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Unbranded Loyalty

One of the lasting legacies of Ronald Reagan was the denigration of the word "liberal," when he managed to make what had been a proud label now became a badge of shame. It was a stunning achievement, and it still persists to this day.

Ever since then, the liberals in politics and the media have struggled to undo this one act. They've tried to redeem the name, to try to re-attach positive connotations to it, to denounce those who persist in using "liberal" as an epithet. And it's largely been ineffective.

However, there's another tack. Some have decided to find a new word to supplant "liberal," to embody its meaning in one more acceptable to the body politic.

And since it was Cowboy Reagan who did such damage to the term, why not find a "cowboy" word to use in its place?

A "maverick" originally meant an unbranded cow, named after James Maverick, a rancher who refused to brand his herd. When cowboys would find a unbranded stray, they'd say "That's Maverick's," and the term evolved into meaning someone who doesn't abide by established rules -- but in a positive, romantic sense. Tom Cruise's character used it as his call sign in "Top Gun," for example.

Of late, the term has come to refer to politicians who stray from their party's orthodoxy. "Maverick" has been used to describe John McCain so much that I'm half-convinced if he does run for president again, he'll try to get himself listed on the ballot as "'Maverick'" John McCain."

However, it only seems to apply to those who stray to the left from their party. I've seen McCain and Senator Lincoln Chaffee called "mavericks," but I don't recall Democrat Zell Miller being hung with that apppellation.

I finally got confirmation of this theory today, when the Boston Glob ran a puff piece on Vermont's Congressman Bernie Sanders.

Sanders is a vintage 60's leftist. He ran for -- and won -- the mayorship of Burlington as a declared, proud Socialist. He then used that as a springboard to run for the Green Mountain State's sole House seat, where he's been firmly ensconced since 1990. And now that Senator Jim Jeffords is retiring, he's eyeballing moving to the Upper House.

Sanders has a rather odd relationship with the Democrats. He's an open Socialist, so a lot of Americans don't trust him, but he can be relied to vote with them most of the time. Sanders has previously enjoyed tremendous support from Vermont's voters. And the Democrats are so comfortable with him that they aren't even bothering to back an official Democrat to oppose him, out of fear of splitting the liberal vote and giving the Republicans the win.

MoveOn.org has already committed to backing Sanders, and in their first e-mail campaign they rounded up $136,000 for his war chest.

The Republicans, however, are positively salivating at the thought. They have made tremendous strides in Vermont in the last few years, ever since the Democrats then controlling the state government passed a Civil Unions act. The voters were appalled, and the Republicans rode that outrage into taking control of the Governor's office and both houses.

And now they have a chance for what could be considered the biggest prize of all -- to reclaim the Senate seat they lost when Jeffords left the GOP in 2001, costing them their majority. Further, to take a Senate seat in Howard Dean's own (adopted) home state would be a great victory. Finally, the chance to hang the Democrats with the association of backing a proud, open Socialist is the stuff Karl Rove's fantasies are made of.

All in all, it looks like Vermont's Senate race next year might prove to be one of the most entertaining political shows of the election.

Update: After the prompting of a few commenters (who, frankly, had a good idea but carried out wrongly), I did some Googling on (Maverick "John McCain"), (Maverick "Zell Miller"), and (Maverick "Lincoln Chafee"). McCain scored over 38,000 hits, Miller 7,000, and Chafee 951. Readers are welcome to conduct their own experiments with the politicians of their choice, and post the results in the comments section.)

Comments (8)

I've seen McCain and Sen... (Below threshold)

I've seen McCain and Senator Lincoln Chaffee called "mavericks," but I don't recall Democrat Zell Miller being hung with that apppellation.

Google search for "Maverick Zell Miller"

41 hits. Many more without the quotes.

<a href="http://www.google.... (Below threshold)

Google search for "Maverick John McCain"
786 hits. 786/41~=20. McCain is 20 times more likely to be called a maverick then Zell Miller.

