A maverick got branded when he joined the Washington stampede

Dear John McCain:

Yes, we know Barack Obama has had some questionable associations over the years—sitting in the pew at the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church, serving on an education initiative with former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.

Has it occurred to you that everyone who cares knows already? And that they would never vote for Obama anyway? The crowds at your events are the choir and your preaching to them gets an energetic response. But it's not going to get the sinner on the back row to make an altar call and join you on your quest for the promised land.

People are watching their 401Ks melt like a polar icecap, unemployment is creeping up, and mortgage balloon payments are looming large. Your insistence on campaigning to make people afraid of Obama might have worked in some other year. Now it looks like an attempt to change the subject.

America is looking for leadership and you don't look like you have a clue. You don't have Obama's skill. He's never had a clue, but he looks confident and he sounds good. Given a choice, America will likely go with the guy who at least acts like he knows what he's doing.

What we find revealing in a candidate is his gut instinct when confronted with a crisis or a unique set of circumstances. When the vote on the Wall Street bailout loomed, you made the right move in suspending your campaign and rushing to Washington—it is, after all, your day job to be a U.S. Senator. As the ostensible leader of your party, it was your duty to be there and to, well, lead. But you didn't.

If you were indeed a maverick and not part of the corrupt Washington power structure, your instinct in this case would have been to oppose the bailout bill—stand with the House Republicans like Jimmy Duncan (and 80 percent of the American people) and praise them for their efforts against a bad bill. As it was they ignored you, because you brought nothing to the table. You were a marginal player at best in the most important vote since the Iraq War resolution. It is telling that the Republican members of Congress did not have a press conference to praise all your help on the issue—the silence was deafening.

You were a me-too on the Wall Street blank check. It didn't require you to suspend your campaign and rush to Washington to be a nonessential Senate vote to add $1 trillion to the national debt. Your instinct was to do the safe thing, to join the stampede. You aren't a maverick, buddy. You've been branded as just another member of the Washington politician herd.

You had a chance to separate from Obama. We knew he would vote for it. But you passed. You could have turned the election around, been up by 10 points, and have Obama on the ropes. But you passed.

Your only initiative, offered at the second debate, is to have the government take over people's mortgages and renegotiate them. So all of us who bought a house we could afford and who make our mortgage payments are supposed to pay to bail out the people who were stupid?

If you were indeed a maverick, you would have suggested the best method of reforming Wall Street would be perp walks and show trials.

You have Gov. Sarah Palin accusing Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid of planning to establish socialism. Nice try. You just voted to help Republican President Bush and his treasury secretary socialize risk on Wall Street. They are now nationalizing the banks. It's kind of hard to criticize Democratic socialism when you support Republican socialism.

If you can't trust your own instincts I would suggest you look to a pair of Tennesseans for guidance. Take some time to read up on Andy Jackson, who destroyed the Bank of the United States. He was a maverick before the word was coined.

In the meantime, if you want support from the average voter, when the next budget crisis occurs just ask yourself: WWJD?

That's "What Would Jimmy Do?"