Back in 2000 I had the great good fortune to encounter Senator John McCain at a party. We talked for about ten minutes and I was charmed. So charmed that I bought his book, Flags of My Fathers (then actually read it), and subsequently purchased an additional copy to give to a friend. I have never voted for a Republican in my life (okay, once, when Giuliani ran against the incumbent Mayor David Dinkins in New York, and that's a whole other story) but I thought I could actually see voting for this guy. He seemed human, he had a terrific sense of humor, and when I asked him what he thought of George W. Bush, by whom he had recently been shivved in the South Carolina primary, he demurred in giving an answer while not masking his obviously dark feelings. So now I must pose the question on so many people's lips: When, exactly, did John McCain sell his soul to the Devil?
As a novelist, I revel in complexity, and am interested in the behaviors of people whose internal contradictions make them act out in new and sometimes alarming ways. My new book is about a regular guy, a family man with serious money problems, who goes against everything he stands for when he is presented with the opportunity to become a pimp. Before you can say Eliot Spitzer he's driving down the 405 freeway in a minivan full of hookers.
I don't have a deep and abiding interest in the prostitution industry, but I find it to be a particularly resonant metaphor for so much of life in our buying and selling obsessed culture. Especially when writing about politicians.
John McCain has had a long an honorable career. He has showed more courage than most humans would be capable of as his supporters are happy to remind you. And yet he and his Rovian acolytes apparently do not think his resume taken in combination with his positions will get him to the White House. The recent week of lying about Obama's canceled visit to the German hospital was only an appetizer, a morsel nibbled on the path to his current condition. This was ratcheted up (or down, if you prefer) the other day with the campaign ad conflating Barack Obama with the celebutards Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. You've got to love the racial subtext, the subtle and insinuating where-the white-women? of it all. It worked against Harold Ford in Tennessee, so why not try it nationally?
Is this essentially the hidden message of the McCain campaign? Psst! He's black!
The McCain camp's thinking: Let's put the virile black guy, the good looking slick talker who can drain three point shots in front of a crowd of soldiers in Kuwait, next to a couple of blondes known for flashing their honey pots in public. Then let the masses draw their own subconscious conclusion. Can you say Mandingo? Karl Rove can! This is particularly rich since the pummeling McCain absorbed from Bush eight years ago in the South Carolina primary was partially fueled by allegations that Psst...He fathered a black child!
John McCain pledged to run a campaign that would be honorable. He would be respectful. He would stick to the issues. And now the ghost of Lee Atwater is leaving money on a dresser while Straight Talker looks on, recumbent, from the bed.