THE BLOG
09/13/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Integrity vs Ambition / McPain

It hurts to watch what's happening to John McCain.

We had Senator McCain on our Program in 2002 because democracy requires many perspectives. Much as I disagreed with him, I could respect our differences and appreciate his apparent integrity. No more.

Then, he was open -- and ashamed -- about having being a central figure in the "Keating Five" banking and ethics scandal in the late '80s. He knew he'd played a lead role in what became the savings and loan debacle which cost the American taxpayers billions. (Sound familiar?) He said he'd learned a lot from being one of the "Keating Five". Given his stated contrition and public stand against the power of special interests, I was willing to accept that we all make mistakes.

Alas, now his campaign reacts with "sharp criticism" when this important piece of history is raised ("The Caucus"/The New York Times Political Blog 05/10/08). They apparently think talking about it is not fitting for a "new politics". Never mind that the manifest connection between contributions and convictions has reappeared, resulting in Candidate McCain making major policy shifts (e.g., reverse position on offshore drilling, receive $285,000 from employees and family members of Hess oil company -- Harper's Weekly 08/12/08).

My willingness to look past our differences ended when Candidate McCain endorsed George Wallace, Jr., Republican candidate for Lt. Governor of Alabama. This is the son of the segregationist Governor of Alabama, George Wallace (yes, when it was no longer opportune, he recanted; yes, it no longer mattered). It's no accident that both parents were Democrats and that the son ran as a Republican. Gov. Wallace pretty much invented the racist "Southern strategy" which Republican's then adopted, embraced and carried forward for decades. In fact, it became key to Republican strategy -- and dominance -- ever since. Call it what it was and is: Racist. And ugly.

Candidate McCain's endorsement of George Wallace, Jr. is personal with us. My husband (and co-host) Bill Russell grew up in Alabama while Gov. Wallace was in charge. Bill graduated the last year that his public high school in Montgomery, Alabama was all-white. For decades, I've learned from Bill's stories of how racism and exploitation poison both the oppressor and the oppressed. Jr. is one opportunistic "apple" who did not fall far from the proverbial tree and Alabama has yet to recover from his father's blighted years in charge.

Thinking back to 2002, I see my respect for differences with Senator McCain in light of our shared experiences in the Vietnam era. Then, he seemed refreshingly self-aware of how limited his life experience was -- he and generations of his family were so profoundly cloistered in the closed world of the military establishment. It was all he knew for so long and when he ventured into the Senate, he tripped badly and was appropriately humbled as a Senator who gave in to greed. He sounded like a man of integrity.

What's changed? John McCain.

It is sad. It is McPainful.

You'll find a wealth of "Conversations" with people whose integrity has not given way to ambition at our website .