In the modern political era, voters have come to expect presidential candidates to be, well, presidential. There's an expectation of respect and decorum. Candidates are going to go on the attack on occasion, but Americans have a reasonable expectation that would-be presidents aren't going to fly off the handle. After all, if a candidate can't conduct himself or herself with dignity and class while on the campaign trail, how would the candidate perform in the White House, when the pressure's on?
With that in mind, it seems, with each passing day, that John McCain is starting to lose his cool. It's one thing to go on the attack; it's another to get reckless. And as much as I understand McCain's desire to be president, I can't help but notice that his desperation is beginning to cloud his judgment, and lead him to make reckless errors.
Yesterday, for example, during an interview with the Kansas City Star, McCain suggested Barack Obama is an "extremist," and possibly even a "socialist." The Jed Report has the video, but McCain ultimately insisted that Obama's "voting record ... is more to the left than the announced socialist in the United States Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont." When reporter Dave Helling asked if McCain believes Obama is a socialist, McCain said, "Oh I don't know," as if it were a distinct possibility.
McCain, bordering on delusion, then accused Obama of reversing course on comprehensive immigration reform, which is hysterical, given that McCain reversed course on comprehensive immigration reform and Obama didn't.
We were also treated to this fascinating exchange:
Q: But you flip-flop a little bit too.
McCain: No, I didn't.
Q: You flip-flop on drilling, on tax cuts...
McCain: Actually, I didn't. Actually, on the drilling issue, when gasoline reached $4 a gallon, we've got to do things that we otherwise haven't done in the past. I have not changed my mind on any other issue. On immigration, I said we need comprehensive immigration reform, it failed twice, so we've got to do what's going to succeed.
Q: But you were against the tax cuts, now you're talking about making them permanent. Isn't there flip-flopping on both sides?
McCain: Actually, no.
Now, if McCain wants to justify his reversals, that's fine. He can explain why he changed his mind on various policies, and hope that voters understand. But McCain has instead decided to pretend that he's never flip-flopped at all. Reality just didn't happen in McCain's odd worldview.
McCain said, "I have not changed my mind on any other issue." That's obviously false.
McCain relied on National Journal rankings to label Obama an "extremist," even though the rankings have already been debunked.
McCain says Obama hasn't "reached across the aisle," despite the plenty of instances of Obama doing just that.
But that "socialist" line is pretty extraordinary. McCain, no matter how wrong he was on a given issue, used to conduct himself with a little more class. Even when one disagreed with him, it was easier to at least respect him as a senator.
But Candidate McCain has become reckless, and frankly, kind of an embarrassment to himself.
McCain worked for many years to develop a solid reputation in the political establishment, as a credible guy who took policy matters seriously. It's a shame to see him throw this reputation away as part of a win-at-all-costs crusade for the presidency. The pressure is clearly getting to him.
Hasn't McCain ever heard the phrase, "Never let 'em see you sweat"?
Follow Steve Benen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stevebenen