free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Sunday, December 08, 2002

--- McCain, the 800-Lb. Lone Eagle ---

It's reorg time in the US Senate, and John McCain now has more strategic options -- and more strategic motivations -- than he can shake a stick at. Will he just stand there shaking that old stick ... or will he throw it? [On this decision tree, there's a hornets nest at the end of every branch.]

What options am I talking about?
There's some buzz about a double-switch ... Lincoln Chaffee (r-RI) and McCain (R-AZ) crossing the aisle, joining the D's (or caucusing with them), giving them effective majority control.

There's chatter about a third party ... some sort of Bull Moose contraption that might attract non-southern Republicans and southern Democrats.
Third parties rarely make much sense. In McCain's heart he's still a Republican, anyway, though the party of his youthful heart barely has a pulse these days.

The switch might make sense -- just not for McCain. The GOP is no longer the Party of Lincoln (Chaffee). He'll never win top committee slots or drive legislation as a Republican, so he'd not sacrifice much influence by joining the minority. He's tired of hanging around in hopes of saving the Republicans from their bad selves, or staking out the leftmost margin to preserve wiggle room for other Northeast moderates.

Let's count Chaffee, then, as a prospective effective D ... dividing the Senate 50-50 with VP DIck Cheney still the tiebreaking vote.

But McCain has more diverse and interesting options on the board.

By crossing the aisle (all the way or halfway as Jeffords did), he can flip the balance. That gives him a ton of bargaining power on both sides of the aisle.

With this bargaining power he can effectively dictate organization of the Senate. Committees will be divided equally, and McCain could decide who gets which Chair ... which give him immense bargaining power with individual senators.

Using the threat to switch -- and to drive committee seats accordingly -- he could quite possibly make himself Majority Leader on the GOP side. From that seat he might wield powers he could not exert as key player on a Dem-centered coalition. For instance, he would control GOP appointments to the 9/11 Commission (something he couldn't do from the other side). He could enforce the late-session agreement to "revisit" certain unattributed midnight additions to the Homeland Security package.

On this basis, he could place an even higher premium on his option to cross the aisle. He could negotiate his choice of Democratic Majority Leader, for instance, and insist on a number of other committee and policy fiats.

On the third hand, he could form a swing caucus in the Senate, without going through the corresponding set of (less practicable) third-party gyrations. Attracting a small number of temporary followers from both parties, he/they could control the reorg -- and the agenda -- and the subsequent directional debate in both parties -- without either permanently defecting or quietly capitulating.

McCain probably doesn't want to be Leader on either side (too much bean-counting and nuancing, not enough swashbuckling), but he could be the one who gets to decide who gets to be Leader on one side, or the other side ... or on both sides!!!

Those are the basic elements. A slew of creative combinations are conceivable.

How about McCain's motivations? Some are policy-centered, some political, some patriotic, and some personal. He thinks less these days of living in the White House, but he senses trouble ahead for his beloved Republican Party ... and maybe his Republic. As with Jeffords, the "last straw" was likely both personal and principled. The Bush/Rove/Lott machine has been futrifling with McCain lately, mostly for no good reason.

On top of the 2000 campaign smears, on top of the unceremonious McCain-Feingold signing snub, Bush & Co. delivered a series of sharp insults that go beyond the personal ... they go to questions of honor and substance ... to substantive agreements negotiated with a United States Senator, and later dishonored.

They double-crossed McCain on a Federal Elections Commission appointment (agreed in return for a pass on other appointments). They waved a red flag in front of the Bull Moose by larding up the Homeland bill with a Thousand Points of Pork. They'll screw him again when these points are "revisited". They are moving now to screw him on previously agreed 9/11 Commission appointments. They won McCain's contempt beyond their wildest dreams with their Cleland/Osama posters and Confederate battle flag themes, and maybe even with their pissing on (fellow maverick) Paul Wellstone's grave (blithely reversing Wellstone's last amandment, a provision against corporate tax turncoats).

[These and other moves have also earned contempt from folks like Zell Miller and John Breaux, in ways that may end up pivotal in the drama to follow. Why do GWB & Co. do stuff like this? Simple. They just can't help themselves.]

"Word is bond". A great deal of important business is done -- and can only be done -- on one's word of honor. FuTrifle with that, trifle with a Senator on an oral agreement, and you're trifling with the great machinery of the Constitution made real. So "Bust a deal, face the wheel", and as this wheel slowly turns, may it grind exceedingly fine.

Beyond that, GWB -- after a 2003 of damage control followed by a 2004 of creative desertion -- may not run. McCain can still be "Mr. Republican" without really trying.

As with Jeffords, some fraction of the electorate might interpret post-election shenanigans as corrupt practice. Party switches might furnish Rove with more propaganda fodder, and contribute to even greater electoral alienation, and keep Bush from being held accountable for ... well, everything. These are some of the hornets nests I mentioned earlier.

But post election polling says most voters never wanted Bush to control both houses of Congress. This factor -- wind-aided by Landrieu's victory, confirmed by DiIulio's "Mayberry Machiavelli" disclosures, reinforced by Trent Lott's Confederate cheerleading -- give McCain much freer rein. If McCain makes a move, most Americans will appreciate it as a move in the right direction ... and especially so if it's a move he doesn't have to make alone.