So what does all this mean for press coverage of this subject? Well, it’s another indication that, as Matthew Yglesias says in his post, in political discussion “a lot of terms get bandied about that lack rigorous definitions.” It’s possible to argue for definitions of “maverick” other than the one Lauderdale offers: there’s more to legislating than casting votes, after all, and Graham’s readiness to engage on issues like climate change has been genuinely significant. Still, his “maverick” standing seems to have come as much from a media-friendly approach and a personal relationship with McCain as an actual record. It’s maverickiness by association.
It’s also a sign that the press loves a maverick—they signify both unpredictability and a willingness to turn against regular allies, two things that make for great copy—and will create one of it has to, which, in an era of high partisan polarization and strict party discipline, it may. Graham’s maverick status, after all, is now imperiled because of a dispute over whether and when to bring climate change and immigration legislation forward, but as poor a maverick as he makes, there aren’t many good alternatives among the Republicans.
On the other hand, maybe that’s just as well. One of the all-time historical mavericks, according to Lauderdale’s methodology, was one William “Wild Bill” Langer, whose biography is titled, natch, The Dakota Maverick. Here’s how Lauderdale describes his career:
…Langer (R-ND) had been removed from office as governor of North Dakota after a felony conviction for fraud in 1934, an episode that led to Langer (temporarily) declaring North Dakota independent of the U.S. and barricading himself in the state house with a group of armed supporters. His popularity resilient, Langer was re-elected Governor in the following election, and then elected to the Senate in 1940. Langer was sufficiently controversial that the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections recommended that Langer not be seated 13-3, but was overturned 52-30 by the full Senate. During his legislative career, Langer opposed Lend Lease, NATO, and the Marshall Plan. Unlike most Americans (senators included), Langer was no fan of Winston Churchill, “in 1951, when the former British Prime Minister visited the U.S. Langer sent a telegram to the pastor of Boston’s Old North Church requesting that two lanterns be placed in the belfry to warn Americans that the British were coming.”
Maybe the “M” word shouldn’t be used as a compliment, after all?