McCain and Mr. Nice Guy

John McCain has been involved in decisions made by both the Kerry and Bush campaigns recently. A couple of weeks ago McCain asked Bush to condemn the Swift Boat ads. Bush has repeatedly refused. Nevertheless, McCain has continued stumping for Bush, and is scheduled to make numerous campaign appearances with Bush in the Southwest over the next week or two.

On the other hand, Kerry used a film clip featuring McCain from his 2000 primary battle with Bush, in which McCain criticized Bush’s tacit support of fringe (or should I say “shadowy“) attack groups. It was an extremely powerful ad that pointed out that Bush’s behavior in the current campaign is no accident, but rather part of a pattern. However, yesterday McCain asked the Kerry campaign to stop using the film clip, and Kerry agreed. The ads have been pulled.

What does Kerry get for playing Mr. Nice Guy? He loses from his arsenal a powerful ad that poses some legitimate questions about Bush’s campaign tactics, but in return he presumably maintains his close personal friendship with John McCain. What does Bush get for playing hardball and ignoring McCain’s request that he condemn the attacks on Kerry’s military service? He gets McCain to campaign on his behalf.

I have two thoughts about this. First of all, it points out that people who have respect for others and pay more attention to playing by the rules are at a natural disadvantage to those for whom the ends justifies the means. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I think that Kerry should adopt the Republicans’ tactics and lack of principles. But it is definitely a handicap.

Secondly, what are McCain’s motivations here? I have a fair amount of respect for him as someone who has repeatedly stood up for his beliefs (e.g. fiscal responsibility, campaign finance reform) in the face of tremendous pressure from his natural political allies, but this episode is making me wonder. Perhaps he’s simply lining himself up properly to win the Republican nomination in 2008. But even so, I am disheartened by McCain’s abandonment of his principles in this campaign.