In his current round of rejecting and denouncing his radical cleric supporters John Hagee and Rod Parsley, John McCain was careful to note, "I've never been to Pastor Hagee's church or Pastor Parsley's church. I didn't attend their church for 20 years. I'm not a member of their church." In other words, my relationship with them is much less important than Barack Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright.

But we should take careful note of what this means. McCain's argument, in essence, is: Hey, this was just cynical politics. Sure, I begged Hagee for his endorsement, and stood next to Parsley and called him a "moral compass" and a "spiritual guide," but I didn't actually mean any of that. I didn't know anything about these guys, and until it became a political problem, I didn't really care. You tell me some preacher can bring in a few votes, and I'll kiss his ring, no matter how repellent his ideas are.

The reason this matters is that for so long, McCain's amen corner in the press has been telling us that he's the one politician who doesn't do anything for political reasons. And McCain and his campaign have always said that, too. How many times did we hear them say, "He'd rather lose an election than lose a war"? So maybe it's time reporters stopped acting as though McCain is Mr. Principle, and treat him the way they do any other politician: as someone whose motives are always suspect, and whose actions should always be seen through the most cynical interpretation possible.

Of course, the McCain campaign could have avoided this whole mess if they had just read Sarah Posner's book.

-- Paul Waldman

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