John McCain may have just let slip his last best chance to be president of the United States.
When he flew back to Washington to address the banking crisis, McCain could have seized the hottest issue in America by taking the side of his countrymen who were enraged by the Paulson Plan to bail out a power elite whose greed and stupidity had caused a financial disaster unequaled since the Crash of '29.
But rather than denounce the Bush-Paulson-Pelosi-Barney Frank plan as a rip-off of taxpayers, lacerate Obama and Co. for bedding down with the kleptocrats of Fannie Mae, and advancing his own McCain plan, McCain played the establishment man. He sought modest concessions for the Republican view, urged swift passage and left town.
Then the House, in an astounding act of defiance, voted to kill the bill, triggering a trillion-dollar run on Wall Street.
Working with Democrats rather than battling the establishment has ever been McCain's way. And, undeniably, his deserved reputation for bipartisanship helped him to get where he is.
He campaigns proudly on his capacity to work with liberals and has McCain-Feingold, McCain-Lieberman and McCain-Kennedy to prove it. But as George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford discovered, the politics of compromise and consensus does not always produce the best result.
The tax hike of 1990 may have destroyed Bush I's presidency, and Ford's choice of John Paul Stevens for the Supreme Court, who was approved unanimously, helped propel the Ronald Reagan challenge.
Philosophically and culturally, we are a divided people. Across the spectrum there are us-versus-them folks who see politics as a zero-sum game between Middle America and a global elite. Below the upper-income brackets and along the center-right are the folks the late columnist Sam Francis, citing sociologist Donald Warren's 1976 study, called Middle American Radicals.
Nixon brought the "MARs" to national attention when, as David Broder then wrote, the "breaking of the president" was underway in October 1969. Nixon went on television and called for the Great Silent Majority to stand with him against antiwar demonstrators and rioters in the streets, and for "peace with honor" in Vietnam.
When TV anchors trashed Nixon's speech, he unleashed Spiro Agnew on the establishment media.
No White House had ever before attacked the networks or national press for ideological and political bias.
In a month, Nixon hit 68 percent approval, the apogee of his presidency, and Agnew was the third most admired man in America.
Reagan, by opposing the surrender of the Panama Canal to a leftist dictator, also rallied the MARs. He lost that battle, but his consolation prize was the GOP nomination and the presidency.