By David Keene - 07/14/08 04:29 PM EDT
The news that Republican presidential wannabe John McCain took only a second or two to throw one of his closest friends under the bus last week should remind us of just why politics can be such a lonely business.
The truly ambitious politician is more often than not willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to the hunger for higher office, and this hunger is nowhere greater than among those who aspire to the presidency. If anyone out there doubts this, this cycle should dispel those doubts.
Both Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and McCain (R-Ariz.) have demonstrated a willingness bordering on eagerness to abandon anyone who might somehow embarrass them or be used by their opponents to criticize them. Sen. Obama’s opportunity came, of course, when he discovered just what his minister was saying during all those sermons we have to assume he slept through over the years. Oh, he stood by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for a minute or two, but then announced that he wasn’t nearly as close to his minister, personal friend and spiritual adviser as he’d claimed over the years and consigned the man to the outer darkness.
Later, he separated himself as quickly as he could from Tony Rezko, one of his chief fundraisers for years and a man who had helped him personally acquire property that significantly enhanced the value of his home in Chicago and announced that he was henceforth having nothing to do with shady characters like Rezko and the Washington lobbying community or with foreign policy advisers who were too critical of his opponents.
Now, I’m not arguing here that any of these decisions lacked merit. The Rev. Wright was and presumably still is a nut, for example, and Rezko is cooling his heels in jail. These, however, were his friends, and he abandoned them as other politicians have abandoned theirs as he marched on toward bigger and better things.
Lest he be outdone, McCain preached his own jihad against lobbyists and fired a few who had supported him when no one else would just to show how serious he is about his image. Tossing them under the bus was easy enough, though there was no evidence whatsoever that any of them had done anything wrong.
And now there’s the case of former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. When Gramm retired from the Senate eight years ago, West Virginia’s Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), an unlikely Gramm friend, spoke at the reception put together by his friends to bid the senator adieu. Byrd told those assembled to honor the retiring senator that Phil Gramm was the single brightest man he’d met since his own arrival in the nation’s capital back in the ’50s.
As a senator, Gramm had left his mark on the body in which he served and was regarded by all who knew him as a stand-up conservative who knew of what he spoke. He’d been a professor of economics before running for the House as a Democrat in 1978, voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and quit the Democratic Party to run for the Senate as a Republican in 1984. He won that race in a landslide and in the years he served, he emerged as the most thoughtful conservative in the Senate and a man who earned the respect of those who disagreed with him as well as of those beside whom he fought.
In 1996, he ran for president and selected his good friend John McCain as his campaign chairman. The two men crisscrossed the country together, and when McCain decided it was his turn to run this time, he asked Gramm to return the favor, which he did without hesitation. He accompanied McCain to Iowa, New Hampshire and everywhere else, helped take apart and revamp his campaign when it collapsed and proved himself the good friend McCain knew him to be.
In February, Fortune described Gramm as “McCain’s chief economic adviser — and perhaps his closest political friend.” His presence gave comfort to conservatives uneasy about the Arizona senator, as it was rumored that he would play a major role in a McCain administration and most conservatives would trust Gramm implicitly.
All that ended over the weekend. Gramm had made some substantively defensible, but arguably politically boneheaded remarks about the economy and, well, his longtime friend John McCain authorized his spokesmen to let the world know that Gramm was henceforth to be regarded as a non-person from whom they would neither solicit nor accept advice or even phone calls.
So much for friendship. No wonder politicians lead such lonely lives.
Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com.