I know he's a hypocrite. I know he's obnoxious. I know he's as responsible as anyone alive to giving the country the unalloyed disaster of Bush's second term, when by any standard he should have known much better. I know he'd probably put more right-wing nutballs on the Supreme Court, exactly because he doesn't really give a shit about the "values issues" those Christianist assholes are so crazed about. I know he's for the current war, the other current war, and at least two of the next three proposed wars. I know he hardly ever talks about the things that made me a little gooey for him once upon a time, like campaign finance reform and defense appropriations reform.
Still, when I read something like this, I remember why I was once a fan of John McCain:
"Yes, I've made a lot of people angry. But I didn't go to Washington to win the Mr. Congeniality award. I went there to serve my country," McCain said. "I might not like the business-as-usual crowd in Washington, and they might not like me. But I love America. I love her enough to make some people angry."
Too bad he happens to be a warmongering reactionary. I do have more trust for his "character" than I ever could for any of the other Republicans--and for that matter, Hillary Clinton. I think McCain loves this country somehow in the way that I love this country, and while I can't rationalize that--hell, I can't even explain it--it seems like as good a reason as any other on which to base one's view of a public figure.
Actually, what I'd like to believe about McCain is that being on the campaign trail again somehow brings him back to the person he was (by which I mean the person I saw him as--which itself could have been bullshit) in 2000. That person seemed like he was growing and changing as a result of prolonged exposure to people outside Washington, DC and the channels of power that a Republican Senator of long standing might reasonably be expected to travel in: think rich, selfish white people. He seems to sharpen up out there; almost to remember some better purpose than just the zombifying Potomac Fever that's animated him these last seven years, impelling him to violate his better self in all kinds of disgusting ways by making nice with people he knows are slime.
It would also be nice to think that McCain's last and arguably greatest act of heroism might be to take out the worst threat to the country's best character now in the race: his fellow Republican Rudy Giuliani. Sullivan puts it this way:
If Rudy wins the nomination, we will, I fear, have a campaign in which he routinely pulls the fear-chain to justify enormous powers for himself as a post-Cheney president. Any crisis or attack would lead to his eager suspension of the civil liberties we have left. And he will be aided in this by Fox News and even, I suspect, by Joel Surnow, who will deploy the "24" series next year into a running campaign for more torture and more war. Rudy will run on rounding up illegal immigrants, building a massive wall on the Southern border, bombing Iran, fighting indefinitely in Iraq, and tearing up what's left of America's alliances. There would be no transparency in his campaign or administration - just an appeal to trust a strong leader to protect us and attack undesirables. Think of a Malkin-Hannity fantasy - and that is what he would eagerly provide. McCain, in contrast, still has a link to the honor of the American past, its tradition of tolerance, of welcoming immigrants, of embracing diversity. And Democrats would not immediately see a McCain presidency as a source of fear and loathing. Increasingly, I'm afraid, I see the main task in this campaign as stopping the Giuliani freight train to unchecked power. McCain may not be able to stop it; but he helps reminds us why it's necessary.
McCain continues to make the case against torture to proto-fascist Republican audiences who are at best open to "enhanced interrogation" and at worst as erotically charged for it as Giuliani himself. It seems the essence of leadership is telling people something they don't want to hear--not apologetically as Giuliani does when talking to social reactionaries about abortion and gays ("never mind what I believe, I'll act in a way consistent with what you believe"), but in an honest way that respectfully challenges the audience to see it differently.
Ultimately we elect these people based on assessments of their character and the intuition that they know better than we do. But somehow we've gotten these obfuscators and panderers who try to skate by on celebrity or name recognition. McCain at least occasionally will pick a battle and show at least the desire to fill that function of leadership: persuasion.