Not too long ago, John McCain was one of the most admired people in Washington. He was held in esteem by both Republicans and Democrats. His legion of admirers in the press painted a picture of a heroic figure working to clean up the political system, fighting against overwhelming odds, pushed on by courage and principle. But there was always another side to McCain. On a personal level, he was actually an enormous jerk, who could be petty, rude, and even cruel to those who got in his way (not for nothing was he once known as "Senator Hothead"). He didn't really care much about policy. He was always more concerned with personal ambition and preening for the cameras than accomplishing anything.
And over the last few years, McCain has fallen further than most politicians ever imagine they could. He ran an abysmal, losing campaign for president. He delivered Sarah Palin to the country. His sole meaningful legislative accomplishment in three decades in Congress -- the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or McCain-Feingold -- not only got overturned by the Supreme Court, it was used as a vehicle to vastly expand the amount of corporate influence over election campaigns. And now here he is, in what could be his last significant public fight, doing what?
We don't know whether "don't ask, don't tell" will end this year or next, but we all know it will end, and gay people will be allowed to serve their country in the military, just like they do in almost every other Western nation. And when this debate is remembered, John McCain will be the symbol of fear and bigotry, abandoned by even his wife and daughter, the military's answer to George Wallace circa 1963, a bitter old man standing in the recruiting office door, shouting, "Discrimination now, discrimination tomorrow, discrimination forever!" That will be his legacy.
It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for him. Almost.
-- Paul Waldman