls show majority support for repealing DADT.) Looking as if steam would shoot out of his ears at any moment, McCain went on to exclaim that ending DADT would endanger "the survival of our young men and women in the military."

Them are fighting words. But what made McCain's over-the-top performance so bizarro itself was that only four years ago he had said that he would back repeal if military leaders endorsed it -- and now the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of the military were supporting the change. Not only had McCain flip-flopped, he had become an angry crusader, seemingly full of rage at a policy initiative he once quasi-endorsed. How to explain this? It seemed more personal than policy -- as in he really doesn't fancy seeing a victory for President Obama, the fellow who prevented McCain from becoming BMOC.

Graham's behavior was more outlandish. On Sunday, the South Carolina Republican said that he wouldn't vote for the START treaty that will reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear arms because "this lame duck [congressional session] has been poisoned." And what poisoned it? In part, Graham said, it was the passage of the "Don't ask, don't tell" repeal. Here was a U.S. senator saying he wouldn't take up the critical issue of nuclear nonproliferation because he was peeved by the repeal of DADT, which sailed through on a 65-to-31 vote. Governing via tantrum?

It gets worse. The day before the Senate overturned DADT, Graham was complaining that the workload in the Senate was too much for him and he was too close to physical collapse to handle a vote on START:
It's been a week from hell. It's been a week where you are dealing with a lot of big issues from taxes to funding the government to special interest politics. And I've had some to think about START but not a lot and it's really wearing on the body.
Poor Graham. Many Americans work more than one job just to feed their family and to keep from being tossed out of their home. Yet he was bellyaching about some end-of-the-year heavy-lifting that was occurring because the Senate, partly due to GOP obstructionism, had not finished its important business. By the way, the START treaty was signed by the United States and Russia in April; that had allowed Graham and other senators plenty of time to think about it. (Previous START pacts were ratified by the Senate after much less time for Senate consideration.) Graham was whining. Two words: man up.

And it gets worse. On Monday, the Huffington Post reported that early last week, McCain and Graham had tried to cut a deal with the White House: they offered to deliver enough GOP votes to ratify the START treaty, if Obama and the Democrats would sideline any vote on DADT. The White House said no, thanks. But this was a cynical maneuver on the senators' part: if you don't give us what we want (no DADT repeal), we won't give you something you want (START ratification). Forget about the merits of the treaty. McCain and Graham, who fashion themselves serious students of national security, were engaged in playground politics concerning a nuclear arms treaty. They were willing to vote for it -- only if the White House would appease them. The substance didn't matter.

When McCain and Graham didn't get their way, Graham groused he was too overwhelmed to deal with the treaty, and McCain tried to kill the agreement by offering an amendment that would force the United States and Russia to renegotiate the pact. The Senate rejected his amendment on Saturday. Which probably irritated the hell out of him. On Monday, Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser for President George H.W. Bush and who supports START ratification, accused McCain of assailing the treaty because of his anger over the repeal of DADT: "To play politics with what is in the fundamental national interest is pretty scary stuff." I look forward to McCain yelling at Scowcroft to get off his lawn.

But McCain and Graham have not merely been grumpy old men. They have been behaving like mean girls -- hatching plots, acting spoiled, wallowing in self-absorption and melodrama, and having cows when they don't win. It's a sorry spectacle, especially because both men in the past have tried to be reasonable adults within the Senate. Now they're embarrassing themselves, as they flail about in a puddle of pique. The best news for them is that within days, school will be out.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Nice piece. They are truly the mean girls of the Senate. McCain has also found someone and just disagreed with them. It is his own version of triangulation.

December 23 2010 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Time will tell if this change in the social rules for being in the military is a bad idea, a good idea or didn't matter in the first place. One thing for sure: since Iran, Cuba, Syria and North Korea (among other weirdo countries) don't permit homosexuals to serve, changing our policy provides another "distinction" between them and us.

