This Is What a Maverick Looks Like

John McCain, his supporters said, is going to have his best days in the Senate ahead of him. For conservatives, that set off alarm bells. They muttered, “Here it comes, the mavericky sell-out of conservative principles.” But wait. Perhaps his true colors are showing now — a fidelity to fiscal discipline and a loathing of old-style pork barrel legislation. He was on fire on Face the Nation:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he will vote against President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill, calling the legislation “generational theft” in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

McCain has credibility both with Americans and with fellow Republicans when it comes to fiscal maturity. He might have lost the election, but he might not lose the argument. If indeed he has the ability to reason and cajole with his “moderate” friends in the Senate, perhaps it is not too late to resist the urge to pass a bill junked up with pork and non-stimulative spending.

Oh, but it’s “better now” you say? Not so fast. Larry Summers let the cat out of the bag:”The Senate bill, the House bill, the overlap is 90 plus percent.” McCain has figured that out — the trick will be convincing other Senators and the public that no matter how the Democrats “tweak” it, it’s still the same bag of junky programs which will do more harm than good to the country’s longterm economic interests.

Now, with the pressure of the campaign removed and the shadow of George Bush lifted, McCain may indeed leave his mark. If so, it will be another one of his remarkable political comebacks — from hobbled candidate to principled leader of the opposition party. You can’t say McCain ever fails to surprise.