John we hardly knew you. There was a time when Democrats and Republicans both admired Senator John McCain not only because of his military service and the hardship he endured as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam but also because he was considered a straight-shooter, tell-it-like it-is member of the Senate. Unlike many of his fellow Republicans he seemed to follow the dictates of an inner sense of what was right.

As a war vet it was important that he stood firmly against the use of torture by US interrogators. His was the voice of reason and experience, holding fast in the face of pressure from the White House and colleagues. And he had previously spoken out against the religious right that threatened to hi-jack the Republican Party calling them “agents of intolerance.”

But McCain changed over time as thoughts of the Oval Office danced in his head and  made him willing to forgo his better instincts as he waited patiently for his turn. He had allowed the Bush campaign to malign and push-poll him out of contention in 2000 with hardly a murmur and remained loyal to the administration in most things, even exchanging hugs with his defamer on various occasions, puzzling many who expected something of a cooler relationship after the nasty political contretemps of the past.

And it might not have been clear to those in the general population, perhaps because he is often described as a political maverick, that McCain is a very conservative voter on most issues Republicans hold dear. Still the religious right has never embraced him because of his earlier critical remarks about them. So these days McCain can be seen currying favor among evangelicals, trying to mend the fences he erected when he spoke more honestly about those who would use religion as a political device. And he has won the endorsement of former candidate and outspoken religious conservative in the Senate, Sam Brownback.

As the long, tortured campaign for the White House wears on, more disappointing aspects of the McCain persona keep surfacing. They are disappointing only because he seemed more palatable than bottom-feeders like Rudolph Giuliani or empty suits like Ken-doll Mitt Romney. But he chose to comment that he was “tied-up” when the events at Woodstock were occurring using his prisoner-of-war experience to take a shot at Hillary Clinton for her proposed earmark to fund a Woodstock Museum – – a not uncommon attempt by a senator to provide funds for a home-state project – – an earmark that has since been withdrawn.

But the most telling indication of McCain’s descent into political sleaze was his response to a question at a recent campaign function. A woman asked him what it would take to “beat the bitch” and, laughing, McCain responded, “That’s a good question.” It wasn’t just un-gentlemanly; it was insulting in general and uncommonly so in the case of a fellow Senate colleague. Did he really have to pander to that supporter instead of delivering a gentle reprimand that would have kept her in his camp but rejected name-calling and disrespect for candidates of either party? That’s what a man of character would have done, and aren’t character and values what McCain’s party keeps insisting they stand for?

The Republican candidates aren’t an encouraging lot. There are those beloved by the religious right or tolerated by them because, like Giuliani, they promise, no matter what their beliefs, to follow the dictates of conservatives when it comes to court appointments. And there are those who say the states should decide matters such as abortion and never mind overturning Roe V. Wade at the federal level. And only Ron Paul among them wants us out of Iraq and disengaged from all foreign entanglements. What most people fail to realize about Paul, though, it that he wants the federal government out of almost everything including emergency aid to states in times of disasters.

And while Conservatives are always able to generate enthusiasm for tax cuts among the Republican base military, infrastructure and social programs must be funded somehow, usually through the magic of government’s power to tax. The administration is borrowing to cover war expenditures while sending supplementals up to Congress instead of including them in the regular budgeting process. That may make it appear there has been serious deficit reduction, but of course we should all know better and as we should know as well that debts must at some point be repaid.

In any case, the current slate of Republicans promises just another dose of the poisonous brew that has been forced down our throats for almost seven years. John McCain used to stand for something better, or so it seemed, but he has become just another aging, ambitious presidential hopeful who will do anything to get elected; he shouldn’t be counting on any cross-over votes this time around.

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