Tuesday, July 17, 2007

McCain's Free-Fall

Drew Westen, in "Telling Stories on the Campaign Trail: Lessons from McCain's Free-Fall" at The Huffington Post, writes:

    The problem for John McCain was that his transparent right turn onto a bridge to nowhere and his cheerleading for a man he personally knew to be despicable -- because he'd looked into his eyes in South Carolina and seen his soul -- didn't fit the story that made him so compelling. Instead, as the perfidy of Bush Republicanism was about to become increasingly clear to the American public, what became equally clear was that the honorable McCain had learned from Dubbya that the straightest line between McCain and the White House was a dishonorable one. [Read the whole thing here.]

Though never a big fan of McCain, I once upon a time had him in the "maybe not so terrible" column of presidential contenders. In years gone by, I felt that, philosophical and political differences aside, he was a man of integrity, and had he gained the GOP nomination in 2000, and won, well, that would certainly be a better outcome than some others I could think of (which came true). But now McCain has emerged as Just Another Politician, willing if not eager to check his integrity at the door, set aside any principle or higher ideal, in his quest for office. As Westen puts it, "he sold his soul for a brief lease on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

It's actually sad: If he had always been a guy I distrusted (or worse), his behavior on the campaign trail this season would serve as an I-told-you-so moment. The fact that I once had a certain regard for him (albeit perhaps grudging) makes his fall--and his bizarre tone-deafness to the way he is coming off even within his own party--an ungleeful event.

The mistake McCain made is this: As Westen points out, he seems to have decided that Bush's 2000 playbook was his path to the White House. But Bush was, is, and always will be unprincipled. McCain was, or at least was perceived as, a man of principle. (Remember the "Straight Talk Express," anyone?) When he threw principle out the window, when he revealed himself as another empty suit who would say or do anything to get elected, he lost not only his chance but himself.

It's too bad that his legacy now seems to be to serve as an object lesson to other politicians. As if they're listening.

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