Sarah Gassen: Which game is McCain playing?

2013-09-05T06:30:00Z 2013-09-05T06:34:04Z Sarah Gassen: Which game is McCain playing?Sarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Sen. John McCain is everywhere. In Syria, in the White House — well, visiting the White House — and, from time to time, even in Arizona.

If there’s an issue of the day, he’s there, chiming in. Military, economy, jobs, education, foreign relations, political sparring — he’s been there, done that.

One of McCain’s political strengths is his scrappy but jocular image — he’s the fighter, the mix-it-up guy, the one dude in the crowd of suits not afraid to pipe up, speak his mind and get things done.

So when he was photographed frittering away time playing poker on his phone while a bunch of other senators, the secretary of state, secretary of defense and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were chatting it up about bombing Syria, his too-bad-you-can’t-get-the-joke defensiveness kicked in.

Maybe we should give Arizona’s senator some credit for being around this block a time or two. He doesn’t need to sit there for hours — about three, but who is counting — and pay attention for the entire time.

McCain knows what he thinks. He knows what he knows. And, unlike former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he evidently knows what he doesn’t know, too. Or knows what he doesn’t need to know.

And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Knowing what you don’t need to know.

Except how do you know you don’t need to know something until you know it. Darn information. So tricky. Better to just tune it out.

Time for a confession — I’ve checked my phone for text messages while Sen. John McCain was speaking. If you pay attention long enough, you get a good idea of what a politician is going to say because he’s said it before. Granted, John McCain likes to switch things up by lobbing newfound opinions, usually out of right field. That’s part of his news-cycle charm, but I took a seconds-long risk and fortunately it worked out.

In my defense, I wasn’t going to have to vote on whether our nation should bomb another nation. The stakes weren’t quite as high.

It’s not the fact that McCain thought a quick game of phone poker was appropriate during a Senate committee hearing, or even that he became bored on the job — it’s his dismissive attitude.

It is his faux concern about “losing” a (fake) thousand dollars, as he chuckled with CNN’s smiling Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday. He tweeted about it. A bit of a chuckle.

McCain can be a card. He was great on “Saturday Night Live” during a guest host turn back in 2002. His impersonation of John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, was both hilarious and unnervingly accurate.

I complimented him on that performance about a decade ago during his visit to the Star. He was funny and gracious and promised that the next time he visited he would throw in a song and dance number. (Does the 2008 election count?)

McCain is not the first politician caught with his attention wavering, and he won’t be the last.

This is different. Our nation is contemplating using deadly force against another, perhaps unilaterally. This decision, which our system of government entrusts to our elected leaders, must be taken solemnly and with consideration of the dire consequences.

And when a senator who wields as much influence as John McCain is in a position to use that power in ways that will shape our country’s course of action, it is not too much to demand that should he declare himself to be all in, that we be certain what game he’s playing.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com and follow her on Facebook.

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