Saturday, March 7, 2009

For McCain, a Dual Role, Center Stage

Senator John McCain with Senator James E. Risch during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week.

Senator John McCain is rewriting the part of presidential loser.

Unwilling to vanish into retirement like Bob Dole, or retreat into academia like Al Gore, or even quietly convalesce like John Kerry, Mr. McCain has quickly reclaimed a place on center stage in Washington, some days skewering President Obama and the Democratic Party, and on other days standing by their side.

“I’m the, as I said, loyal opposition,” Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, proclaimed this week. “And both words, I think, are operative.

I do give him that: he can be infuriating, but he is a loyal opponent.

Some historians say the two men could yet forge the strongest alliance between a president and his election rival since Wendell L. Willkie helped Franklin D. Roosevelt oppose isolationism in the 1940s.

Willkie did help FDR, being an internationalist.

In the debate over the stimulus bill, he did not mask his fury at the three Republicans who backed the Democrats, particularly Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, once a friend, who won re-election in November in part by distancing herself from Mr. McCain and his campaign tactics.

He does not take being crossed lightly; he can be sanctimonious.

“McCain has decided that he is not going to morph into the role of embittered ex-candidate but to embrace the kind of senior statesman, loyal opponent role,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers. Professor Baker added, “His support will come at times and places of his choosing.”

Already, Mr. Obama has reached out for his support on national security matters and on some trade issues. (Out of respect, the requests come in calls from Mr. Obama himself.)

I wonder how many times W. called Senator Kerry.

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