WASHINGTON - On the heels of devastating GOP losses, Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) called on the Republican Party to return to its common-sense conservatism - and implicitly cast himself as the one who can lead the party's rebirth. "We lost our principles and our majority. And there is no way to recover our majority without recovering our principles first," the Arizona Republican said Thursday in the first of two speeches that could set the tone for a potential presidential campaign. On the same day he launched a presidential exploratory committee, McCain said voters felt that Republicans valued their incumbency over their beliefs on such conservative standards as limited and efficient government - and he urged a return to those tenets. "Americans had elected us to change government, and they rejected us because they believed government had changed us," the four-term senator said. "We must spend the next two years reacquainting the public and ourselves with the reason we came to office in the first place: to serve a cause greater than our self-interest." ..... "Hypocrisy, my friends, is the most obvious of political sins. And the people will punish it," McCain said, explaining that while Republicans were elected to reduce the size of government, they ended up increasing it "in the false hope that we could bribe the public into keeping us in office."Thoughts from Schmookler: When McCain says, "We lost our principals," I wish I believed that he actually meant "we," including himself. But I strongly doubt it. More like he's positioning himself to be the leader with the reliable moral compass and the good political map who wants the job of leading the party of those who lost their principles to victory. But McCain is the guy who, beginning in 2004, at the crucial moment in his political career --when the question was before the country as to whether this evil presidency would be given an extension in 2004-- embraced the man he must have known (surely should have known) was damaging America. Here's McCain --late of the Straight Talk Express-- allowing his own political ambition to snuff out his integrity, serving the evil power rather than his principles so that his own hopes of eventually becoming the Big Man could be kept alive. So when McCain says, that "hypocrisy is the most obvious of the political sins," and that "the people will punish it," I wonder if he has any awareness of how obvious, to those who have watched him sell out, is the hypocrisy of this effort to lead the resurrection of a political party which betrayed its principles. And one final point to the Senator from Arizona, whom I once admired. You say, ""Americans had elected us to change government, and they rejected us because they believed government had changed us..." Even when you're presumably putting on the hair shirt, you evidently cannot resist a cheap shot. No, it wasn't government that changed you. It was your own ambition. You yielded to temptation because of that big crack in your integrity. Don't blame government. Your party's hostility to the idea of government has done plenty of damage to this country already. That hostility --and the Republican success in demagoging the American people about it-- has a lot to do with why the United States now compares so unfavorably with so many of the other industrial democracies on so many measures of quality of life, and health, and balance. AFTERWORD: Since I wrote this about a week ago, I've asked myself why I have a particular anger toward John McCain. A few reasons have presented themselves. First, it's because he'd once seemed to me a man of integrity, and I think that among politicians that WAS true. So the opportunism of THIS politician particular disappoints. Second, and at the heart of it, I believe that his kissing the ring of GWB to help Bush get re-elected really did matter, and was a particular unforgiveable instance of giving in to the temptation to serve ambition rather than a higher good. And third, I really do think that McCain is a very possible next president of the United States, that he has a good shot at the Republican nomination --selling one's soul to the devil does yield worldly benefits-- and that, unless the Democrats play their cards well and/or the American people consign today's Republican Party to the wilderness of disgrace between now and then, McCain could well win a general election. For those reasons, it seems to me a worthwhile endeavor to continue to call attention to McCain's Faustian bargain and his hypocritical posturing.