Now the daggers come out. The paleocons and Obamacons and many others will plunge them into the back of John McCain. This is disgraceful.
The American people have issued a referendum on the 2008 mutation of the Republican Party, whose ticket John McCain had the misfortune to lead. Let's recount briefly: enough bribe taking, page preying, foot tapping felons and filchers to fill the local jail; a record deficit; a financial crisis; a badly managed war; an incompetent response to a hurricane; an incumbent in the White House with record low levels of approval.
Against all this and into a headwind of media bias, McCain still managed to win 46 percent of the vote. Even if the Republican Party had nominated Superman, it's unlikely the defender of truth, justice and the American way could have prevailed this year with an R on his chest.
It's not that the Democrats had kryptonite, though Barack Obama's brilliant campaign and compelling message effectively robbed many dazed citizens of their powers of discernment. The explanation is far simpler: Republicans have a disastrous record they cannot escape. The irony is that on ethics, fiscal responsibility, the deficit, the excesses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Iraq and much else, McCain was a lonely voice of reason and reform.
Of course, John McCain isn't Superman. He emerged from the pack of Republican contenders last winter almost by happenstance. He wasn't the first, second or even third choice of many Republicans. In August 2007, his campaign was broke. Seven months later, he wrapped up the GOP nomination.
During the long months while Obama and Hillary Clinton were still fighting for delegates, McCain should have been refining the message of his candidacy. Yet when it came down to a two-man contest, McCain lurched around from theme to theme, while Obama pounded the Republican record and offered change.
Sarah Palin didn't help in the long run. In the short run, however, remember that after her remarkable debut at the Republican National Convention in early September, McCain-Palin surged ahead of Obama-Biden by a significant margin in the polls.
Palin looked like she had a high trajectory launch. Days of silence and then dismal interviews caused her to fizzle. Even so, McCain was even with or ahead of Obama until the week of Sept. 15, when the full dimensions of the credit crisis began to emerge and the stock market began its nosedive.
On Sept. 24, McCain suspended his campaign to return to Washington and rally Republicans for a recovery plan. GOP House members rejected the $700 billion Paulson plan and McCain's leadership. A week later, they reversed course and passed the bailout with another $150 billion in sweeteners. The damage from his own partisans was done.
Read John McCain's biography and you'll encounter his sense of fatalism, the recognition that individuals are bound by circumstances. His favorite book is Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," his literary hero its protagonist Robert Jordan, who sacrifices his life in the futile cause to which he is dedicated.
Long-time aide and literary alter ego Mark Salter summed up McCain's philosophy in an August interview with the Washington Post: "Life sucks, but it's worth doing something about anyway."
Months ago when it became clear that McCain and Obama would be the presidential nominees, some of us had hope these two nonconformist, unconventional candidates would run elevated campaigns that earnestly addressed the concerns of the American people. It hasn't turned out that way.
McCain's concession speech is the beginning of a fitting end to a legacy of service and honor. He should reconcile with Obama, embrace him and offer him his counsel in a way that no losing candidate has done before. Young and old, black and white, red and blue, Republican and Democrat, people of different beliefs united in a common goal.
G-d knows the nation needs that. If President-elect Obama is wise, he'll return that embrace and seek that counsel.