ST. PAUL -- "I miss the old John McCain." It's a refrain I hear on a regular basis, most often from people who are Barack Obama voters no matter what. They yearn for the man who hated the same people that they hate -- or so they believed, when in 2000 he called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance."
That is, they yearn for a man who could not win.
"He is the same guy he has always been, wrestling with all the things he does trying to be the guy he believes he has to be," McCain speechwriter Mark Salter told the New York Times. "But we are not just going to say, 'O.K., we'll just lose -- we will lose graciously -- maybe everybody will remember him fondly.'"
True, the McCain who won the GOP primary has learned how to court religious conservatives. When Barack Obama courts religious voters, pundits praise him for boldly going where few Democrats have gone before. Yet, when McCain courts these voters, the pundits are disappointed that he has caved into his party's base.
But it is Obama, not McCain, who is in lockstep with his party's base. And with big-spending Democrats controlling the House and Senate, that's a scary prospect.
McCain has bucked his party's base: on immigration as recently as last year; on global warming; on campaign-finance reform.
Republicans nominated him even though they know that, if elected, he will drive them insane. He'll be too chummy with Democrats. They also know that, unlike the ousted GOP congressional leadership, he will fight pork-barrel spending. Most important, they trust that he'll do what must be done in Iraq and Afghanistan -- no matter what the polls say.
The Grand Old Party seems to be on the move. Wednesday night, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who moved from the center to the right before the 2008 GOP primary, threw red meat to the base. Delegates applauded Romney -- but not with the enthusiasm with which they greeted the pro-choice former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas governor, the down-home Mike Huckabee. Forget the country club; the new wave in party is Sam's Club Republicans, says Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Yes, the old John McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts. Now he pledges to keep them, in part because ending those cuts could do real damage to the American economy.
I get that. But I am disappointed in his proposals for a summer gas-tax holiday and to double the child tax-exemption to $7,000 -- even though the federal deficit is expected to reach $482 billion next year.