The recent SBVT controversy has reminded folks of how Bushco savaged John McCain in the primary there in 2000, not that John McCain needs reminding. McCain’s initial response was quick and to the point:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, called an ad criticizing John Kerry's military service "dishonest and dishonorable" and urged the White House on Thursday to condemn it as well.
"It was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me," McCain said in an interview with The Associated Press, referring to his bitter Republican primary fight with President Bush.
The unmentioned villain in McCain’s recollection was none other than the same President Bush he endorsed at the 2000 Republican Convention and now campaigns with. Any reasonable person knows McCain can’t respect Bush and any political observer knows he tweaks him whenever he can. But he continues to play “good soldier” by campaigning with the Shrub and even letting the chimp hug him as if they pledged DKE together. Bush hasn’t condemned anything but the right of all 527s to air ads, honest or not—spotting the ethical issue has never been a Bush family strong suit. But McCain continues to boost up the ugly beast that eviscerated his chances for the Presidency in 2000. Why? Playing good soldier keeps him viable for 2008, or so he thinks. In fact, the Republican orthodoxy will have none of it, but the man is an admitted addict:
Some Republicans think the answer is more complex. "John wants to prove where his loyalties lie for anyone who questioned that," says Bill Dal Col, a Republican strategist who ran Steve Forbes' 2000 presidential campaign.
Others think McCain, who is 67 and has fought skin cancer, may want to run for president again.
"He's clearly looking downstream," says Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who managed Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. "Being a good Republican who's very popular with independents and Democrats is an attractive package for a future run for national office. McCain's team is aggressively working to keep as many options on the table as possible."
McCain issues a standard disclaimer. "I'm running for re-election to the Senate and I don't have any ambitions beyond that," he says. But quoting his late friend Morris Udall, a former Arizona congressman and Democratic presidential candidate, he adds, "Presidential ambition is a disease which can only be cured by embalming fluid."
And so, McCain compromises his principles—again. His presidential hopes were not the only thing he lost in South Carolina. He sacrificed his integrity there, too:
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I believe the flag should be removed from your capitol. I should have done this earlier, when an honest answer could have affected me personally. I did not do so for one reason alone: I feared if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.
He’s compromising those principles once again. McCain is more honest than most politicians. Not many would have ever admitted so forthrightly what he did in South Carolina in 2000. But he’s far from pure when it comes to his “principles.” And at 67 he’s probably running out of chances to demonstrate true integrity.