“Don’t try to understand ’em, just rope, pull and brand ’em.”
So goes the theme song to the classic early television show Rawhide, about a seemingly endless cattle drive through the Old West, which included a young Clint Eastwood as drover Rowdy Yates.
A maverick, of course, is a term originally applied to an unbranded cattle, or a person unbought, unbossed and unbeholden to anyone but his or herself. The term dates to Sam Maverick, a 19th century Texas rancher, and his decision to buck tradition and leave his cattle unbranded.
John McCain — and, more recently, Sarah Palin — have appropriated the term to imply that their politics, like Mr. Maverick’s cattle, are independent of the system. Yet some folks — including the original Mavericks — aren’t buying it.
“I’m just enraged that McCain calls himself a maverick,” descendant Terrellita Maverick told The New York Times, saying that the campaign’s use of the term offended her family’s history as stalwarts of progressive Texas politics.
“It’s just incredible — the nerve! — to suggest that [McCain’s] not part of that Republican herd. Every time we hear it, all my children and I and all my family shrink a little and say, ‘Oh, my God, he said it again.’ ”
“He’s a Republican. He’s branded,” Maverick said.
And indeed, it appears that John McCain’s “maverick approach” has taken a turn for the worse. According to recent polls from both ABC and CBS News, “six in 10 voters surveyed said that McCain had spent more time attacking Obama than explaining what he would do as president.” In an apparent turn in election polls, voters are loudly informing McCain that his negative campaign advertisements have not worked.
McCain has focused his campaign attacks on Obama’s relationship with William Ayers, a founder of the 1960s radical terrorist group the Weather Underground. Yet according to the CBS poll, the majority of voters were unperturbed by the relationship, saying it was not relevant to today’s major problems.
The McCain-Palin ticket’s focus on the culture wars is becoming, in the face of actual wars and economic meltdown, more and more irrelevant. Two ongoing wars and an endless economic crisis have steadily eroded Americans’ faith in the system. According to CBS, “more than eight in 10 Americans do not trust the government to do what is right.” Where Americans are looking for stability, civility, and a return to responsible government, McCain offers rabble-rousing, attacks, and meaningless refrains that hark back to old-fashioned politics — politics as usual.
In last night’s debate, it seemed as if McCain talked more about the 1930s and the 1960s than about the 2010s, the 2020s and beyond. Rather than articulating his own policies, McCain has concentrated on Obama’s purported flaws. As it stands, Americans are sick of both candidates avoiding specifics on the issues; are McCain’s negative attacks his attempt to conceal a deficiency in effective strategies?
Through all the criticism and the tanking poll numbers, McCain has demonstrated a determination to, in the words of the Rawhide theme, “keep moving moving moving — though they’re disapproving.” Yet given his admission last night that he had taken time out of campaigning this Sunday to watch the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys play football, we wonder if McCain might find more affinity with another line from the song: “All the things I’m missing: good vittles, love and kissing, are waiting at the end of my ride.”
As the tired, burnt-out, McCain-Palin campaign clatters to the end of this horse race, we wonder if McCain isn’t just about through. In the mean time, we suspect this fully-branded non-maverick will keep on beating the dead, desparate animal of personal attacks and hollow rhetoric. Yee-haw!