Little Maverick on the Prairie

John McCain is the unsung hero of this year's election

John McCain just pulled off the maverick stunt of the century. He threw an election.

Some time back in 2000 when Karl Rove was creating whisper campaigns about him fathering the Bangladeshi orphan he adopted, McCain must have pledged that he would climb inside his own private Trojan horse and sabotage Rove's machine. He cozied up to extremist churches he once despised and insinuated himself into all of Bush's mistakes.

For every attack Republicans made against Barack Obama, McCain was an immediate counterexample. The flip-flop talking point riddled against Kerry was powerless; McCain has worn out more flip-flops than Jimmy Buffett. His war hero story had holes bigger than Kerry's easy medals, so gratitude for the sacrifice did not translate to confidence in leadership. It was hard not to giggle when the son of an admiral and husband of an heiress called a self-made man abandoned by his father an "elitist."

Against a brilliant, charismatic, and organized opponent, the Republican machine that nursed two razor-thin wins this century needed to be in top form. It works best with an ill-defined puppet atop the ticket, but McCain was a familiar face with an extensive history and little credibility playing a lord-thanking jingoist. Sarah Palin had to be brought in to get pastors to release their flocks on the voting booths.

She delivered, but at the cost of insulting discerning voters. While they may be just a fraction of Americans, millions of voters are more informed about world affairs than Palin. As the post-election tell-all stories come out, it appears her ignorance was, if anything, worse than we realized. Hiding her from the press played into the hands of the fringe who thinks media is all or mostly liberal, but it frightened people who get their news by reading. Transparent pandering to the church crowd drove away Republicans already distressed by their party's theocratic turn.

Alliances with churches allow Republicans to win in places like Knox County, but their domination fades outside the suburbs. Rural voters take that whole honesty thing too seriously to fall in line with Limbaugh, and urban voters can not insulate themselves from reality so easily. True Republicans love the suburban vote, but they care more about private property rights and minimal economic regulation than embryos. Faith as fundamental as Palin's offends their sense of liberty. Feeling guilty as well for the massive market failure they caused, economic Republicans withheld their vote; 23,000 more Knox County Republicans voted for John Duncan, Jr. than John McCain.

In addition to driving off the free-market vote, Palin proved the perfect antidote to the most valid concern about Obama, his youth and limited experience. Propagandists finally settled on socialism as Obama's hanging offense, but even there they had too much rope. If the shockingly expensive socialization of risk bailing out credit markets was not enough, Palin is the governor of a state that spreads its oil wealth directly to citizens. They found a plumber to fill in as a more credible messenger, but he had been impersonating his boss when he posed his famous question to Obama and wound up being the silly straw in the Sarah sundae.

Maverick to the end, McCain exposed the sleazy stickiness between his party and fundamentalist churches. He made yet another great sacrifice for our country, and I thank him for it. John McCain was Laura Ingalls ratting out another of Nellie's mean schemes, an iconic American hero.

To honor his dedication to liberty, Gov. Bredesen should have his attorney general gather DVDs of sermons and other evidence, screen it for violations of tax-exempt status, and have the goods ready to hand over to federal prosecutors should Obama's Department of Justice decide that campaigning from the pulpit is no longer allowed. If pastors want to wield political influence, their church should pay taxes.