What happened to John McCain? What happened to the man so many of us in New Hampshire have admired and respected for so long? The fierce bipartisan warrior, the straight talker, the maverick whose ideas nearly everyone found some common ground with now seems missing in action. He seems to have betrayed the very attributes that originally commended him to us and earned our earlier trust and support.
We continue to stand in awe of his heroic service to his country during Vietnam, but now he shamelessly uses those experiences at every opportunity, as if it excuses him from having to answer any really tough questions about the economy or foreign policy. The answer to everything is not to mention his admittedly harrowing POW days. My experience interviewing heroes of war is that most prefer to deflect attention from themselves and let their record speak for itself. McCain seems to think that it buys him a permanent pass. But it is impossible to know how to fight the new wars if you are hopelessly lost in the old ones.
Surrounded and programmed by the lobbyists he once despised, the man who once effortlessly straddled the aisle and spoke from the heart now carefully hews to a prompter-read, soulless far-right agenda.
This is a man who once denounced and purposefully avoided the politics of personal destruction, having felt firsthand its painful consequences in 2000 in South Carolina, but who now wants to win at any cost. By ridiculing his opponent's commitment to public service, he has undermined the very reason we were drawn to McCain in the first place. By trying to steal the mantle of change from the Democrats, he demonstrates only the riskiness of his shoot-from-the-hip style. That may have worked in the Senate and on the campaign trail, but it is hardly presidential. In fact, it is frightening in the extreme and bespeaks an instability difficult to reconcile considering our complicated world and its myriad problems.
More to the point, he continues almost daily to demonstrate that instability and other judgmental and temperamental concerns, issues and complaints that originally brought a slew of challengers into the Republican primary contests. And in the most important decision of his candidacy, he cynically and irresponsibly chose the supremely unqualified Sarah Palin, cheapening the race as if it were some high school popularity contest or the latest "American Idol" competition.
Even the most ardent true-believers among us must be privately shaking in their boots contemplating a heart-beat-away Palin presidency during these difficult times. When Putin acts up, who do you want whispering in your President's ear: Joe Biden or Sarah Palin?
McCain is a man who once championed openness and fairness in government, who now wants to continue the failed policies of the current administration and who increasingly wants to make the crucial decisions of our democracy behind closed doors with the same cronies who got us into this mess in the first place. And he has shown a profound indifference to and often startling ignorance of economic affairs just as our country inches toward depression.
That threatens to make him the next Herbert Hoover if he should win. And his old strong suit, foreign policy, is slipping away too, as gaffe after gaffe displays his fundamental shortcomings. I want my President to know the difference between a Sunni and Shia. John McCain does not.
We in New Hampshire bear some responsibility, I suppose. Thinking we had the old McCain, we gave him a decisive victory in our primary that permitted him to vanquish those challengers. But he betrayed us. If you have to say you're a maverick in your ads, it's clear you're not. The real maverick turns out to be Barack Obama, who bucked his party's establishment and whose once-lonely positions have been adopted by nearly everyone including even the Bush administration. Nearly everyone, that is, except John McCain. So what happened to him?
That's what Granite State citizens have been asking the last few months. The answer is enough to turn us blue.
This article first appeared in the Manchester Union Leader.