One or two cheers, please, for Maureen Dowd -- she may the only pundit who's even starting to grasp the real nature of John McCain.
Here's today's Dowd column (free link). Dowd's jumping-off point is a recent front-page story in The New York Times:
Anne Kornblut wrote that two summers ago, on a Congressional trip to Estonia with Linsdey Graham and Susan Collins, Senator Clinton "astonished her traveling companions by suggesting that the group do what one does in the Baltics: hold a vodka-drinking contest. Delighted, the leader of the delegation, Senator John McCain, quickly agreed. The after-dinner drinks went so well -- memories are a bit hazy on who drank how much -- that Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, later told people how unexpectedly engaging he found Mrs. Clinton to be."
But then McCain went on Fox News and denied it ever happened. He went on The Tonight Show and did the same thing. His staff rebuffed Joshua Green of The Atlantic Monthly when he wanted to ask about it.
Then, however, Green ran into McCain -- and McCain confirmed that it happened.
"The Straight Talk Express," Dowd writes, "was swerving again."
Dowd asked McCain's people about it and was told there was drinking -- but "[i]t was not a drinking contest, the way you and I think of a drinking contest. John had two drinks."
So the vodka vivacity happened, but Mr. McCain's staff, eager to see the senator pander to what Jon Stewart called the "crazy-base world," put a stop to their boss's inviting Mrs. Clinton on trips. The former fighter jock and "scamp," as his mom called him, has become so lifeless and base-whipped that he is scared to be seen knocking back Stolis with a nice Methodist girl from the Midwest who wears crosses around her neck.
"John was not intentionally misleading," his person said. "The image a drinking contest sets up is not very pretty, and we're in serious times. The best thing he's done is to be collegial. You can do that by drinking, but it’s not a drinking contest. Is this splitting hairs?"
Actually, yeah. The once candid senator is starting to sound downright Clintonian with all this silly parsing and dissembling. I did not have drinks with that woman!
You've basically got it, Mo.
Look, John McCain and Hillary Clinton are a matched pair -- they seem to be their parties' front-runners for '08, yet they seem to be the most timid candidates in the race. I'd call them mirror images of each other, but that's not exactly the case, because both of them constantly worry about pleasing culturally conservative loonies who hate them and always will. And neither one of them as president will ever have the guts to defy these loonies.
If Dowd is making a start at seeing through the "straight talk" nonsense, that's more than I expected. I was afraid no pundit ever would; I'm still afraid no other pundit ever will.