E. J. Dionne's Washington Post column, "The Two McCains," has now been posted on Truthdig. As his lead demonstrates, it is a highly personal statement that probably will speak for many of his readers:
Liberals who have sung the praises of John McCain in the past confront a fascinating test of consistency, integrity and political commitment now that McCain is the virtually certain Republican nominee.
It could be an amusing moment. I should know, since I’m one of them.
I know exactly how Dionne feels. There are any number of traits that emerged from his career as a politician that, like Dionne, I found admirable; and I had really hoped that his success in the primaries would be taken at face value, as a rejection of all those follies and irrationalities of the faith-based neoconservativism of the Bush Administration. However, now that he has the numbers to seal up the nomination, he is going around kissing all sorts of rings (and, as Norman Wilson put it in The Wire, "a lot more than that") that seem to embody the very principles I had thought he was rejecting.
This leaves liberals like Dionne and myself with an agonizing question: Which of those "Two McCains" would actually sit at the desk in the Oval Office, should he succeed in winning the election? Translated into the practical question of what to do on Election Day, this becomes the question of whether liberals should vote for him for his once-admirable traits or run like hell in the other direction from the current traits. Unfortunately, the answer to the question is as obvious as it is disconcerting: We have no way of knowing what sort of a President McCain would actually be! If he is "doing anything to get elected," he is hardly the first of that kind; but "doing anything" usually involves building up a lot of "social debts," most of which are unlikely to involve liberal interests. On the other hand, given his age, he really does not have to worry about his future very much; so there would not be much personal penalty for reverting to those "once-admirable traits" and telling are the conservative asses he kissed to go to hell. From that point of view, his age might prove to be more of an asset than a liability.
In other words what a "President McCain" would actually do is an enormous question mark; but is it any larger than the one for "President Obama" or "Madame President Clinton" (phrasing not out of sexism but just to distinguish her from the other one)?