WILL THE REAL MAVERICK
PLEASE STAND UP?
Saturday, October 11, 2008
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Maverick... the term is pure Americanism within the now-globally-distributed English tongue.
No, the original maverick was not John McCain-- rather, it was Samuel Maverick of Texas, a fighter in Texas' War for Independence against Mexico in 1836 who came to own a large "spread" of land on which he, as one would expect of a Texan of that era, raised cattle (and, by all accounts, he was- indeed- far more "cattle" than "hat" [;-)]).
Maverick did not at all brand his cattle-- he simply left them unbranded and, as a result, could then simply claim any unbranded cattle found on his own land (which was, indeed, sizeable). Soon enough, the term 'maverick' came to be a noun (principally used- as it is still used- in the Southwest of the United States) that described any unbranded cattle (in particular, a calf that was left unbranded and had been separated from its mother- hence to which cattle ranch the calf belonged could not be determined) and 'mavericking' became a verb describing one's claiming ownership of such unbranded cattle by putting one's own brand on the animal.
Eventually, as the 19th century wore on, the whole concept of the maverick and mavericking became much more complicated (some States adopted regulations legally defining a maverick [in other words, an unbranded calf that could be legally claimed] to be, to cite just one example, "any calf not seen, over the course of time, following a cow" [thus, a calf evidently orphaned and unable to be proven to be the offspring of a particular branded cow]; meanwhile, perhaps even because of such regulations, 'mavericking'- the verb- began to take on a negative, more sinister, definition: 'mavericking' becoming a description of the erasing of [by burning off] a legitimate brand on an animal and replacing it with one's own brand [thus, mavericking became one and the same with cattle rustling]-- later on, because of this very criminal connotation, one could maverick animals that weren't even cattle and even, later still, 'maverick' inanimate objects! [for instance, 'mavericking land' was a quite popular term in the West until the opening of Oklahoma Territory to White settlement in 1889 led to the far more popular 'claim-jumping'])
The first use of the term 'maverick' in the political context seems to be from the late 19th century (interestingly, at just about the same time 'claim-jumping' was replacing 'mavericking land' in popular parlance): a California publication described a politician of the time- one "unpronounced in his opinions" (which is just another way of saying "overly fair to both sides of the issues")- as, thereby, "holding maverick views": thus, at least in the realm of Politics, 'maverick' first appeared as an adjective- descriptive of a person's politics, not the person himself (and, except in a handful of western Territories-becoming-States which, at the time, allowed women an at least limited vote, it was- back then- always "himself"!). Only after the Turn of the Last Century did the term 'maverick' become the more familiar (to our ears and eyes) noun and, as such, come to be used in three distinct senses, all of which have survived to this day (with the result that a 'maverick' [that is, the political animal as opposed to the mere bovine] is ever in the proverbial "eye of the beholder"):
1. a political independent- particularly, one completely independent of- if not downright disdainful of- the two Major American Parties (in this sense, then, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader, are all truer 'mavericks' than either John McCain or Barack Obama);
2. one who regularly bucks the Party (usually, again, Major Party) to which the politician or everyday citizen ostensibly adheres (it is in this sense, of course, that the claim is made for John McCain- as well as Sarah Palin- being so maverick);
3. one who is able to see that his or her opponent on a political issue, or set of such issues, has reasonable arguments with which one happens to, at the time, disagree and, as a result, the 'maverick'- in this sense- does not find it at all difficult to work with those with whom he or she might otherwise disagree in order to achieve consensus and might even also reserve the right to change his or her mind on a particular policy position as the debate or discussion goes along.
In other words, in 3.: a 'maverick' is diametrically opposed to the 'true believer', the latter being someone approaching absolutism in his or her application of political, as well as moral and ethical, principles and precepts .Simply put: the true 'maverick'- in sense 3.- is someone who won't- or even can't- always follow "the Party line" (and it is in this sense- the original sense of the term 'maverick views' as used in that 19th century California newspaper- that Barack Obama can fairly be described as being, and having been, as much- if not more- of a maverick than John McCain could ever hope to be [whereas, as for Sarah Palin- still so relatively new on the National political stage- she might yet, though this remains to be seen, give Obama the proverbial "run for his money"- if not also on the basketball court ;-)]).
