I really, really hate it when the word “independent” is used in American political discourse. Let’s be honest about what it means when the American press (whether a “journalist” or a pundit) uses the word: it’s used to describe a politician who acts like a Republican, but maybe has had one or two disagreements with the party brass. Hence, John McCain is an “independent.” In the rare instances it isn’t used to describe a Republican or non-affiliated person who may as well be a Republican, it’s used to describe a Democrat who votes like a Republican.
Of course, it’s not really debated whether or not McCain is “independent.” It’s just assumed. For instance, take this nugget of poop from CNN (“Analysis: McCain’s best shot is stressing independence,” 2008-07-22):
At home, McCain and Co. are smoldering. They consider the press complicit in a Teflon Obama candidacy.
“McCain is getting covered like he’s a speed bump on the road to history,” a top McCain adviser griped to me.
“Obama has calculated every utterance he’s ever made on Iraq,” this adviser says. “And McCain risked everything in his support for the war.”
That, in fact, is the key to McCain’s appeal. He was for the surge before President Bush was for the surge. But it’s an argument he and Obama will never resolve.
As for Afghanistan, McCain will argue it’s become a haven for terrorists precisely because we have succeeded in Iraq, and they are fleeing.
McCain risked — and almost lost — the nomination because of his support for immigration reform. No doubt about it, McCain has beliefs, and adheres to them. Sometimes, he angers conservatives — as when he was among a bipartisan group in the Senate standing against filibusters for Supreme Court nominees. Or when he supported stem cell research. And liberals don’t like him much for the war or his stand against abortion.
But independent voters — who most likely will determine the outcome of this election — like the maverick in McCain.
So here’s the question: Why isn’t McCain emphasizing his independent credentials more?
Besides the fact that there’s nothing independent about McCain? Well, for starters, you don’t win elections in the U.S. by being “independent.” Republicans understand this better than Democrats. The reason for this is the number one way people in the U.S. vote is by staying home. So when Democrats pretend to be Republicans, as they often do (usually without being called “independent” by the press), they turn off Democrats. They don’t really win more Republicans that way either, because Republicans generally already have a Republican to vote for.