Now that all is said and done, I confess that I used to like McCain. Honesty, I think that 2000-era John McCain would have made a half-decent president and he'd be the ideal choice if it was 1952. But it isn't 1952. And 2000 McCain disappeared sometime in mid-January, re-appearing just last evening during his concession speech. The candidate who ran in his stead lost this election (or at the very least turned it into a rout) because he declined to do what he so often touted as a strength: listen to his own judgment. Instead he chose the counsel of hired hacks who urged him to run a Rove-style campaign in the persona of someone who looked like John McCain but clearly wasn't. This election was over the moment he overruled himself and started listening to Rick Davis, Bill Kristol, and other loud-mouthed boors who dole out advice that amounts to, in essence, gambling with other people's money.
Imagine, if you will, a personal trainer. He charges astronomical fees because he is widely recognized to be something of an expert. He's more than happy to regale you with stories of his past success to justify the price tag. For instance, he helped famous athletes X, Y, and Z bring home gold at the Olympics. In fact, hand this trainer any athlete and he will turn him or her into a legend in no time. But let's say some very wealthy people hire him to work his magic on a 60 year old overweight housewife. If he's actually a good trainer he'll say "Hmm, I probably can't put her through the same program that I use on professional athletes." If he's an overpriced moron he'll put her on the Olympic powerlifting plan and call someone to pick up the corpse in a few hours. In other words, there's a crucial difference between a smart trainer and a guy who just happens to do one thing really well.
McCain allowed himself to be convinced that his Expert Advisors knew better, that he couldn't compete by being himself. The hired guns proved their incompetence by failing to recognize what would or would not work with the candidate in question; instead they simply did the only thing they know how to do. The only way to compete, according to the carved-in-stone rules borne of the 2004 Election, was to relentlessly pander to fear and the borderline-crazy right. That McCain could never pull this off was irrelevant. There simply is no other option in their world. Metaphors about ponies who know a limited number of tricks come to mind.
When it became clear that McCain did have a limit – a point beneath which he would not sink – they saw the perfect solution: find a running mate with absolutely no shame. Find some rube, some county fair livestock princess who would say and do anything for the chance to stand under the pretty lights. "Don't worry, John. We'll bring her up to speed on the issues. Trust us. We're professionals. We can turn anyone into Daniel Webster. And this will really help your numbers in the sticks!" Hence the decision, the self-inflicted wound, from which McCain never recovered. His discomfort with his arranged marriage to Palin showed. It was the resigned, simmering anger of a man who realized that he had been sold a ration of horseshit by con artists.
The old saying goes that a doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient. In the political arena, though, the patient is actually quite wise. Candidates learn from experience what works for them and if McCain had one advantage in this race it was political experience. Only arrogance or ignorance would prompt someone to tell a 72 year-old man to try something brand new after crafting a well-defined persona over three decades in Washington. McCain got a healthy dose of both. The arrogant doled out advice based on their ideological biases irrespective of how it would affect the candidate. It's no skin off Kristol's back when McCain gets routed, so let the far right "wisdom" fly! The ignorant, the people paid collective millions to separate the meat from the fat, looked at the advice of the arrogant and said "This is a prime cut, John. Dig in."