Now, though, the old McCain has returned with a ringing defense of Huma Abedin. She is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s long-time aide de camp and, among other thing, a Muslim. The “other things” include marriage to former representative Anthony Weiner, who is Jewish and, when he was in Congress a down-the-line champion of Israel and all its causes. Still, in the quite-mad rhetoric of Rep. Michele Bachmann and some others, Abedin is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and its attempt to gain access “to top Obama administration officials.”

This was too much for McCain. On the Senate floor, he called Bachmann’s charges “an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant.”

“Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully,” McCain said. “I am proud to know Huma and to call her my friend.”

With that, I opened the doghouse door. This was the guy some of us admired back when he ran for president 12 years ago. I always had substantial policy differences with McCain, but he was a genuine American hero, a straight talker, a man who took pride in being a public servant and — a self-serving reason, possibly — accessible. There was, in addition, something else: When McCain talked of “serving a cause greater than yourself,” I could see young people in the crowd pay attention. McCain was a conservative Republican, but in some ways his rhetoric was a version of John F. Kennedy’s “ask not” refrain.

McCain for some time has been sneaking back in my affections. Just recently, he’s been right about Syria, lambasting American inaction and calling for a more robust policy, including military strikes, to help the opposition. The quicker the Assad regime is toppled, the easier it will be for moderates to assume control. Now, though, the recent bomb attack that killed important members of the Assad entourage suggests that experienced bomb-makers have shown up. From where? Iraq? Afghanistan? These are not our friends.

But it is the robust defense of Abedin and the implied criticism of Bachmann that shows the best of McCain. He is willing to take on the lunatic fringe of his party — in the GOP, the fringe is pretty wide — showing once again that he has irrepressible core values. In this, he is like the man he replaced in the Senate, Barry Goldwater, the founder of the modern conservative movement. As he aged, Goldwater inched to the left, finally even embracing homosexual rights and heaping scorn and derision on the religious right. When the Rev. Jerry Falwell said “every good Christian” should be concerned about the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, Goldwater delicately rejoined, “Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."


Years have passed, and genders have changed, but that’s pretty much what McCain did to Bachmann. Must be an Arizona tradition.