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A person whose opinions or actions are at variance with most others’, whose viewpoints contradict those of the majority, is called a contrarian. 

Contrarians have that sometimes-annoying knack of seeing things that others miss – opportunities, connections, or relationships that others fail to apprehend or dangers they overlook.   John Maynard Keynes was a contrarian.  So are Warren Buffett and his legendary mentor, Benjamin Graham.  So is writer Christopher Hitchens. 

Contrarians use their heads; they think for themselves and have reasons for their actions.  As one wag pointed out, “When someone cries ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, a contrarian is the person who first checks to see if there really is a fire before rushing to the exit.” 

Contrarians are careful, thoughtful people who place a high premium on being right.  The most successful of them may become known as visionaries.  A contrarian who is wrong more often than right is called a gambler at best, a loose cannon or a wingnut at worst. 

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A contrarian is not the same as a maverick, although John McCain would like us to think so. 

John McCain was a contrarian at one time.  He is especially proud of the time, in 1983, when he voted against President Reagan’s decision to send troops to Lebanon.  At the time, he said, "I do not see any obtainable [sic] objectives in Lebanon, and the longer we stay there, the harder it will be to leave." 

McCain’s vote was tragically vindicated when a truck bomber slammed into the Marine Barracks in Beirut, killing 241 servicemen and triggering a US withdrawal.  McCain the contrarian was right. 

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But John McCain would never call himself a contrarian.  It’s a good word but we Americans don’t use it much outside Wall Street.  Contrarian sounds so effete, so elitist, so … so highfalutin’.  We Real Americans like our talk, like our whiskey, straight.   

Thus, John McCain styles himself as a maverick.  That’s a good word too. Maverick has punch.  A maverick is beholden to nobody. Maverick says Wild West in a way contrarian never could.  Besides, maverick is easier to say and to spell than contrarian. 

What’s more, maverick is a thoroughly American word.  In the 1840s, Samuel A. Maverick was a Texas cattle rancher.  Mr. Maverick did not bother to brand his calves figuring that, since everybody else branded theirs, his would be easy to identify by process of elimination.  Before long, any unbranded calf was called a maverick.   

Unfortunately, Mr. Maverick’s mavericks had a bad habit of darting off from the herd and running away, in directions and for reasons known only to them.  They bolted not because they had any bold new visions or directions for calfdom; they did it because they were headstrong, impetuous, reckless, unpredictable, undisciplined, and oblivious to risk. 

In that original sense, John McCain has indeed been a maverick for most of his adult life.  Commander Phil Butler, USN (Ret.) made that clear in a radio interview last summer with OpEdNews’ Rob Kall (1360 AM, WNJC).   

CDR Butler wrote an article called, “Why I Won’t Vote for John McCain,” based on his decades-old recollections as a dorm-mate of McCain’s at the Naval Academy and later, as a POW, at the Hanoi Hilton.  You can read a transcript of that excellent interview here: http://www.opednews.com/articles/Interview-With-Phil-Butler-by-Rob-Kall-081027-613.html 

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CDR Butler says that thanks to his “wild and wooly” nature, McCain elevated rule-breaking to an “art form” at the Naval Academy.  As a pilot, McCain “was a wild risk-taker and he still is.” 

“Wild and wooly” risk-taking is not CDR Butler’s only reservation about McCain.  He believes the lessons McCain took from his military experiences are wrong for today’s world: “I think his lessons from Vietnam are all wrong; he's helped lead us right back into another Vietnam in the Iraq War. 

“He's a bellicose kind of a guy, he's aggressive, he's a black and white thinker. He doesn't see nuances … he thinks that things are black and white.”  He characterizes McCain approach to the world as “ready, fire, aim.” 

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Rick Wise is an industrial psychologist and retired management consultant. For 15 years, he was managing director of ValueNet International, Inc. Before starting ValueNet, Rick was director, corporate training and, later, director, corporate (more...)

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