For that display of courtesy, the candidate received a public tongue-lashing from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, and so now, it appears, he has chickened out. He will stand by, helplessly, while others do on his behalf work which he positively knows to be dirty. So much for guts.
This saddens us, for many reasons. We are sad to see McCain's good instincts, which are many, fall victim to cynicism and lust for power. We are sad because, whether he wins or loses the presidency, McCain will have permanently surrendered the reputation for (comparative) honesty and integrity which made him an appealing and effective across-the-aisle legislator.
Beyond our sadness, though, we are a little surprised that McCain would put up with this, when it so clearly poses a risk to his own aspirations. The bottom-feeders of American politics, those ultrapartisan hacks who seemingly have nothing better to do with their lives than spew slander, hoping that it will slowly be passed upward along the food-chain, pose an equal threat to candidates of both parties.
For a demonstration, click the link up top to see the website of "Vietnam Veteran Against John McCain." Its self-proclaimed mission is to "dispel the myth of [the] straight talkin’, principled, maverick war hero," and to argue that McCain is unfit for the presidency. It labels him "the Manchurian Candidate," and argues that his entire military career (and possibly the political career which followed) was the result of special favors from secret backers. It accuses him of belittling the families of PWs and MIAs, of "collaborating with the Communists."
As with the best lies, there is an element of truth to most of this. As the son and grandson of admirals, McCain never lacked protective cover for his many youthful screw-ups. Like some 9/11 families, some families of soldiers lost in Viet Nam went on to demand more from the government -- including especially sympathetic listeners like McCain -- than it was able to provide, and eventually earned a certain measure of firm treatment. As for "collaboration," he has often admitted that he broke down under interrogation.
But even those who don't support McCain's candidacy will see at a glance that the website as a whole is the work of crazy people -- and not sweet cuddly, crazy people, either. It is crazy, mean-spirited and more than a little paranoid. No surprise, since the guy behind it all -- an former Green Beret named Ted Sampley -- has a track record of crazy, mean and paranoid.
If the name of the crew sounds familiar, it is because a similarly-named organization launched a bitter attack on John Kerry, which may well have cost him the presidency. Sampley was behind that, too, although he was greatly assisted by donations from oil gazillionaire T. Boone Pickens. Together they spread what appear to be utter and complete lies about Kerry's military service, which to this day Pickens refuses to acknowledge as lies.
So here's our point: These crazies can cost a candidate the election. If McCain thinks that he is playing it safe by letting Jerome Corsi's slander go uncondemned, he had best watch his own six, because Ted Sampley is closing fast.