For Barack Obama was pretty much a maverick from birth: the child of a mother from an ordinary Middle American family and a father actually from Africa (thus, not only is Senator Obama the first African-American nominated for the American Presidency by a Major Party [and, therefore, has a pretty good shot at actually being elected to that High Office], he is actually a first-generation African-American in the most direct sense of the term [that is, in the same sense that I myself am, for example, a second-generation Scandinavian-American]), raised by his grandparents in Hawaii, spending a good part of his childhood in Indonesia. To take just one strange coincidence out of many that have already emerged this Presidential Election, Obama grew up as much a 'maverick' in a non-political sense (as in "rootless, wandering"- much like the unbranded calf for which the term was originally coined) as did Senator McCain (who, as the child of a U.S. Navy commissioned officer, also grew up in circumstances in which moving around was "normal").
But Obama is more a maverick than McCain in another, important sense:
John McCain not only appears a maverick, he also holds press conferences to tell all of us just how much of a maverick he is-- in addition, he also tells us why (that is, just how he got to be such a maverick- how his life experience made him the independent-minded person and politician he so claims to be).
But the truest maverick (as I myself well know from my own experience-- going well back into my earliest childhood) doesn't so much tell you he or she is a maverick... no, instead, a true maverick just happens to ever be one.
When asked why he or she is doing whatever he or she is doing (and this question is, almost always, asked by those who don't see much point to what the maverick might be doing-- indeed: in many, if not most, cases, the questioner is actually opposed- or even actively hostile- to what the maverick is doing!), the true maverick's best- in fact, only- answer is, simply, "I'm doing what has to be done"...
And that answer is one that seems given, far more often, by Senator Obama than it is by Senator McCain.
Take the whole "Bill Ayers' connection to Barack Obama" controversy, for example:
William Ayers was a founder of the infamous Weather Underground of the late 1960s (one of the radical groups principally responsible for the so-called 'Days of Rage' in Chicago in the Fall of 1969) and went underground when a bomb being assembled by a group of such 'Weathermen' in a brownstone on West 10th Street in New York City's Greenwich Village exploded in 1970, destroying the townhouse (which belonged to the family of one of those involved): although he was in on several bombings in the immediate years thereafter (including one in the U.S. Capitol itself in 1971), Ayers was mostly on the run until he turned himself in to authorities in 1980 (whatever Federal charges he was facing had been dropped by then due to prosecutorial misconduct and then, soon thereafter, the Statute of Limitations had run out).
The recent controversy surrounding Ayers (as well as how this controversy might impact upon Senator Obama's bid for the Presidency) has emerged on two fronts: first of all, Ayers is currently a Distinguished Professor in the College of Education of the University of Illinois, Chicago (which, in and of itself, is controversial enough, as it well fuels all sorts of Rightist propaganda about Leftist control of American Academia) and, second, Ayers made comments in an interview with a reporter saying- among other things- "I don't regret setting bombs" and- to a question along the lines of 'If you had to do it all over again, would you?'- responding "I don't want to discount the possibility".
The problem for Ayers (and, ultimately, for Senator Obama) is that his comments appeared in the New York Times (in a review of his then-just published Fugitive Days: A Memoir [though it be more reminiscence than memoir-- even Ayers himself admits that it is not a scholarly work]) of the morning of- yes- Tuesday 11 September 2001 (with the results that the "usual suspects" amongst conservative/rightist punditry- both in print and on broadcast- have not been at all above referring to these statements as "Ayers' response to 9/11", even though- at the time he was interviewed- Ayers could not possibly have known about 9/11: this inconvenient truth, however, does not- in the least- prevent many of those on the Right who so regularly claim the moral and ethical high ground to- yet once again, as is all too common- evince their own abject lack of the very morals and ethics they themselves so vigorously, where not also so vehemently, promote).
