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.
In recent years, we have seen the MARs rise again and again in roaring rebellion. But, invariably, when these rebellions occur, John McCain may be found inside the castle walls.
In 2007, McCain rushed to Washington to support George Bush, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post in the drive to grant amnesty to 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens. A national firestorm killed the bill and almost killed McCain's campaign.
A year earlier, a MARs uprising killed the Dubai ports deal.
The power elite was stunned by the explosion of outrage over the leasing of six U.S. ports to Arab sheiks. Nationalism remains a more potent force than globalism, and not only in America.
In Clinton's first term, McCain stood with the establishment for NAFTA, GATT, the WTO and the Mexican bailout. Middle America opposed them all.
In the past decade, the MARs have opposed free-trade deals, and lost, but won virtually every referendum on gay marriage, affirmative action or welfare for illegal aliens. Invariably, the MARs are portrayed as bigots, nativists, xenophobes, protectionists and isolationists, and their leaders as demagogues. In McCain's words from 2000, they are "agents of intolerance."
This is fine if you wish to be beloved in this city, but it may be a fatal impediment if you want to be president.
McCain's problem is that, in 2008, when his old press idolaters have found a new favorite, these are the people who hold his key to the presidency. They are the Democrats who voted against Barack Obama by wide margins in Pennsylvania and Ohio and landslide margins in West Virginia and Kentucky.
These Democrats can still win this race for John McCain. Many admire his war record. But not only is he not one of them, he has taken pride and pleasure in having been their great antagonist.
Could McCain win them back in five weeks? Perhaps. Is he willing to do what is necessary to win them back? Probably not. It would go against his instincts and his image of himself.
The issues that move these folks are not just the $700 billion bailout of Gordon Gekko's comrades, but the invasion of America from Mexico, the export of their jobs, factories and future to Asia, and the gnawing fear that the country they grew up in is being sacrificed for the benefit of an internationalist elite.