I really and truly hope that Ezra is right, and John McCain comes to regret the campaign that he’s running right now. If the past is any indicator, it is at least possible, as he has expressed real regret for his flip-flop on the question of the appropriateness of flying the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse in the 2000 primary campaign.
At the same point in time, that was a single decision, made in the context of a campaign mostly designed to piss off the Republican establishment. When he failed, and lost the nomination to W, he spent 3 years being the exception to the political rule the you’d rather have your troublemakers inside the tent pissing out, then outside pissing in, since he spent the majority of his time inside, pissing all over everything that had the name ‘Bush’ on it. He even, it is strongly rumored, seriously considered John Kerry’s offer to run for Veep on the Democratic ticket in 2004, although in the end, he was a good soldier and worked to get W re-elected.
He really only stopped this infantile behavior when he decided that he wanted to make another run for the top spot, and decided that it was time to shape up his status with the base of the party, at which point he suddenly decided that the entire Bush domestic policy was A-OK by him, in pretty direct contrast with most of his previously stated opinions.
I don’t think Ezra is right, though. Here, McCain will have very little reason to backtrack on the things he’s said. And, for what it’s worth, I believe that he truly thinks that he is only doing what he must, to “save” America from the mistake of voting for someone he sees as desperately, deeply unprepared for the role for which they are both auditioning. Anyhow, my point is that McCain will have very little incentive to backtrack on his words, and I doubt he will.
I do hope, though, that Ezra is right in this:
But McCain’s strategy is an opportunity of sorts, too. If his campaign’s final assault is defeated, it will be read as a repudiation of these politics. It will be understood as firm proof that you can no longer purposefully shatter this country’s uneasy sense of tolerance and consensus and be assured that your pieces will be bigger. Just as the strategy would have been whitewashed by victory, it will be darkened by defeat. Those involved will spend years implicitly and explicitly denouncing their actions.
If Obama wins on the basis of a campaign run primarily in a positive light, full of 2-minute policy wonk commercials and cool, rational responses to the events of the day, instead of the helter-skelter, must-win-today’s-news-cycle insanity of the McCain campaign, I feel like that could actually be a real step in the direction of a real democracy, where we choose our leaders on the basis of policies and principles, not cynically repeated lies and personal attacks. Not that we would, magically, be there, but that it could be a step in the right direction. And that, my friends, would be a step worth fighting for…