Doing whatever he can to get elected makes McCain a most cynical politician, but what makes him probably even more despicable is that on some level he is completely aware and ashamed of this amorality. His maverick reputation was always something of a media creation, and he could be genuinely cruel, even to those he loves. But there have been certain moments where he was visibly uncomfortable with the electoral nastiness into which he had gotten himself. There were his belated attempts to quell the ugly tone and rhetoric of his supporters during his presidential campaign, and his
classy concession speech, delivered to a crowd of Tea Partiers-in-waiting.
Most telling of all are his comments at the beginning of his descent. It's hard to believe now, but once upon a time McCain was one of Jon Stewart's favorite and most frequent guests, due to his moderation amid his party's gross abuses of decorum, power, and responsibility. But in the very early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign--which is to say, the very early stages of the 2006 midterms--he began to reverse himself on the matter of Jerry Falwell, whom he had dubbed an "agent of intolerance." McCain scheduled a speech at Falwell's Liberty University, and Stewart, smelling a rat, brought him onto the show to explain himself.
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"You're not freaking out on us? Are you freaking out on us?" Stewart asked.
"Just a little," McCain said.
"Cuz if you're freaking out on us and you're going into the crazy base world ... Are you going into Crazy Baseworld?"
"I'm afraid so."
Though few if any knew it at the time, it was a Rubicon moment for McCain. There was some hope that conceding to the religious right would be temporary, a box to be checked on the road to nomination, whereafter he could play to the center, as he had been the past few years.
The political winds had turned against the Republican brand by then, though, and so McCain's only chance at viability was to bear to the right as much as possible. But the base has never trusted him, and for good reason. So like a lover nervous about getting dumped, McCain has born an affectation of affection and constantly showered them with gifts to prove his loyalty, the best of which, Sarah Palin, keeps on giving.
Karl Rove is cynical enough to blast Obama for deficit spending after having gone on record saying "deficits don't matter." McCain knows better, but he engages in the ugly farce anyway, perhaps for the greater good, perhaps to save his job, perhaps because for him there is no difference now between the two.