Great post, Jay--concise, w... (Below threshold)

Great post, Jay--concise, well-expressed, very informative for those of us unfamiliar with Vermont politics, and offers solid analysis.

I'm sorry to burst your bub... (Below threshold)
Captain Ned:

I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but even this red-stater trapped in VT (and a native to boot) has all but conceded this race to Bernie.

The putative candidate, Brian Dubie, has all but 2 years of being VTs Lite-Gov (Lieutenant Governor) on his political resume. Here in safely Democratic VT he'll never be called on to break a VT Senate tie, so 'bout all he ever gets to do is make the ribbon-cuttings Gov. Douglas doesn't want to go to. Yes, his credentials are solid, but he needs much more time under his belt before running headlong into the media-political buzzsaw that is our "favorite" Rep. from Brooklyn.

I think he'd actually have a better chance against Pat Leahy in a few years time.

Bernie did take some flack ... (Below threshold)

Bernie did take some flack from a local journalist when he muttered under his breath that he did not support bringing the troops home now.

Bernie works tirelessly to support our Veterans, he kept the pressure on IBM to make sure IBMer's pensions weren't short-changed when IBM changed benefit plans and he has the full support of hunters since he does not back gun control laws.

I can't stand his speaking style, the exhortations, but every now in then he surprises me with his stance on an issue.

Since John McCain is probab... (Below threshold)

Since John McCain is probably more topical than Zell Miller, some normalization is in order.

I did this in yahoo, since I don't like the way Google is run for various reasons.


"John McCain" - 6,720,000 hits
"John McCain" Maverick - 217,000 hits

"Zell Miller" - 1,450,000 hits
"Zell Miller" - 32,300 hits

So Maverick is appears with McCain 1 in 31.0 times while Maverick appears with Miller 1 in 44.9 times.

But then I made the search more restrictive and things changed.

"Maverick John McCain" - 1,010 hits
"Maverick Zell Miller" - 34 hits

So when Maverick directly appears in front of McCain, it happens 1 in 6635 times while Maverick appears in front of Miller 1 in 42647 times.

That means the term "Maverick" will be used in front of "John McCain" 6.4 times as often as "Maverick" appears in front of "Zell Miller".

From Google:"Arnold ... (Below threshold)

From Google:
"Arnold Schwartzennegger" = 2530000 hits
Maverick "Arnold Schwarzenegger" = 27100 hits

(not a really fair comparison though cuz plenty of sites are about his movie career, while most of the rest are pure political guys)

"John McCain" = 1620000 hits
Maverick "John McCain" = 38500 hits
= 2.4%

"Rudy Giuliani" = 438000
Maverick "Rudy Giuliani" = 10500
= 2.4%

"Chuck Hagel" = 355000
Maverick "Chuck Hagel" = 7980
= 2.2%

"Jerry Falwell" = 608000
Maverick "Jerry Falwell" = 5160
= 0.8%

"David Duke" = 279000
Maverick "David Duke" = 740
= 0.3%

"Pat Robertson" = 3120000
Maverick "Pat Robertson" = 14000
= 0.4%

Just for fun...

"Hillary Clinton" = 2970000
Liberal "Hillary Clinton" = 579000
Moderate "Hillary Clinton" = 169000
Conservative "Hillary Clinton" = 533000
Maverick "Hillary Clinton" = 22100

"John McCain" = 1620000
Liberal "John McCain" = 461000
Moderate "John McCain" = 160000
Conservative "John McCain" = 502000
Maverick "John McCain" = 38500

I'm sure this means something, but I have no idea what.

I had this thing in mind <a... (Below threshold)

I had this thing in mind back in May:

Unscientific and unrepresentative, but still interesting, Google searches:
“john mccain” maverick -zell = 30,900 results
“zell miller” maverick -mccain = 947 results
“zell miller” dixiecrat = 974 results






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