By James M. Perry
If anyone really wants to know what's wrong these days with the Republican Party, think about Senator John McCain of Arizona and Governor Paul LePage of Maine.
Most of us know McCain. He's the son and grandson of Navy four-star admirals. A graduate of the Naval Academy himself, he was flying a bombing mission over Hanoi on Oct. 26, 1967, when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down by a North Vietnamese missile. He bailed out and was badly injured when he landed. He spent five-and-a-half years in what amounted to a cage, enduring torture so ghastly he tried to commit suicide. He came home finally and was elected to the House in 1982 and the Senate in 1986. He was the GOP candidate for president in 2008.
John McCain may be just a touch eccentric -- who can blame him? -- but no one should ever doubt that he has served his country.
The other day, more than 1,000 Arizona Republicans, meeting in Tempe, passed a resolution censoring McCain for supporting policies that are "disastrous and harmful" to the state of Arizona and the nation.
"Only in times of great crisis or betrayal," the ridiculous resolution said, "is it necessary to publicly censure our leaders. Today we are faced with both. For too long we have waited, hoping Senator McCain would return to our Party's values on his own. That has not happened." Republican leaders said they "will no longer support, campaign for, or endorse John McCain as our U.S. Senator."
What's McCain done wrong? Well, the resolution said, he's worked hard to reform the nation's immigration laws and he's been soft on Obamacare.
"Wacky,'" said former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. "I served with him in the Senate for 18 years and we didn't always vote alike, but his record is very conservative. It's just wacky to say otherwise."
Paul Richard LePage was elected governor of Maine with enthusiastic support from Tea Party Republicans in a five-way race in 2010, edging out independent Eliot Cutler by less than two percentage points. The Democratic candidate finished third.
It wasn't long before Mainers realized they had a wacko in the governor's office. "What better way to start a governorship," Colin Woodward, a reporter for the Portland (Me.) Press Herald asked facetiously in Politico Magazine a few days ago, "than to refuse to attend a Martin Luther King, Jr., Day breakfast and, when the NAACP complains, tell them, on camera to "kiss my butt"?
My favorite wacko move was when he decided to roll back an environmental ban on a substance called bisphenol A, used in baby bottles. The worse that could happen, he said, with a smirk, is that "some women may have beards."
If you want a good education, he told students in Maine, "go to private schools. If you can't afford it, tough luck. You can go to a public school."
He compared the IRS to the Gestapo and, when criticized, "claimed the agency's enforcement of Obamacare would cause a slaughter comparable to the Holocaust," Politico reported.
LePage was one of eighteen children. His parents were French-Canadian and he grew up speaking French. His father was so abusive he ran away when he was 11 and lived in the streets and alleys of Lewiston for two years. He finally made it to Husson College in Bangor, where, finally, he learned to speak English properly and went on from there to become mayor of Waterville.
With this kind of background, one might think he would emerge as a sensitive, caring politician. Instead, he has become what Politico Magazine called "America's Craziest Governor," and nobody knows just why. He may seek re-election in November.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.