All aboard Straight Talk Express: The old John McCain rides again

An old friend came back to town last week and it was good to see him again after all these years.

Because we really needed him, now more than ever.

John McCain — the old straight-talking, tough-truth-telling John McCain — stood up on the floor of the U.S. Senate and picked up just where he’d left off some four years ago: telling it like it really is. Never mind that he was ticking off fellow conservative Republicans. Even the ones who knew in their hearts he was right.

The Old McCain spoke out as no prominent Republican had dared to do: “The message you send to the world, not just our markets but to the world, that the United States of America is going to default on its debts is a totally unacceptable scenario and beneath a great nation.”

In a rare colloquy with the Senate’s second-ranking Democratic leader, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., McCain also took on his own Republican leaders for insisting any Senate bill increasing the debt ceiling must also amend the U.S. Constitution to require balanced budgets. In the process, McCain’s old anger flashed in ways we haven’t seen in years.

McCain: “To insist that any agreement is based on the passage through the United States Senate of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as I said before, is not fair to the American people, because the terrible obstructionists on this side of the aisle, the terrible people there, their flawed philosophical views about the future of America is not going to allow us to get 20 additional votes from your [Democratic] side — assuming that you get all 47, since it requires 67 votes to pass a balanced budget amendment under the Constitution.”

It should be understood that McCain personally favors a balanced budget constitutional amendment. But he knows it can’t happen now — and with the conscience of a principled conservative he felt he had to speak out.

That’s precisely what he’d stopped doing ever since he began courting Republican primary voters in his 2008 presidential campaign.

Then he kept his maverick self muzzled in his 2010 Senate re-election campaign, while spending $21 million to defeat a very conservative Republican primary challenger.

But now, when McCain called out fellow Republicans as “terrible obstructionists … terrible people” with “flawed philosophical views,” he had a liberated look in his eye and a smile on his face.

Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.

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