John McCain
(August 2007)

It would have been relatively simple for Senator John McCain to become the frontrunner for the presidential election in 2008, despite his age and reputation as a maverick. All he had to do was to calibrate his positions to poll results, like, well, let’s seeÂ…Hillary, John Edwards, Obama, Romney, and Rudy. McCain’s biggest strength was his appeal to liberals and independents; that constituency wants him to jump on the “Pull Out of Iraq Now” bandwagon. He also had to satisfy the hard-core GOP Right, without whom he can’t possibly be nominated. They occupy the “No Amnesty” camp on immigration reform. But McCain, while making it clear that he feels the war effort has been botched, still believes in the mission and wants it to be completed. Goodbye, anti-war voters! And he believes that a compromise solution to the immigration mess is critical, so much so that he joined forces with one of the Right’s biggest bogeymen, Senator Ted Kennedy. So long, Conservatives. Now McCain’s campaign is falling apart in chunks. Contributions are drying up, his poll numbers are collapsing, and his staff has imploded.

Senator McCain is not going to be the next president. But the primary reason for his failure is his integrity, which unlike virtually every other candidate who actually has a shot at being elected (it is easy to be bold and honest when you have no chance of winning; see Kucinich, Dennis; Gravel, Mike; et al.), is not a commodity McCain is willing to chuck for popular support. Is he right about Iraq and immigration? That’s irrelevant to the evaluation of his ethics and character. He thinks he’s right, and has the courage to tell the voters what he really stands for, something that, to pick the most egregious example, the platitude-spouting Senator Clinton seems incapable of doing.

John McCain would rather be honest than be president. The fact that he cannot be both has unpleasant implications for American democracy.

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