Each time I hear the word, “MAVERICK,” I cringe. It evokes images of football, tactical missiles, 70s Ford sedans, little motherless unbranded calves, Tom Cruise as a smart-ass, old westerns, and oh, yes, McCain’s projected icon of choice, the lone gunslinger and that wind-blew-the-tumbleweed-across-the-deserted-street sound. The word connotes melodrama, stereotype, and a caricature of the lone rebel cowboy who shoots from the hip, saves the day, and asks questions later. It taps the archetype of the hero understood in the way of the old Maverick Marvel Comicbooks . . . that is, until suddenly our Republican presidential campaign resounds with, “I’m a MAVERICK, and she’s a MAVERICK, too!” (Well! With a metaphor that loaded, you folks must be destined for greatness.)
After all, consider the most honorable figures in human history. Would any of them be caught dead being described as a “Maverick?” Ponder the idea of Aristotle the Maverick, da Vinci the Maverick, Ghandi the Maverick, Winston Churchill the Maverick, or Jesus Christ, MAVERICK! You get my drift. To associate this word with a serious figure from the world stage cheapens the venerable and suddenly makes them seem silly. It diminishes their gravitas, that sense of dignity embodied by a leader of substance.
Given its reductive capacity, it’s hard to fathom that a candidate for the presidency of the United States would choose “Maverick” as his theme. (Barack Obama the Maverick?) Yet, as Republicans increasingly distance themselves from their recent political heritage, they seem hungry to embrace McCain's metaphor as their own, as if it were the only lifeline available. Whether one agrees with the conservative philosophy and platform, the Bush Administration’s policies and actions continue to mutilate the Republican brand. Already, candidates are attempting to disguise themselves, as in the case of Dino Rossi of Washington, who was recently granted the right to run for governor as a member of the GOP rather than the Republican party. Indeed, one website morphs his image into that of George Bush . . . the SAME. Sound familiar? Suddenly, every Republican wants to be an Ugly Duckling. "Not ME! I'm an authentic Maverick! I don't fit in!"
Interestingly, John McCain is not listed among the associations with the word “Maverick” in Wikipedia, nor indeed, in “Searches related to Maverick” at the bottom of a Google page. One would think his rebellious departures from reason throughout his campaign should count for something.
Perhaps it’s unfair of me to judge. After all, our human nature compels us to separate from those who betray us, and political betrayal is as painful as any other betrayal. Through the ages, we’ve seen splits of a thousand sorts, including, of course, that time the Republicans split from the Whigs. It’s never pretty. The betrayal by their President and their party must be particularly painful to Republicans whose trust was betrayed and whose core beliefs collapse around them - hence the fragmenting spasms, and the disorienting twists and distortions in recent months. We are witnessing their grief as a body of Americans attempt to navigate the debris of their ideology.
These days, when I hear the word "maverick," it's a neon warning. It screams, "I'm running from a dysfunctional relationship; admitting it is the first step to recovery!" It's a word you used to hear about once a year and now it's the fragile new skin of the recovering Republican.
My mother always let me chose my own costume for Halloween. In that spirit, I suppose when the new “Maverickan Party” emerges, we’ll have to honor their new uniform. It seems almost inevitable, as one by one, politicians, pundits, and neighbors begin to preen and boast of newfound maverick qualities. Still, one can only PRAY that by the end of this election, we’ll have heard the last of the mavericks, and Republicans will find a more elegant moniker for their new way of being.