Last Tuesday, the Republican ticket of 2008 had a very good night, just as the ticket that happened to beat it had one of the worst of their lives. While President Obama hit the low forties, and chirpy Vice President Biden was labeled delusional, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wiped out his foe by a 2-to-1 margin and Sarah Palin established herself as a kingmaker of genius, with a 2-to-1 record in recent endorsements and some rising stars to her name.
To embellish it all, Katie Couric's newscast audience sank to record low numbers, and Newsweek is doing no better. Who says revenge isn't sweet?
McCain's critics inside his own party (of which he has many) say he ran the campaign he should have run two years ago, but then he was crippled by three different things: an insurgent by nature, he had to defend eight years of rule not by him but his party; he was trapped by having to run against a black candidate, who was helped by a press that saw racism in everything; and as he was hitting his stride he was hit with the financial implosion, an unprecedented event in terms of its timing, which changed the subject from the surge in Iraq, in which he was expert, to the economy, in which he was not.
If he had won, the press would have never forgiven him, the cult of Obama would have glowed still more brightly, and the rage of the left would have been apoplectic. As it is, the left is imploding of its own power, and Obama-mania is flickering out.
While Obama is described now as “toxic” to Democrats, Palin, pushed out of her old job by nuisance lawsuits, recast herself as an inspirational force and political fixer, anointing new stars in multiple venues and boosting some others, among them McCain.
As for McCain, Obama's lurch to the left pushed him into being in sync with the base of his party, perhaps for the first time in his life. It allowed him to emerge as a national leader in the fight against health care and mushrooming deficits, while the war of the left against Arizona for its desperate try to control its own borders gave him cover to move to the right.
He is now (more or less) in his party's good graces, while his primary campaign is extolled as a model for incumbents everywhere. The contrarian streak that makes him lock horns with authority is now firmly fixed on the president's party. Which must mean he's “losing his soul.”
McCain “loses his soul” periodically, that is, whenever he fights with the left. When he breaks with his base, he proves his “integrity,' and he “betrays his best instincts” when he helps his side win. He “lost his soul” first in 2004 when he supported the war and the president; lost it again in 2008 when he picked Palin, and led for a few weeks in September; and has once again lost it, for campaigning with Palin, opposing Obama, and trying to win in his state.
“Losing his soul” is his red badge of courage, if not of effectiveness. If he's lucky, it will stay lost a long time.
There's a word for the kind of conservative the left thinks of as principled: It's “loser.”
Thanks to Obama, McCain isn't one anymore.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”