Obama Meets McCain: What Will Come of Today’s Meeting?

President-elect Obama is hosting John McCain in Chicago as I write this. Over at his other space, David speculates on how that conversation is going. Here’s a snippet:

B: Can I get right to the point?

J: Straight talk? Sure, fire away.

B: It was a tough campaign. But now it’s over. And as I said on the campaign trail, I respect all you’ve done for this country. All you have given and sacrificed. I do. But now it’s time to talk about what comes next. For you.

J: (Slightly sarcastic.) Thanks for thinking of me.

B: John, you’re not going to have a lot of friends back there. There’s Lindsey, Joe and…well, that’s about it–

J: You don’t have to worry about me–

B: I’m not worrying–

J: And you want to be my friend now?

B: Not your friend. Your partner. Listen, there’s a lot we disagree on. But there are several big things we see eye-to-eye on. Guantanamo, torture, global warming, political reform. And I’d like to ask you, what would you now like to accomplish? What legislation would you like to pass? What do you want your legislative legacy to be?

I think this raises a great point. What direction does John McCain take in the post-presidential period of his life?

Since at least the mid-1990s, John McCain has had his eyes set on the presidency. For the first time in many years, he doesn’t have to fit his actions and statements to the narrow proprieties of a presidential candidate. Instead, he has a legacy to think about.

I think that means McCain turns into a pragmatist. He’s smart enough to realize that he has to put his stamp on some major legislation if he is going to be known as anything other than the guy who passed campaign finance and lost two presidential contests. In order to do that in Obama’s Washington, McCain will have to buck his own party (which he has always relished doing) and he will have to work with the man who just defeated him (which today’s meeting, depending on Obama’s behavior in it, could make more likely).

Luckily, there is plenty of opportunity here. Obama and McCain were two of Capitol Hill’s foremost reformers (of course, that’s like being the tallest building in Topeka, Kansas) and they could easily collaborate on a new ethics bill. McCain says he hates lobbyists (despite keeping an awful lot of them in his inner circle) and Obama has promised to weaken lobbyists’ hold on Washington. Lobbying reform is low-hanging fruit for this pair.

They also agree on closing Guantanamo Bay, ending torture (where McCain tried to take the lead until he ran into opposition from the Bush Administration), and taking serious action on climate change. They both support comprehensive immigration reform. If McCain can pass a landmark bill on one or two of these subjects in the next eight years, he will likely enter history not as a presidential loser, but as one of the most productive and successful senators in a 15-20 year span.