Now is the perfect time to go on a media diet of one of our U.S. senators, Lindsey Graham.
Graham’s sycophantic bad karma isn’t needed these days. For the next six months, I’m taking a vacation from Graham and his increasingly irrelevant rhetoric. When he’s a guest yet again on one of the Sunday political talk shows, I’ll turn off the TV. When there’s a story in the newspaper, I’ll ignore it. I’m unsubscribing to any email lists that mention him.
When Graham first went to Washington in 1995 as a House member, he seemed optimistic — a conservative who wanted to shake things up and who would talk straight enough that many Democrats grudgingly often agreed. Outspoken views and service as one of the House managers in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton got him noticed. Interestingly after the Clinton trial, he argued for witnesses to be called in that trial — exactly the opposite position in this year’s trial involving a Republican, President Trump.
After Graham won election to the U.S. Senate in 2002, he latched onto another maverick, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. This dynamic duo often defied traditional Republican positions, again earning respect from independents and some Democrats for sticking to principles, such as the need for bipartisan immigration reform. During the 2016 presidential election, Graham famously criticized Trump as a bigot and said he wouldn’t vote for him.
But as McCain moved toward death in 2018, something happened to Graham. Perhaps it was a political calculation to keep power. Perhaps he became rudderless, a fish out of water. Trump’s critic became Trump’s biggest enabler.
In a devastating January Rolling Stone story, “How Lindsay Graham lost his way,” McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, compared Graham to a pilot fish: “a smaller fish that hovers about a larger predator, like a shark, living off of its detritus. That’s Lindsey. And when he swam around the McCain shark, broadly viewed as a virtuous and good shark, Lindsey took on the patina of virtue. But wherever the apex shark is, you find the Lindsey fish hovering about, and Trump’s the newest shark in the sea. Lindsey has a real draw to power — but he’s found it unattainable on his own merits.”
Across South Carolina, observers on both sides of the aisle are disappointed, even embarrassed, by today’s version of Graham. Most of the dozen folks who offered thoughts on Graham wouldn’t speak on the record.
One seasoned politico: “Heck, Lindsey Graham doesn’t even agree with things he said three years ago. I don’t buy that it is some kind of blackmail forcing his changing positions — it is just who he is. A hollow man. I don’t need to hear more of that.”
An analyst: “He clearly works for Trump these days. Oddly, I don’t think it’s because he necessarily agrees with Trump on many things; I think he just thinks it’s a way to be relevant in the current political environment. He’s not the only one in government doing that. Unfortunately, I think all those folks will find there’s a long-term constitutional cost to their decisions. They are doing lasting damage.”
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, didn’t mince words, noting she stopped listening to Graham a while back: “I used to think he knew better and was playing the game to keep the right wing Trumpsters in his corner. Now I’m not so sure that he doesn’t believe all the nonsense he spouts.”
Political historian Dan Carter, who now lives in North Carolina, says he’s turning off the news, in general, to keep his health in check. “Why in heaven’s name has someone who professed to worship John McCain lick the boots of a man who repeatedly defamed his hero? … Various writers have ascribed various psychological motives for his disgraceful sycophancy. But in the end, I still fall back on the words English biographer John Boswell wrote to Samuel Johnson. ‘Men’s hearts are concealed. But their actions are open to scrutiny.'”
The mute button will get a workout over the next six month. But by Labor Day, we’ll stop using it. In November, Graham faces re-election and a serious Democratic challenger.
Andy Brack is the publisher of the Charleston City Paper.