A funny thing happened to convention-defying political courage, at least in the case of Sen. John McCain. It used to be that McCain's willingness to boldly follow his principles was considered the gold standard of selfless political principle. Now, the media portray the same boldness as primarily a drag on McCain's political ambition.
For the press, courage in the pursuit of regulations on "express advocacy" advertisements paid for with soft money apparently counts much more than courage in the pursuit of victory in the Iraq War. The former launched a thousand glowing McCain profiles; the latter is launching only the question: "How will it play in New Hampshire?"
Thus, there's yet another layer to what, at the moment, is the tragic irony of John McCain. He is exhibiting just the sort of go-it-alone bravery the media pine for - at a time the media are uninterested in celebrating it, either because they consider the war lost or are obsessed with the primary-season horse race. He finally is getting the additional troops for Iraq that he has long advocated - at a time when it might be too late and when support for the war is collapsing. He is winning over the Republican establishment that once loathed him - at a time when the GOP brand is significantly degraded.
There is no justice in any of this. McCain began calling for more troops almost immediately after the invasion and criticized Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld back when he was still a GOP icon. President Bush has come to see the merit of McCain's view on the conduct of the war, but belatedly.
This has created the most tragic irony of all. After a long period of being distant from or hostile to President Bush, McCain is closer to him than ever, just as Bush is at his lowest ebb of public support. Bush sank McCain's presidential hopes in 2000 with his enmity; he might sink them in 2008 with his amity.
McCain's attitude has been that the political considerations don't matter. Whether he has been bucking an administration of his own party (originally) or public opinion (now), McCain has been standing like a stone wall for the proposition that the war must be won and that our effort must be commensurate with the high stakes.