Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Lost McCain

If he had not been sidetracked in 2000 by the Bush-Rove smear machine, John McCain might have attracted enough Independents and so-called Reagan Democrats to win the White House without the help of the Supreme Court.

In that event, would we have been spared not only the Bush years but the far different McCain who is contending for the Presidency this year?

In power after 9/11, McCain would not have had a Dick Cheney and his Neo-Cons to torture intelligence into a case for invading Iraq and, even with his own quasi-religious faith in military force, might have presided over a saner response to the threat of Islamic extremism.

But that McCain, who charmed the media with his candor, is long gone, vaporized by bitterness over what Bush et al did to him back then, by his decision to court the Religious Right he once disdained, by tailoring his views on tax cuts for the very rich to win over the Grover Norquist gang in the primaries, by hooking up with the likes of Joe Lieberman to become the champion of a war he might never have started.

In the coming months, Democrats will have to work hard to make voters understand that this year's Republican standard bearer is not the John McCain of 2000, who would not have needed Lieberman to whisper in his ear after confusing Iran and al Qaeda, who would not be entrusting his own professed ignorance about the economy to those who helped deregulate us into recession, who might have included Independents and Democrats in an administration back then but would be too compromised to do so now.

McCain has always had a romanticized picture of himself that an admiring media has helped perpetuate. His favorite movie, "Viva Zapata," is about an uncompromising man of the people done in by petty politicians, an image that helps explain constant battles with members of his own party in the Senate and displays of temper when challenged.

As the rightmost Republicans who changed him over the past eight years try to sell McCain as the man he was then, it will be up to the Democratic candidate to bring down that Wizard of Oz fa├žade without alienating voters who respect his lifetime of service to the country.

When all the primary garbage is cleared away, Barack Obama will be in a better position to do that than Hillary Clinton.

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