In an age of deep cynicism about politicians of both parties, McCain is the rare exception who is not assumed to be willing to sacrifice personal credibility to prevail in any contest. – David Broder

Back in 2004, I wrote an e-mail about how all of Bush’s supposed strengths were illusions. But as obvious as that was to me, the media never pointed it out (surprise!), and the Kerry campaign never pushed it either. Dubya’s down-to-earth, straight-talking, courageous man of action persona stayed intact just long enough to get him two terms in the White House despite the fact that he’s barely qualified to run a hot-dog cart.

And now in 2008, history is repeating itself with McCain. Remember last week when I said he was burnishing his civil rights credentials to fortify himself against backlash from racist anti-Obama ads? Dave has an excellent rundown on how McCaca pretends to take the high road while actually doing nothing to stop the racist anti-Obama ad in North Carolina.

As Howard Dean points out, McCain could stop it if he really wanted to. At the very least, he could strip the NCGOP leadership of their committee assignments with his campaign and the Republican National Convention to show that he will not be associated with racist slimethrowers. But no, he settles for an imploring letter.

Granted, Civil Rights Hero is a rather new facet to John McCain’s carefully crafted public persona, so maybe not the best example. How about the one at its core? McCain has managed to sustain an image as a straight-talking champion of campaign finance reform for almost 15 years, yet his campaign (and his Senate office) is run by lobbyists, he does favors for big donors, and most damning of all, he shows no respect for the campaign finance laws he crusaded to strengthen. He’s actively breaking the law in his primary election campaign, is planning to bend the law like Silly Putty in his general election campaign, and refuses to release his millionaire wife’s tax returns.

I won’t even say anything about him being a member of the Keating Five, because it obviously taught him A Very Important Lesson About Why Corruption Is Wrong. Or that McCain has managed to establish himself as a Very Serious And Respected Foreign Policy Expert… despite not knowing al Quds from al Qaeda. Repeatedly.

Or how about McCain and tax cuts? In 2001, he positioned himself as looking out for the little guy on taxes, opposing Dubya’s tax cuts for favoring the wealthy over everyone else. He even repudiated the sacred cow of trickle-down theory. And now, here he is seven years later, offering exactly the kind of wealth-centric tax-cut plan that he used to deride.

If Obama is the nominee, a recurring theme of the GOP ads is going to be, "Do you really know who Barack Obama is?" But they’ll be asking about the wrong candidate.

(h/t Bob Borosage, Peterr, Christy)