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Dylan Loewe Headshot

McCain's Viagra Problem

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Losing the presidency must be pretty tough. It's worse than losing a Super Bowl -- at least then you're a worthy prospect for the following year. It's worse than losing the gold -- at least that gets referred to as "winning the silver." A presidential loss signals the beginning of the end of a career rather than the start of something immense. It's akin to a wedding proposal gone bad, in which a man is left alone on his couch, wondering how the glowing future he pictured just walked out the door.

And everyone's watching.

Impressively, most newly-minted presidential losers have acted more as statesmen than politicians in the aftermath of their losses, seeming wiser, more friendly, more open than they had on the trail. Some have even spurred the occasional "if only I'd known" syndrome in the American public. If only I'd known that Al Gore cared so much about the environment. If only I'd known that Bush Sr. jumped out of airplanes. If only I'd known how much Bob Dole loves Pepsi and Viagra. If only.

Even those whose political credibility were trampled by their campaigns -- the John Kerrys and Michael Dukakises of the bunch -- have managed to mute their partisanship, restrain their desire for vendetta, always avoiding the potential ugliness of being perceived as bitter.

Yet when it comes to this exclusive club, John McCain, it turns out, is quite the maverick.

Not since Ralph Nader has someone so willfully dismantled his own reputation and legacy like John McCain. Once a noble and battered war hero, McCain has morphed from integrity-driven campaign hero of 2000 to right-wing groveling partisan of 2008, to sorely bitter loser of 2009. Instead of trying to repair his badly damaged brand, instead of reciprocating Obama's post-election overtures, McCain chose, after what must have been careful deliberation, to go on an all-out tirade.

During the stimulus debate, McCain was one of the most prominent leaders of the opposition, spending the week producing sound-bite worthy grumbles of anger and bitterness. He aggressively challenged the president as a old-style partisan, accusing him, literally, of "generational theft." He mocked the president's bipartisan efforts, accused him of breaking campaign promises, and suggested Obama start over.

And that's just the first four weeks.

McCain seems unwilling -- perhaps unable -- to shake his latest persona. Even the old McCain could be endearing on late night talk shows and morning news programs. The new McCain prefers blowing off Barbara Walters when she offers him a seat on The View.

McCain thinks he's the victim, of the press, of the Democrats, of Obama's success. In fact, he is the victim of his own blinded judgment, the victim of a decision to scrap any semblance of himself for a long-shot bid at the presidency.

Americans hate kicking a guy when he's down. The public has, by and large, been very kind to its presidential runners-up. But if McCain continues to dabble in over-the-top, in-your-face, logic-be-damned style bloviating, his presence in the history books may well be reduced to a diminishing footnote: John McCain*, bitter old man.