John McCain spent over five years in a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam. He was given the choice to leave when the Vietnamese found out his dad was a senior Admiral in the US military. He declined to leave his men behind and stayed for many more years in the Hanoi Hilton where he was regularly tortured. He is a genuine American hero.
The Senator from Arizona has also spent a majority of his political life defying partisan politics. He has tried to clean up campaign financing. He has often worked with the other party to find middle ground. And lately he insisted on banning torture by the United States in defiance of the administration.
I voted for John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries. I thought he would have made an excellent president. I was proud to support this American hero and rare courageous politician.
So, it is with profound disappointment that I say that we have lost John McCain. He has become what he warned us against. He has turned into a pandering politician who will stop at nothing to get elected.
John McCain will be speaking at the commencement ceremonies of Liberty University in May. The founder of Liberty University is Jerry Falwell. McCain is going to Liberty to kiss the ring of Falwell (to put it politely).
Here's what Senator McCain had to say about the idea of pandering to Falwell in 2000:
"Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the right."
How the mighty have fallen. Where have you gone John McCain? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. The Straight Talk Express has left and gone away. You promised back then that you wouldn't pander to these guys. You lied. You broke our trust.
McCain lost the infamous South Carolina Republican primary in 2000. A primary in which Bush supporters called voters to ask them whether it would change their vote if they knew John McCain had an illegitimate black child (McCain has an adopted child from Bangladesh). He lost to the zealots and he lost to them in the meanest, dirtiest way possible.
Instead of fighting back on his own terms, unfortunately, Senator McCain has apparently learned the terrible lesson: if you can't beat them, join them. He has sold out what little there was of his remaining principles. To pander to Falwell of all people -- it is not only terribly disappointing, but also, nakedly, awkwardly obvious. It is bowing your head to the agents of intolerance.
McCain had a chance after 2000 to say that he was going to do it his way, the right way -- even if it meant he would never be elected president. He should have kept the faith. Now that Bush's numbers are tanking, he would have seemed a natural alternative in 2008.
Instead he chose to embrace the people who tore him down and who have torn this country down. He hugged Bush during the 2004 election. He backed this disastrous war in Iraq. He didn't complain when the administration shamelessly linked the war to 9/11. He didn't complain when they demagouged the country with their fear tactics. He didn't complain when they hid behind the troops to justify their political decisions. He bowed his head and complied.
But worse than all of this is his reaction to what President Bush did to his torture amendment. He fought the administration on torture -- and gave us hope again that there were men of character left in politics. He won. His amendment called for the US to stop any and all torture of detainees.
President Bush pretended to go along when it was obvious he had lost the political fight. Then afterward he signed a signing statement that gutted the amendment. In essence, his signing statement attached to the bill said that he would not follow the law. Torture would continue.
And what did McCain do in response? Absolutely nothing.
Here's the difference between the average Republican voter and John McCain -- John McCain knows. The average voter can claim that he had no idea what Bush was up to, or in this case, what a signing statement means. Senator McCain can't make this claim. He knows exactly what they are up to. He knows exactly what that signing statement means. And he bows his head.
McCain has gone so far off the deep edge now that he suggests we teach intelligent design along with evolution. You might be able to convince me that Rick Santorum or George Allen is ignorant enough to doubt evolution, but McCain knows. He is not that dumb -- and that's why his pander is all the more inexcusable.
What's next? Will he call voters and ask them if they know about his opponent's black children? How low can he go? Where does the Sell-Out Express stop next?
Since he's already kissed up to Jerry Falwell, will he suck up to Pat Robertson next? Should Hugo Chavez be worried? Or worse yet, will he try to hire Karl Rove as his political advisor?
Apparently, McCain believes that Bush was right -- politically. That the way to win in the Republican Party is to appeal to the intolerant and the ignorant. That doesn't turn him off. Instead of fighting against that, he now embraces it. He is a shell of his former self. It's a sad spectacle.
Politics has corrupted the last good man. It is complete. The Vietnamese couldn't break him, but eventually his own ambition did. It is a sad, cautionary tale. It will be brought to its natural conclusion when he loses again this time, ironically, because he embraced Bush and the agents of intolerance too much.
Gore should have asked for a recount of the whole state of Florida. If he did, he would have won. Instead he asked to recount only the counties he thought leaned toward him, and he lost. McCain should have stuck to principle, instead he sold out. Now, he will lose because the country has had enough of these charlatans.
It's almost enough to give a man hope. There might be no good men left, but at least there is some justice in the world. And in 2008, McCain will feel the wrath of that justice.