America loves a maverick. Born as a confederacy and forged in a revolution, we’re (unsurprisingly) suspicious of strong government, and, as a consequence, identifying oneself as a “rogue” who “plays by their own rules” is one of the best image patterns a politician can undertake to create. That’s part of the reason that America – and, until Obama came along, the mainstream media – fell in love with John McCain. He’s not afraid of crossing the aisle, and in 2000 represented the moderate, true conservative wing of the Republican party, when Bush tried to take it down the road to theocracy.
But, there’s reason to doubt that a maverick legislator would a maverick executive make. The role of the Executive is vitally different from, and often completely at odds with, the role of the role of the legislator. That’s part of the reason we’ve not elected a sitting Senator since John F. Kennedy. While the skills transfer between roles, they don’t necessarily transfer well, or at least unmodified.
For one, while a maverick legislator spends their time opposing, or at least redefining, the Institution, a sitting president is the Institution. Yes, that’s merely a rhetorical trick. But there’s something to it. The constituency, duties, and ties of a President are vastly different and more binding than those of a Senator. There’s a certain inertia and restrictiveness to the Presidency, owing to the interdependency of the office: a President is not his own man (or woman) in the way a Senator is. This is not to say that a “maverick” can’t change the Office, but it’s a different and more difficult task, not to be assumed of even the most experienced legislator.
And, there are decisions that simply do not accommodate a “maverick” outlook on things. How a conservative-leaning maverick’s outlook on the Supreme Court differs from a conservative’s perspective on the issue is completely beyond me. And, as we know, McCain isn’t trying to be a “maverick” on that issue – he’s outright told us he’ll appoint extremist conservatives, with the help of one of America’s true nutbags (Brownback). And the stakes can’t be higher for that one.