WASHINGTON -- First Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, now John McCain and the media. Even torrid relationships are perishable. It was only a matter of time before the media turned on their pin-up, and that time has arrived. A rivulet, soon to be a river, of journalism is reporting -- as a mystery deciphered, even a scandal unearthed -- that McCain, who occupies the Senate seat once held by Barry Goldwater, is a conservative Republican.
He has been unmasked as a "pro-life, pro-family, fiscal conservative.'' Those words are his, and are a reasonably accurate self-description of the man who voted against the prescription drug entitlement and the most recent transportation bill because of their costs.
McCain proclaims his extravagant admiration for Teddy Roosevelt, a man of many virtues, not one of which was moral modesty. Speaker of the House Thomas Reed once said to TR, "If there is one thing for which I admire you more than anything else, Theodore, it is your original discovery of the Ten Commandments.'' St. John of Arizona can seem insufferably certain that he has cornered the market on incorruptibility. So as he begins trying to assemble a presidential majority, he seems, as anyone trying to do that will, like a run-of-the-mill sinner.
But his quest for the Republicans' 2008 nomination was bound to require tactics inconsistent with his carefully cultivated reputation for unexampled authenticity. He has endorsed teaching "intelligent design'' theory in schools, and has sought a detente with Jerry Falwell, one of "the agents of intolerance'' he denounced in 2000. But who has ever assembled a presidential constituency without endorsing positions formerly avoided or compromising positions formerly endorsed?
McCain is considered morally compromised because he now favors making permanent some of President Bush's tax cuts that McCain opposed when they were first proposed. But enacting the cuts as temporary was purely a parliamentary maneuver. Revoking them would be as much a tax increase as would be reversing President Reagan's reduction of the 70 percent income tax rate, and McCain says, "I've never voted for a tax increase.''