Monday, April 23, 2007

The Fall of John McCain

Posted Monday, April 23 2007 12:04:00 am

John McCain is no Brian Wilson, and his recent take on the song “Barbara Ann” (which Wilson and the rest of the Beach Boys made famous) highlighted not so much his singing ability, but rather the fact that his best days are as far behind him as those of the 1960s rock band.

At a campaign stop in South Carolina on Wednesday, the Senator answered a question about potential military action by singing “bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys song. McCain stood alone on the stage, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and fidgeting with his hands as a man in the audience stood and addressed the room. He softly answered the man’s question, attempting to make a joke but ultimately sounding awkward and unsure. The remark has been fodder for liberals and the media, and for good reason. It is only the latest in a series of missteps that mark the decline of John McCain.

The Senator is scheduled to officially kick off his presidential campaign on Tuesday, but it may already be dead in the water. McCain’s Beach Boy impression follows a string of similar incidents. After an April 1 trip to an outdoor marketplace in Iraq, McCain told reporters of the improving security conditions in the country, and that the area he visited was safe for Americans to travel in. The market was attacked by an ambush of gunfire the next day and 21 people were killed.

That comment came one month after another equally controversial one. On the "Late Show with David Letterman," McCain described the lives of Americans killed in Iraq as “wasted,” even though his support of the war has been steadfast and stubborn. This is yet another example of McCain skimping on the “straight” part of his “straight talk express.”

At some point, the “I misspoke” defense loses its viability and a candidate’s comments become part of a pattern that must be taken at face value. John McCain is at that point. Even worse, his verbal slips have accompanied weak, politically motivated actions, like his Iraq trip and delivering the 2006 commencement address at Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

In the past year, McCain has gone from Republican frontrunner in 2008 to likely also-ran. He has also chosen to wager his entire presidential campaign on an increasingly disastrous and unpopular war. The transformation he has made since his 2000 campaign is remarkable. McCain has gone from a charismatic maverick, a war hero with appeal to members of all parties, to just another politician doing anything he can to get elected. He is not alone in this; all candidates (or at least good ones) put forth their strongest effort to win the office they seek, but rarely do they do it with the insincerity and disregard shown by John McCain.

The 70-year-old Arizona senator has managed to commit the cardinal sin of a candidate: he has made himself appear unfit to lead. For the first time, McCain has shown his wear. He has lost the vibrancy and energy that he possessed when emerging on the national stage seven years ago. He has often said he would rather lose an election than a war, and he is on the verge of realizing the former part of that proclamation.

On some level, McCain’s collapse is a sad after-effect of what should have been: a victory in the 2000 Republican primary. But now, realizing he may be approaching the end of the line, McCain has chosen politics over substance. It may be too late to reverse this trend, as voters watch a once promising candidate fall from grace.

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