Michael Kinsley, an essayist for Time, wrote one of his cleverest articles recently about John McCain. Called "The Dirtiest Trick," the piece appeared in the Feb. 25 issue, and had as its premise that it was shameful for the Republicans to be on the verge of nominating such a fine human being for president. And this long before McCain managed to capture his party's nomination.
"Republicans have pulled some dirty tricks before: Swift Boats, Watergate, you name it, " began Kinsley. "But this time they have gone too far. In its desperate hunger for victory at any cost, the Republican Party is on the verge of choosing a presidential candidate, John McCain, who is widely regarded (everywhere except inside the Republican Party itself) as honest, courageous, likable and intelligent."
Kinsley managed to keep this comic tone up without a bit of strain; but the wittiest thing he did was actually say something relevant and true about his subject.
The columnist said that it was not only shameful what the Republicans are about to do, but it demonstrates that they have no principles. "In a properly functioning two-party democracy, each party is supposed to nominate a person whom members of the other party will detest. Ordinarily this is not a problem. In recent years, the basic principles of each party have been anathema to the other. If a candidate in addition has a personality that gives the opposition fits, or a few character flaws it deplores, that is gravy. Indeed, since Ronald Reagan (who last ran for office a quarter-century ago), the parties haven't even liked their own candidates all that much. The dilemma of liking the opposition candidate just hasn't arisen."
In fact, noted Kinsley, there's a word for it when a party nominates a candidate for the highest office in the country who has more appeal for the opposition than he has for his own constituents. The word is cheating.
"As a lifelong Democrat," he said, "I have wallowed in the luxury of voting against some of the most unappealing politicians in American history, starting with Richard Nixon and ending (so far) with George W. Bush. I am surely going to vote against McCain, but it is going to take work, and there will be moments of doubt. This will be no fun. Doubts are for independents."
Kinsley noted that just a few years ago, there were rumblings that McCain might admit he was too nice for the Republicans and so decide to run as an independent, or even a Democrat. Democrats "swooned" and said they would vote for him because he was "honest."
"McCain is perceived as authentic, which is a deeper form of honesty than mere truth-telling. He says he's antiabortion? Oh, he doesn't mean that. Among current or recent figures in American public life, only Colin Powell shares McCain's mystical ability to make liberals believe he secretly agrees with them, no matter what he actually says. And Powell has to work at having it both ways. For McCain, it's a gift."