December 23 2010 at 2:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

batman and robin,little girls cmon corn with your vast knowledge of strategic arm treaties cant you do any better than snide comments?your bias in this artcle(like all your other ones)is expected.once this dadt gets enacted there are going to be many lawsuits.hell barney frank is now sayingif straight soldiers dont shower with gay soldiers this is discrimination.and by the way not all military leaders want this(marine corps for one)dadt implemented.or in your view corn marines dont count.please corn try and give both sides of the issue not just yours.

December 23 2010 at 1:50 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Paul Schmoll

This article, and the subsequent comments decry Senator McCain because they claim he is still angry about his loss to President Obama. It seems to me that those who have written such claims here are still angry that Senator McCain has any power, and that his power has been strengthened by this last election. The name calling and attempts at denigrating him seems to be on steroids in this article and the comments.
I happen to have favored the repeal of DADT, however, I understand why Senator McCain would take sides with a commander in the field over Military leaders who are now more in the political arena than being commanders of fighting men.
In addition, history would show that many of the greatest politicians from both sides of the aisle have become passionate about what they believe is right. But we now have a lame duck session, where the democrats are still in power and see their power slipping away, so they are frantically trying to pass every left leaning piece of legislation that they can lay their hands on, and attempting to get rid of every piece of legislation that leans even slightly to the right. I guess that this is nothing new on the part of a lame duck congress. The only difference is that, unlike other lame duck congresses, this one has a super majority of democrats, and can pass anything they like, good, bad, or neutral.
As for the charge of flip-flopping, when a bill is introduced by members of either party, and then the other side attaches things to the bill that are intended to pass into law things that are totally opposed to what the writer of the bill believes, then it is easy to understand why that writer would oppose the bill.
As for his military experience, before you comment on his leadership it would be best to ask those men who were POWs in the same camps as Senator McCain. They will tell you that it was his leadership under the harshest conditions possible that kept many of them alive. In addition, those who site his graduating low at the academy need to check out other military leaders who have reached the highest ranks, but graduated low from their respective academies. It is not where someone graduates in their class that determines success, it is what you do afterward.

Oh, to AOL, who published both the article and the comments: I have read your "Our New Approach To Comments" and it seems that you did not apply your own policy very well to either the article or the comments made about the two politicians who are the focus of the article. More than half of the comments are nothing more than "Personal attacks and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation." The article itself is a personal attack on these two leaders and does little to truly find out, or passes over, why these men chose to become so passionate about the issues in question.

December 22 2010 at 1:05 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I never could have believed that there would be a time when I could agree with anything David Corn had to say. Although this article serves David Corn in one way, he could not be more correct in that John McCain and Lindsey Graham are totally transparent, and hopefully someday, "former"!!

December 22 2010 at 11:33 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Wow, if this is accurate it makes me sick.

December 22 2010 at 6:58 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Linda Milazzo

Great piece, David. But I'm not pleased you've tagged these juvenile asses as women or girls. Men who throw tantrums and act spitefully are MEN who throw tantrums and act spitefully. Tantrums and spitefulness aren't characteristics attributable solely to women. Men throw notorious tantrums and are spiteful and childish in their own gender. Let's leave women or girls out of this sorry equation. McCain and Graham are "mean boys," David. They're mean asinine juvenile pathetic disgusting B-O-Y-S!

December 22 2010 at 4:26 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Why isn't Senator McCain called out on his 'forgetting' that he gave what the New York Times, I believe, described as a 'tearful eulogy' at a memorial service for Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player.

Mark was one of the heroes on the plane headed for DC on 9-11. Senator McCain indicated that Mark had saved his life, and that he would never forget him for this, and would spend the rest of his life trying to live up to this man's heroism. Uh huh.

December 21 2010 at 11:25 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

The Start has been on the table since April. That's long enough to have read it and formed an informed opinion. It is nonsense that they say they didn't have time.

December 21 2010 at 8:04 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

HuffPost called them mean girls but we are not allowed our personal attacks? Anyway, it seems to me that these guys are poor competition for John Kyl. I really liked what the fireman on the Daily Show had to say about working on Christmas in references to Kyl's remarks.

December 21 2010 at 6:38 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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