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.
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