McCain reaches too hard and too transparently to turn everything into a contest about military service. When Romney observed that Bob Dole wouldn't necessarily be the one he'd want an endorsement from, McCain pronounced himself "very sad and disappointed to see that kind of comment about a person who was an American war hero" and demanded that Romney apologize!
There is a strutting self-righteousness about McCain that goes hand in hand with a nitroglycerin temper. He flatters himself that his colleagues in the Senate dislike him because he stands up for principle whereas they sell their souls for pork. Not exactly. He is disliked because on many, many occasions, he has been disrespectful, belligerent and vulgar to those who differ with him.
Bradley Smith, former commissioner of the Federal Election Commission and the leading legal scholar on campaign finance issues, experienced the McCain treatment firsthand. Because Smith opposed limits on political speech, he was denounced as "corrupt" by the senator (as was Commissioner Ellen Weintraub). Smith, who lives modestly, jokes that his wife has complained about the absence of jewels and furs.
Though he served on the commission for five years and made several attempts to meet with McCain to discuss the issues, Smith was rebuffed. The two did accidentally meet outside a hearing room in 2004 when they were both scheduled to testify before the Senate rules committee. At first, McCain grasped Smith's outstretched hand (Smith was in a wheelchair, recovering from surgery), but when he recognized his campaign finance opponent, he snatched his hand back, snarling, "I'm not going to shake your hand. You're a bully. You have no regard for the Constitution. You're corrupt."
Smith, a soft-spoken scholar, ardent patriot and lifelong conservative Republican, cannot, as a matter of honor, pull the lever for McCain. He is far from alone, and that is the Republican Party's heartbreak in 2008.
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