John McCain's defining moment came during the 2000 campaign after he voiced his opinion about the Confederate battle flag which flew over South Carolina's capitol. Six weeks before the state's primary, he told a South Carolina audience that the "Confederate flag is offensive [and] a symbol of racism and slavery" and was hailed for his courage. His true defining moment, however, came three days later when McCain reversed himself and now viewed this "symbol of racism and slavery" as a "symbol of heritage." McCain later conceded, "I feared that if I answered honestly I could not win the South Carolina primary, so I chose to compromise my principles."
McCain has since become a man of great principles -- none of which are too great to compromise. So you had to know that once the Republicans adopted the theme "Country First" for their convention, the clock started running on how long before it joined the list of fundamental principles which McCain has sold out for political gain. The clock stopped nine days later when McCain announced Governor Palin as his running mate.
McCain, who would be the oldest president to enter the Oval Office and has over a 15 percent chance of dying before the end of his first term, selected the least qualified running mate since 1908 after only a single meeting. The same man who has vowed to "win" the war in Iraq and charged that Senator Obama is willing to "lose a war in order to win a political campaign," would entrust the management of this war and the Presidency in someone who recently admitted that she has not "really focused much on Iraq" - a war which will soon enter its sixth year and has defined political debate for much of that time.
The reaction in Palin's Alaska is telling. The Alaska Daily News found it to be "stunning that someone with so little national and international experience might be a heartbeat away from the presidency;" while the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner stated flat out that "Palin is not ready for the top job. McCain seems to have put his political interests ahead of the nation's when he created the possibility that she might fill it." Even in the White House, there are reports that some Bush loyalists called the choice "disrespectful to the office of the presidency" and it may be the real reason the President and Vice President may not even attend the convention.
Coming after his calls for a gas tax holiday and off-shore drilling and shameless invocation of his POW status to deflect any and all criticism, it is evident that Senator McCain views this campaign not as a debate about the greater direction of the country but as a series of stunts designed to distract voters from the real issues. Despite his professed desire to have a fall campaign along the lines Barry Goldwater suggested to President Kennedy with the candidates barnstorming the nation together as part of an ongoing debate, we can expect this campaign to be the most vapid and cynical campaign since the Bush 1988 campaign (another candidate who stood for very little after selling out to appease a distrustful right-wing base).
While candidate McCain had long ago abandoned his maverick status out of political expediency, the Palin selection confirms one label that has been attached to him since before he entered politics - reckless. That is the John McCain who as a Navy pilot crashed four planes prior to being shot down over Hanoi, who as a candidate sang "Bomb Iran" and who now has achieved the remarkable feat of making Dan Quayle seemed distinguished through his own running mate selection.
Naming Palin should not only ignite a debate over her qualifications, but it should also revive questions about McCain's temperament and judgment to be commander in chief. The question now is not just whether he would follow the same failed policies as President Bush, but whether he might even be worse.