Not since Iago and Othello obsessed on the comely Cassio, not since Richard of Gloucester killed his two nephews, not since Nixon and Johnson glowered at the glittering J.F.K., has there been such an unseemly outpouring of boy envy.
Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and John Edwards have all been crazed with envy over the ascendance of the new “It” guy, Barack Obama.
Unlike his wife, Bill Clinton — the master of fake sincerity — still continues to openly begrudge his party’s betrothed.
Asked by Kate Snow of ABC News in Africa whether Obama was ready to be president, Clinton gave a classic Clintonian answer: “You could argue that no one’s ever ready to be president.”
As always, the Big Dog was more concerned with himself — asserting that he’s not a racist — than his party. Bill Clinton is not a racist. We can posit that. But he did play subtle racial politics in the primary. It’s way past time for him to accept the fact that there’s a new wunderkind in town.
Just as Bill Clinton looks at Obama and sees his own oblivion, so does Jesse Jackson. As Shelby Steele wrote in The Wall Street Journal, Jackson and his generation of civil rights leaders “made keeping whites ‘on the hook’ the most sacred article of the post-’60s black identity,” equality pursued by manipulating white guilt.
Now John McCain is pea-green with envy. That’s the only explanation for why a man who prides himself on honor, a man who vowed not to take the low road in the campaign, having been mugged by W. and Rove in South Carolina in 2000, is engaging in a festival of juvenilia.
The Arizona senator who built his reputation on being a brave proponent of big solutions is running a schoolyard campaign about tire gauges and Paris Hilton, childishly accusing his opponent of being too serious, too popular and not patriotic enough.
Even his own mother, the magical 96-year-old Roberta McCain, let slip that she thought the Paris Hilton-Britney Spears ad was “kinda stupid.”
McCain’s 2000 strategist, John Weaver, was equally blunt with Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter: “It’s hard to imagine America responding to ‘small ball’ when we have all these problems.”
Some of McCain’s old pals in the Senate are cringing at what they see as his soulless transformation into what he once scorned.
“John’s eaten up with envy,” said one. “His image of himself was always the handsome, celebrity flyboy.
“Now somebody else is the celebrity,” the colleague continued, while John looks in the mirror and sees his face marred by skin cancer and looks at the TV and sees his dashing self-image replaced by visions of William Frawley, with Letterman jokes about his membership in the ham radio club and adventures with wagon trains.
For McCain, being cool meant being a rogue, not a policy wonk; but Obama manages to be a cool College Bowl type, which must irk McCain, who liked to play up his bad-boy cool. Now the guy in the back of the class is shooting spitballs at the class pet and is coming off as more juvenile than daring.
Around the McCain campaign, they grouse that Obama “hasn’t bled.” He hasn’t bled literally, in military service, just like W., the last holder of an E-ZPass who sped past McCain. And he hasn’t paid his dues in the Senate, since he basically just stopped by for directions to the Oval Office.
As a new senator, Obama was not only precocious enough to pounce on turf that McCain had invested years in, such as campaign finance lobbying, ethics reform and earmarks. When Obama did reach across the aisle for a mentor, it was to the staid Richard Lugar of Indiana, not to the salty Republican of choice for Democrats, McCain.
When the Illinois freshman took back a private promise to join McCain’s campaign finance reform effort, McCain told his aide Mark Salter to “brush him back.” Salter sent an over-the-top vituperative letter to Obama. “I guess I beaned him instead,” Salter told Newsweek’s Howard Fineman.
McCain could dismiss W. as a lightweight, but he knows Obama’s smart. Obama wrote his own books, while McCain’s were written by Salter. McCain knows he’s the affirmative action scion of admirals who might not have gotten through Annapolis without being a legacy. Obama didn’t even tell Harvard Law School that he was black on his application.
McCain upbraids Obama for being a poppet, while he’s becoming a puppet. His mouth is moving but the words coming out belong to his new hard-boiled strategist, Steve Schmidt, a Rove protégé, nicknamed “The Bullet” for his bald pate.
Schmidt has turned Mr. Straight Talk into Mr. Desperate Straits. It’s not a good trade.