Mr. Maverick, where have you gone?
I take the unmaking of John McCain personally. Another lifetime ago, when he was running against Gov. G.W. Bush, I registered Republican to vote for McCain in the California presidential primary. He struck me as a principled problem solver. A man who might bring about a post-partisan revolution in good government and accountability.
So it's truly disheartening to watch McCain jettison the principled independence that used to make him a transcendent figure. Jerry Fallwell, formerly an "agent of intolerance" in McCain's estimation is now a chum, who no doubt smiled when McCain decided to deliver the keynote address at a creationist convention.
Abortion used to be a woman's choice. Now it's time to overturn Roe v. Wade, says McCain. McCain says he doesn't believe in building a border fence, but then, suddenly, in the same sentence, he offers to build the "damn fence" if the GOP base demands it. Same goes for gay marriage, which he recently said "should be allowed", until an adviser whispered in his ear, prompting him to clarify, "I do not think that gay marriages should be legal."
The one arena in which McCain's independence had remained resolute is his support for this disastrous war. Right or wrong you knew where he stood. And he's rightly been paying the price for that. The "surge" has become in popular parlance "The McCain Doctrine." More recently, McCain was rechristened by Chris Matthews as "John McBush."
So what's a maverick to do? Stick to his guns? Weather the storm?
No. Now it's time to speak out against...Donald Rumsfeld.
"I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history," McCain said this weekend of a man whose prosecution of the war McCain had previously supported, resolutely. A man McCain said at Rummy's retirement "deserves Americans' respect and gratitude."
Forget the kick-a-guy-after-he's-been-run-over-by-a-train aspect of McCain's remarks. McCain is clearly trying to distance himself from the failings of this war. As David Gergen put it to me recently: "John McCain's fortunes are tied Iraq; he's the tail to that kite now, because the president has embraced the McCain formula of more troops, and the probability is that this kite's not going to fly very well."
So Rummy makes a convenient scapegoat. But what chafes my hide is that McCain, alone among sitting senators not named Warner, could have been instrumental in forcing the president to remove Rumsfeld earlier. Years earlier. And yet John McCain offered instead his silent consent to Rummy's historically incompetent leadership.
This is no longer a man of principle. This is a man so rapt by the idea of becoming The Decider that there is no ideological jujitsu he's unwilling to perform to gain that power.