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Elegy for a Maverick

She joined in the campaign's fake populism by deriding legitimate concerns about her record, her knowledge and her governing style as the carping of the "political establishment" and the "Washington elite." She ran as the tribune of "small-town" Americans by way of suggesting that worries about her readiness to be president amounted to an assault on all who hail from localities of modest size. She dared to compare herself to Harry Truman.

She then proceeded to distort Obama's views on taxes, mock his eloquence and accuse him of wanting "to reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world." And she demonstrated how little she respects constitutional rights with this chilling declaration: "Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America; he's worried that someone won't read them their rights."

But these thoughts, of course, were not really Palin's. They were words prepared by the campaign of John McCain, the unifier turned divider.

One night later, the unifier tried to come back, promising to reach out "to any willing patriot," criticizing his own party, urging that we use "the best ideas from both sides" and pledging to "ask Democrats and independents to serve with me."

It will be a hard sell because McCain has capitulated to the very Washington he condemned last night and is employing the very tactics that were used ruthlessly and unfairly against him when he first ran for president eight years ago.

Perhaps the new McCain will somehow claw his way to the White House. But it's the old McCain who deserved to be president. A single speech on a September night is not enough to resurrect the man who might once have brought the country together.

postchat@aol.com

Read more from E.J. Dionne at washingtonpost.com's new opinion blog, PostPartisan.


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