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March 28, 2006
The Untrue Always Disappoint, E.J.

E.J. Dionne makes a discovery that has echoes going back into antiquity -- that someone willing to betray their old friends are damned likely to betray their new friends as well. The press has conducted a love affair with John McCain for the past few years, dubbing him a "maverick" while McCain adopts a posture du jour to ensure as much camera time as possible. The center-left punditry cheered McCain when he kneecapped his own party's majority in the Senate and created an unprecedented star chamber to approve judicial nominees. They feted him while he played footsie with the notion of joining John Kerry's ticket as his running mate, denying his interest while defending Kerry publicly. And they adored McCain when he granted them a monopoly on political debate in the final 60 days of any federal election.

John McCain was their kind of guy ... at least until John McCain discovered that Democrats don't usually win Republican primaries, except in New York and Washington DC. Now that McCain has become a born-again Republican, however, the word "maverick" seems to have lost its luster:

McCain the Maverick fought for campaign finance reform, took global warming seriously, opposed Bush's tax cuts and spoke out against torture.

Those positions bred mistrust in McCain's own party, even though he was always a staunch supporter of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, a firm opponent of pork-barrel spending, an abortion foe and an advocate of private accounts carved out of Social Security.

McCain's problem is that political parties rarely nominate mavericks, and McCain has decided the only way he'll ever be president is as the Republican nominee. So today he cares very much about what hurts him or helps him in his own party.

The trouble with McCain the Maverick is that he never existed. McCain has spent his entire political career as McCain the Center of the Universe, mostly adopting positions that get him as much air time as possible. It comes as no surprise that he now wants to suck up to the Bush contingent in the GOP, which E.J. inaccurately considers the more conservative faction. The Bush contingent happens to have the party's best organizers at the moment. McCain needs them for his own organization as well as to keep them out of the hands of his rivals, especially Mitt Romney, who stole a march on McCain's Arizona base last night. Mormons have political strength in Arizona and Romney may be the only candidate who can really hurt McCain at home.

The problem with McCain isn't that he is a maverick or a conservative, but that McCain can't be trusted to be either. He began his Senate campaign by getting into bed with Charles Keating, and then to wash away that scandal, decided to become more Catholic than the Pope on campaign ethics and fundraising reform. He helped pass the most flagrant restrictions on political speech since the turn of the last century. After three successive GOP campaigns to gain a solid majority in the Senate to confirm conservative judicial appointees, he instead formed the Gang of 14, with himself as the titular head, effectively supplanting his own leadership on judicial appointments. As Dionne notes, he has opposed the tax cuts that Republicans promised in every election for the past six years. He has demonstrated repeatedly that he offers little reliability -- but as long as he betrayed the GOP, the press loved him.

Now that he is betraying his earlier betrayals, Dionne eloquently verbalizes the disappointment that his admirers feel. All I can say to E.J. is that unfaithfulness is rarely a singular event. When one dates the town flirt, one should not be surprised to find his affections fleeting and meaningless.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 28, 2006 6:45 AM

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