What Happened to the Maverick?

This election offers me something unique: Two candidates for whom I have already voted.

In the 2000 primary, I voted for John McCain for the Republican nomination. I liked his character, his pro-life stand, his ability to reach across the aisle to work with the other party, his willingness to swim against his own party on issues like energy, economic policy, and campaign finance reform.

In this year’s primary, I voted for Barack Obama (Ohio lets you choose your Party affiliation at the time you vote in a primary). I liked his strong stand against the war in Iraq, his economic policies, his ability to communicate higher ideals for the direction of the country, his promise to bring back respectability for the United States in the world, and his not being Hillary Clinton. Hee hee.

So, as I look at the two candidates and try to discern who should get my vote for President, I am deeply troubled by something: I liked the 2000 John McCain much more than the 2008 John McCain.

His 2008 campaign has looked much more like the Rove-era Bush campaigns than the 2000 Straight Talk Express, manipulating the same-old cultural divisiveness that has been the hallmark of Republican politics for the past decade. He is playing the same dirty politics that Bush played on him back in 2000.

As E.J. Dionne writes today in the Washington Post,

"McCain could not change his party, so he changed himself. McCain has pandered to a Republican right wing he once disdained on issue after issue, from oil drilling to immigration to tax cuts for the wealthy. Just as important, he decided that his last chance for the presidency rests on a systematic effort to make the old politics of demonization work one more time."

What happened to the 2000 McCain, who didn’t capitulate to the far right wing of the party? What happened to the 2000 McCain, the guy who had the guts to say this in his run for the President in 2000:

“America is more than the sum of its divided parts, and so our party should be. America is more powerful than its established power centers, and so our party should be. America is greater than the accumulation of wealth, and so our party should be. This is my message to my party and my country…

“…Let me be clear. Evangelical leaders are changing America for the better. Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship, is saving men from a lifetime behind bars by bringing them the good news of redemption. James Dobson, who does not support me, has devoted his life to rebuilding America's families. Others are leading the fight against pornography, cultural decline and for life. I stand with them. I am a pro-life, pro-family fiscal conservative, an advocate of a strong defense.

And yet Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate. They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don't pander to them, because I don't ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message. I believe in the cause of conservative reform. I believe that because we are right we will prevail in the battle of ideas, unspoiled by the taint of a corrupt campaign finance scheme that works against the very conservative reform of government that is the object of our labors. The Republican Party will prevail because of our principles, because that's what it's about, my friends: principles, not special-interest money or empire or ego…

“Political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value. The political tactics of division and slander are not our values, they are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country. Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”

Now, THAT’S the guy I voted for!

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