The Conversion of John McCain

How the original "maverick" became just another GOP pol.

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Sometimes it's not a candidate's big flip-flops—the giant midcourse corrections, the Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversions—that provoke a contemptuous snort.

Sometimes it's a little news item like this, from Atlanta, heralding Ralph Reed's wormy attempts to return to respectability.

Reed E-mailed supporters and friends to urge them to give to the McCain campaign. Reed also instructed potential donors to send contributions directly to him. Reed told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he sent the E-mail at the request of the campaign and was given boilerplate language to use.

Let's, for a moment, rewind the tape.

Can we stipulate that the most sordid scandal of the Bush administration was Jack Abramoff's infamous scheme to rip off Native Americans?

You remember. Abramoff and his henchmen would arrive at a reservation and tell the tribal council: "That's a nice little casino you got there. It would be a shame if anything would happen to it."

Then, in return for millions of dollars of tribal funds and donations, Jack and the boys would promise to provide protection, seeing as how they had such good friends in the Republican establishment as Reed, former House GOP leader Tom DeLay, conservative activist Grover Norquist, and presidential adviser Karl Rove.

Behind their backs, Abramoff and his greedy, no-good bunch were quite contemptuous of their clients, of course. They called them "troglodytes" and worse.

Reed was a former leader of the Christian Coalition, and his role in the plot was to rally his friends in the religious community to run antigambling campaigns against rival tribes funded by the gambling money that Abramoff extorted from his casino clients!

For this, Reed got six-figure payments. There's a page in the Book of Cynics for his name.

We know all this because John McCain, as chairman of a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, helped expose it. His hearings helped spur an ongoing Justice Department prosecution that sent Abramoff and others to jail.

But that was then—back in the days when McCain was manufacturing a reputation as a "maverick."

That was when the maverick McCain would take the Senate floor with charts explaining global warming, while energy lobbyists hissed off-camera. That was when the brave McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts for the filthy wealthy and demanded a balanced budget. That was when the independent McCain helped broker the deal that stopped a right-wing purge of the federal judiciary. That was when the gutsy McCain called mountebanks like Reed "agents of intolerance."

In other words, that was before McCain decided to run as Bush III.

He is now, of course, demanding that we drill, drill, drill. Promising to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Vowing to appoint "two or three" more Clarence Thomases to the Supreme Court. And kissing up to the religious right.

Rove has loaned him a strategy and a staff. Norquist, having exacted a promise for tax-cut extensions, is on board.

And now Reed is raising money for his campaign.

Ah, politics.

As Finley Peter Dunne would say: " Trust ivrybody, but cut th ' cards . "