It is always fascinating to watch a politician screw themselves. When it is the Democratic nominee (Dukakis answer to the Kitty/death penalty question, or his ride in the tank; Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it" while the Republicans were running flip-flop ads against him), it is agony. When it is a Republican, it is of course more fun for a Democrat like myself. But to watch a politician like John McCain completely dismantle his own carefully built brand, the sight is a little sad, even coming from a partisan like myself.
John McCain is going through just such a ritual right now, and it sure is ugly to watch. In the 2000 election and the three years following, he had built a powerful, enduring brand as an American icon: proud, independent, a feisty maverick who- most important of all- was a straight shooter who called it as he saw it. The traditional media had bought it, and the American public mostly bought it, too. At some point in 2004, though, he made a fateful decision that his best path to the presidency was to go hat in hand to the Republican Party establishment, that he would be able to make peace with them while continuing to convince the media and the public that he was still the same old straight-talking maverick they knew and loved. It might have worked if the current GOP leadership hadn't become so fattened and arrogant in its corruption that they didn't force McCain to humiliate himself publicly in front of them. But the strategy also toppled over the side because of McCain himself: it turns out at his core, the whole independent, straight-talking maverick thing was a lie. You can fool people for awhile (see George W. Bush 2000-2004), but sooner or later the truth will out (see George W. Bush 2005-through the rest of history).
First, of course, was the humiliating 2004 campaign, where McCain said whenever he was told wherever he was told to say it. Then came the appalling cave-in on the issue so central to his biography, torture itself. Then the public sucking-up to Jerry Falwell and other right wing "agents of intolerance." And now this ridiculous trip to the safe, friendly marketplace in Iraq. Did you note that McCain said on Friday that he has "misstated" the situation? No, John, you just flat-out lied.
Straight-talking? Completely and totally gone.
I'm glad Democrats don't have to worry about John McCain much anymore. It's just painful to see a man so totally lose his soul.
Mike Lux is the president of American Family Voices, on issue advocacy group sometimes described as the "free safety" of the progressive movement, and consults for progressive organizations and donors through his consulting firm, Progressive Strategies LLC.