Ayers himself has publicly condemned the September 11th attacks (though he- as one would expect of someone so much to the Left- has also decried "terrorism" [presumably in the form of what could conceivably be termed 'atrocities', whether real or imagined and however defined] committed, in the name of the United States of America, against those merely perceived as being, or having been, Islamic jihadist terrorists), but all to no avail- as far as the Right is concerned- since Ayers has so clearly refused to "get drunk on the Kool-Aid", for example, David Horowitz, recent author of works such as Dangerous Generation, has so eagerly imbibed (to the Horowitz of today, Ayers- who almost certainly drank most fully of the thesis put forth in Horowitz's earlier The Free World Colossus- is pretty much the quintessential "poster child" for that very generation; in reality, however, Horowitz merely converted his political religion, exchanging misguided, dogmatic Leftist Marxism-Leninism for equally misguided, dogmatic Rightist American Ultranationalism-- in essence, Horowitz has changed no more than Ayers himself has: now an apologist for the Rightist vision of so-called "Liberty", Horowitz, nonetheless, so voluntarily remains a "slave" to just another political philosophy "master" and, thereby, has- once again- only ended up surrendering his own mind's liberty; at least Ayers appears to have, at least in recent decades, wrestled with his own "slavery" to his own political philosophy "master"- although he, all too often, seems to win such "wrestling matches" by a decision, if not outright pinning [;-)]).
The problem for Obama is that Ayers and he did cross paths- and often to boot!- during the formative years of Obama's political career: for instance, they were both active in something called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (Ayers- as a local Professor of Education- was one of the instigators of the project- one based on the thinking of more liberal educational reformers of the mid 1990s [the irony is that at least some of the ideas that ended up in George W. Bush's 'No Child Left Behind' were pushed by the very same reformists]- and Obama himself served as CAC chair before he was first elected to the Illinois state legislature) and, later, both Ayers and Obama were members of the board of a Chicago-based anti-poverty organization, the Woods Fund. In addition, Ayers actively promoted Obama's election, and re-election, to the State Senate (then again, Ayers lived in what became Obama's district). But there is little else to more closely tie Obama to Ayers- and to suggest that Ayers' views (even in their revisionist form) are also Obama's own is more than a stretch (unless the person so doing the stretching is completely devoid of anything approaching intellectual honesty).
What's a maverick to do?
A true maverick does what Obama pretty much has done: a.) condemn the violence of the Weathermen, b.) refuse to throw Bill Ayers completely under the bus (even Reverend Jeremiah Wright didn't get that treatment!) and c.) when people ask you how you can possibly justify both positions, shrug your shoulders and, in effect, simply say "I've done what had to be done"-- end of story. If that's not good enough for the hearer then, in the end, that's the hearer's problem!
No one could possibly conceive John McCain doing just such a thing-- but, then again, that's why John McCain, despite all his protestations to the contrary, is no maverick! For a true maverick is singularly unrepentant (and, remember: it takes a maverick to know one [;-)]).
There are other ways that Senator Obama's "sense 3." maverick-ness causes potential problems for him politically: at the same time, such "problems" very often turn out to be the proverbial "blessing in disguise":
For example, take the recent Bailout Bill-- oh, excuse me!-- "Financial Rescue Plan"-- what Senator Obama did here was the very stuff of "maverick views", while what Senator McCain did was merely the stuff of "trying to look like a maverick while never really being one". For it was Senator Obama who called Senator McCain suggesting the public presentation of a joint 'Statement of Principles' on what they each clearly agreed- with each other- was altogether wrong with the original 'Bailout' proposal.
Have you ever heard of such a thing? Can one imagine, in the midst of the Presidential Campaign in the Fall of 1932 as what came to be called the Great Depression deepened, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt- the Democratic presidential nominee that year- calling up Republican President Herbert Hoover and suggesting the issuance of a joint statement on the efficacy of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation first set up under the Hoover Administration?!
Just who was thinking "outside the box" here?
Put another way: just who was the maverick?!
Wasn't John McCain!!
