Editor’s Note: For years, Washington’s news media stars and John McCain enjoyed a symbiotic relationship: They could fend off accusations of “liberal bias” by citing some nice story they had done about their favorite conservative Republican and McCain could bask in the predictably positive coverage.

That long love affair has only recently started to unravel as the press discovers that the real John McCain is anything but the friendly, straight-talking maverick of his press clippings, as The Hill columnist Brent Budowsky observes in this guest essay:

When John McCain famously said the press was part of his political “base,” he was right. The press has been in love with John McCain for years, and McCain has benefited from the adoration and friendly bias of the press for almost his entire career.

The problem is that all McCain really had was a great act — indeed, many great acts.

He was the Reagan Republican; then the Republican maverick; then the Republican who thought about leaving the Republican Party and flipping the Republican-controlled Senate to the Democrats; then the Republican who thought about running with John Kerry; then George W. Bush’s buddy when Bush was soaring in his approval ratings; then the Republican who pretends he never supported Bush.

Weaving through these acts, McCain also was the advocate of positive campaigns and the decrier of negative campaigning – that is, before this year when he became the leading negative campaigner and top smear artist in presidential campaign history.

My colleague at The Hill, A.B. Stoddard, said on MSNBC that McCain was unlucky. No, A.B., it was not bad luck that did McCain in. It was miserable judgment, bad decisions, bad policies, an angry demeanor.

It was not bad luck that led McCain to say the economy was strong and sound while it was collapsing; McCain was just on another planet from most Americans.

It was not bad luck that led McCain to pick Sarah Palin. It was bad, miserable, small-minded judgment to pick a right-wing know-nothing, a choice that I and others immediately wrote would become a total disaster.

It was not bad luck that led McCain to be confused about economic policy, to have a ridiculous airlift into urgent and delicate negotiations over the financial bailout that made him look like the Keystone Cops.

McCain has gotten a free ride from an adoring press for years, through one act after another, one new McCain after another, one shape-shifting image after another, each one tailored to the public opinion of its time, each one adored and excused and admired by a worshipful press, McCain’s “base.”

The Palin Farce

Picking Sarah Palin was a farce destined to fail, a farce by a McCain who did not know or vet the person he chose, a farce that put a shallow, vindictive and often ignorant person who has no business being a heartbeat away from the presidency in precisely that position. It wasn't bad luck, it was a small-minded decision done in the most incompetent manner with the most predictable result.

Plus, it was a decision that McCain had months to plan for. Picking a vice president is the only presidential decision that a nominee will ever make. Barack Obama may have chosen someone who talks too much, but he chose a president. John McCain chose someone who is a joke.

That may be obvious to many Americans now, but remember back to early September when the adoring pundits hailed Palin as a brilliant choice.

The lies from the mouth of John McCain also have been astounding even by the low standards of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. The slanders, the smears, the falsehoods offer a long and winding road of contempt for truth.

McCain’s economic policies also have been confused, incompetent, shifting with the winds — like his positions on tax cuts, where once he agreed with Obama on how ill-advised Bush’s tax cuts were. Now, McCain attacks Obama and stands with Bush – even as he pretends he is not like Bush. …

The reason the pundits fell in love with McCain – and missed the fall of McCain – is that he is a fixture in their Washington firmament, a beneficiary of their long-term adoration who gave them great access while he peddled his various acts, who praised them while they did his bidding, and who now whines and moans about the unfairness of it all when the situation has changed.

The problem with McCain is not that he was unlucky; it is that he was insincere.
In the white-hot glare of presidential politics – amid a collapsing economy – McCain’s varied political masks melted like plastic on a hot stove. All that was left was the real John McCain, angrily spouting smears, lies and personal attacks against his opponent.

At a time when the American people want Franklin Roosevelt, John McCain offers them Joe McCarthy.

It was not a matter of luck that turned so many voters off to his candidacy. It was a failure of presidential temperament, character and judgment.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. A contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service, he can be read in The Hill newspaper, where he is a columnist. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.

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