Will the real John McCain stand up and be recognized?
Judging from appearances, quotes, and even body language, the senior senator from Arizona is giving up some of his independent-minded mantra.
McCain, the Republican who gave George W. Bush some early fits in the 2000 primaries, is running for president again in 2008. That is the explanation for his more conventional conduct these days.
McCain raised some eyebrows when he appeared at Jerry Falwell's college in Virginia, an institution he once railed against for intolerance. He was a little weak in his defense for doing it.
In that 2000 campaign, McCain and his wife, Cindy, were subjected to terrible smears by the Bush forces. The senator had ample reason to shun Bush. But he appears willing now to be making nice with the president.
With an expensive race to confront, he also appears willing to tap more conservative money sources with no hesitation. Money talks.
But he remains an interesting figure. Archconservatives don't trust him and regard him as a moderate because he refuses to genuflect before them. If you measured him by his enemies, he is in good company with his criticism of Grover Norquist, the antitax bully in the GOP hierarchy.
To be sure, McCain's voting record is deep in conservative numbers, befitting the record of Barry Goldwater, whose seat he holds. He strays very seldom from party ranks.
A personal note: I met McCain when he returned from 7 1/2 years as a POW in Vietnam. He granted his first interview in depth to U.S. News & World Report. Later, he served as Navy liaison to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which I covered. Over lunch, he once told me that he felt just as smart as many of the senators on the panel. He suggested he just might go into politics.
The rest, as they say, is history.