So, what did Senator McCain do in immediate response? He called a press conference to announce that he was suspending active campaigning (though I noticed his campaign ads still ran on television and radio)- to the point of even potentially postponing the First Presidential Debate then in two days' time! And, in that presser, there was quite a lot of "I'm going to do this", "I'm going to do that": I watched that press conference live on TV that afternoon of Wednesday 24 September and I half-expected McCain to rip off his suit to reveal that, underneath, he was wearing a red cape, blue tights and a blue shirt with an 'S' on the chest: all that seemed to be missing at the end of that performance was McCain shouting "Up, up and away!" as he left the podium.
Meanwhile, what did Senator Obama do? He worked the phones- pushing the 'Bailout' just about as effectively as McCain did. Yes, he held his own presser- though he came off seemingly rather embarrassed for even having had to do so- in response to McCain's explaining that, instead, he was staying on the campaign trail and, while doing so, working the phones (why?-- because he was simply doing what had to be done). Only when invited to a meeting, at the White House, of Bush Administration advisers and Congressional leaders of both Parties (a meeting to which McCain had also been invited)- a meeting the curmudgeonly Minority Leader of the House would end up describing as "Beat up on [John] Boehner"- did Obama actually willingly go to Washington.
As for McCain's own jaunt to Our Nation's Capital, it proved to be far more Action than Accomplishment: by all accounts, it could fairly be described in the way the musical comedian Tom Lehrer once sardonically described the works of Gilbert and Sullivan: "full of words and music and signifying-- nothing". When the original Bailout bill tanked on the first vote on the floor of the U.S. House, McCain himself was- thereafter- not nearly so "out front" as he had been only days before.
And, in the end, McCain only ended up- obviously inadvertently- creating a potential political benefit to Senator Obama-- for, by being so "out there" in his approach to the original version of the 'Bailout', McCain is tied so publicly to the Financial Rescue Plan and, more importantly, its eventual ramifications: if it works, Obama did his part- did what had to be done (albeit much more behind the scenes); but, if it doesn't work- or, more to the point, doesn't appear to be working by the time Americans go to the polls come Tuesday 4 November- McCain is the one who takes "the hit"; Obama, meanwhile, retains no little "plausible deniability" when it comes to just which Major Party presidential candidate is the more responsible for the Bailout itself.
Yet this laconic, behind-the-scenes style of his can also so easily trip up Senator Obama politically:
The far more liberal amongst Obama supporters and political bloggers have long, and loudly, complained "why won't Obama do something?!" (meaning, why won't he more often- and more publicly- take conservative Republicans head on when they attack him during this General Election Campaign [one can't possibly imagine Senator Hillary Clinton letting all that much of the type of stuff that is said about Obama go without strongest possible comment were she the Democratic nominee and, hence, the GOP's target]) and they fairly cringe (in some cases, as if they were hearing fingernails scraping across a chalkboard) every time they hear Obama say "John is right..." or "Senator McCain is correct..." during the Presidential Debates themselves... well, he's merely doing what has to be done!
In that same press conference he held to answer McCain's "I am going to Washington" presser of which I have already written, Obama merely dismissed McCain's actions with such rather mundane comments as "I thought the Joint Statement would have come first" and then simply explained it all as "he's running his campaign and I'm running my own": many Obama supporters were perplexed, where not also frustrated, at this response and, instead, kept hoping for more anti-McCain rhetoric, more openly fuming at McCain so "politicizing" the Financial Crisis (still ongoing as I type these words, by the way), out of the Illinoisan--
but, of course, there wasn't more---
after all, and again, a true maverick simply says 'I'm doing what has to be done'.
However, this is the very thing that allows Senator McCain to say- as he did in the most recent Presidential Debate: "Senator Obama has never taken on the leaders of his Party on a single issue"-- not true at all, actually... but then one has to look at the subtext here: for example, when McCain said- in that same Debate- "I'd like you to see the letter that a group of Senators and I wrote warning exactly of this crisis: Senator Obama's name was not on that letter"...
and that's the key difference:
McCain signs a letter and, further, let's you know he signed it; meanwhile, Obama simply works the phones...
or, in short, he does what needs to be done...
and that's the very thing that actually makes Barack Obama more of a maverick than John McCain.