04/10/2007 01:29 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The McCain Express Makes Some Unscheduled Stops

It's always impressive, when a person acknowledges mistakes. We all hope we have it in ourselves. When it occurs in a public figure, where the light shining is far brighter, then the admission - rather than trying to flim-flam everyone - is particularly notable.

Therefore it was significant when John McCain took his Straight Talk Express into the 60 Minutes depot to address his overly-sunny statements about Iraq, statements that brought him under deserved ridicule. And so, there, admirably, was Sen. McCain (R-AZ), straight out explaining his blunder.

"Of course I am going to misspeak and I've done it on numerous occasions and I probably will do it in the future. I regret that when I divert attention to something I said from my message, but..."

Wait a second! This is his explanation? His apology? That he...misspoke?? Color me bewildered - I always thought that when you "misspeak," it's because you said something like, "When the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series in 1920," and it was actually 1908. Or "I had toast for breakfast," but it was an English muffin. It's even "misspeaking" to say about Iraq, "We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives," and instead release a statement the next day, "I should have used the word, 'sacrifice." That's "misspeaking," and Sen. McCain handled it properly.

But when you -

1. Tell a Baghdad press conference that your visit to a market proved that you could "walk freely" in the city.

2. Tell Bill Bennett on his radio show: "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods, today. The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq."

3. Tell Wolf Blitzer admonishingly on CNN: "That's where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed humvee. I think you oughta catch up. You are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don't get it through the filter of some of the media."

That's not "misspeaking." That's a Talking Point. That's a Campaign Speech. That's intentional, and it's prepared. (The only other explanation is a brain freeze.) In fact, in the midst of his 60 Minutes explanation of "misspeaking," he yet again told reporter Scott Pelley, "I can tell you that if it had been two months ago and I'd asked to do it, they would have said, 'Under no circumstances whatsoever.' I view that as a sign of progress." So, not only is he not "misspeaking," he's repeating the very boondoggles that forced him to appear on 60 Minutes in the first place.

Indeed, it's even worse than that. Let's go back to that explanation about "misspeaking" and look at the very next sentence where he says what he's sorry for:

"I regret that when I divert attention to something I said from my message."

Yipes! First, he's not apologizing for his incorrect facts or even for "misspeaking." He's sorry only about diverting attention. And second, he's sorry for diverting attention to something he himself said!! That's like George Allen apologizing for diverting attention to people seeing him call someone "Macacca."

But bizarrely it gets even worse, because Sen. McCain then continues in the very same "apology" - "but you know, that's just life," adding, "I'm happy, frankly, with the way I operate, otherwise it would be a lot less fun."

There's something ethereally ironic when talking about a war where 3,200 Americans have died, and over 600,000 Iraqis have died, that you brush off your statement by saying, "That's life." (Note to Senator: That's misspeaking.) And then you top that apology - in a discussion about war and death - by saying you're "happy" with what you've done, and that it's "fun." (Another note: That's misspeaking, too.)

In truth, no one can remotely doubt John McCain's understanding of war being anything but the opposite of fun, happy and merely "just life." He understands that in ways far more deeply that most people can ever dream of.

But this isn't about that. This is about someone taking that very understanding, covering it with a tarp and packing it away in the bottom of a steamer trunk. And then burying the trunk deep into the bowels of the earth. And building a shopping mall on top of it.

For someone who has based his presidential campaign on being The Straight Talk candidate, this double-dissembling (the initial statement about Iraq, and follow-up explanation) is about as symbolic as it gets to why McCain's Straight Talk Express has gotten derailed. The engineer has lost his map. He has no direction. He'll drive the train anywhere there are pedestrians standing idly.

When you kiss and hug the man who smeared you. When you deliver a benediction in the house whose residents you decry. When you tie your foot to the anchor of a war that's dragging an entire party into the bottom of the ocean, you have nowhere to go but down with it.

Perhaps John McCain can right his campaign and decency. Perhaps. But if his train continues the direction it's going, his 60 minutes are up.