What happened to McCain 2000?

John McCain cemented his reputation as a straight-talking, maverick senator with an unparalleled Vietnam War record when he ran against George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential primary. He was willing to work across the aisle with Democrats, as well as take on his own party if he disagreed with certain policy positions. In the press, he was hailed as a breath of fresh air and he quickly saw his poll numbers rise. McCain won a sweeping victory in New Hampshire, defeating Dubya by 19 points. And then it was on to South Carolina where McCain ran into the Bush-Rove buzz saw of politics by innuendo, character assassination and outright mendaciousness.

Cindy McCain had found a small child in a Mother Theresa orphanage and brought her back to the U.S. for medical treatment and ultimately adopted her. She's called Bridget and has dark skin. Anonymous calls were made across South Carolina (called "push polling") which suggested that Bridget was McCain's illegitimate black child, a charge that gained traction in South Carolina. It became a textbook smear campaign and at one point, reportedly, had Cindy McCain in tears. McCain lost South Carolina and his momentum stalled. Who was responsible for the scurrilous calls and proffered innuendo was never determined; however, Rove-Bush footprints were everywhere. In the 2004 presidential race, the tactic was resurrected &

used against John Kerry &

and came to be known as "swiftboating."

Immediately after Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, McCain appeared on network and cable news programs and declared that he would run an issues-oriented campaign. He would draw clear distinctions between his positions and those of his opponent. Cindy McCain also gave interviews and insisted that her husband would not engage in a campaign of ad hominem attacks or low road tactics. Both promised, without equivocation, that this would be a national debate about the problems confronting America.

So here we are. Campaign 2008. The junior Senator from Illinois against the maverick Senator from Arizona. The issues to be delineated are many, a national debate essential &

the last eight years have been a train wreck which even the Grand Old Party will reluctantly acknowledge.

The first casualty of the race has been McCain's pledge to take the high road and focus on what steps he would take to get America back on the right track (some 80 percent of the electorate think we are on the wrong track).

The straight-talking senator approved a recent ad featuring Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in the set up, suggesting that Obama, like them, is simply famous for being famous and an empty suit. No policy position taken. It was a television ad with two white women and one black man, a canard reminiscent of previous Republican campaigns, appealing to the lowest common denominator.

McCain ads have also blamed Obama for the increase in gas prices. When Obama suggested we tune up our cars and inflate our tires to conserve, McCain ridiculed the idea, handing out tire gauges labeled "Obama's Energy Plan." In fact, doing both would save millions of barrels of oil annually.

McCain has linked Obama to Hamas. At a town-hall meeting he said, "Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign." Effectively, that's a statement accusing Obama of treason.

McCain has accused Obama of being elitist, preferring MET-Rx chocolate roasted peanut protein bars and bottles of organic Black Forest Berry Honest Tea.

Recently the McCain campaign accused Obama of playing the race card from "beneath the deck," thereby making sure race was injected into the campaign. McCain's camp accused Obama of failing to visit our wounded troops while in Germany because the military wouldn't allow press and cameras (did not happen).

Meanwhile, McCain has gone through some stunning and often tortured reversals, to include moments of blatant pandering for which the media and the Obama campaign have yet to hold him fully accountable. He reversed on offshore drilling, now suggesting it's the answer to our energy problems, repeating Dubya's constant refrain: Drill, drill anywhere, and start with the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), no matter the lag time between extraction and gas in the tank. McCain reversed on Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, now insisting he would make them permanent. He suggested a summer gas-tax holiday that was ridiculed by most economists. He aggressively sought out the endorsement of those narrow evangelicals he once called "agents of intolerance." He was once an outspoken opponent of torture and has now equivocated, suggesting that some forms of extreme interrogation might be appropriate.

And he promised to run a solid, issues-oriented campaign, free of the Rove-Bush-Swiftboating strategies which were used to painful effect in 2000. McCain 2008 has adopted the Rove playbook, bringing Rove's protege, Steve Schmidt, into his campaign for the ultimate reversal. The casualty of this new strategy is the national debate McCain promised. Instead the "wrinkly white-haired dude," as he is now referred to with great affection by Team Hilton-Spears, is now embroiled in a debate about energy with, like, the totally hot Paris.

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