The old Mac’s back

Judging from the generous and gracious concession speech he gave Tuesday night, the old John McCain will be making his return before you can say, “My friends.”

In the final days of his campaign, after nine years of working to win the presidency, McCain seemed to let go of the cautious and cranky candidate to let his funny, disarming self take the wheel once more. On “Saturday Night Live,” the stump and the campaign plane, McCain summoned his trademark toughness — absent any self-pity — as the hour drew near.

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When defeat arrived, McCain rejoiced in history’s choice and — for electing its first black president — he rejoiced in his country’s greatness. “Let there be no reason now ... Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth,” McCain said. McCain made it clear that when he is remembered, he hopes it will be for his patriotism and his gratitude. “Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight, I remain her servant. That is blessing enough for anyone,” he said.

For his rival, Barack Obama, McCain offered admiration and commendation. Godspeed, he told the president-elect, applauding Obama’s great achievement for his country and offering his pledge to do all he can to help “my president” lead. He used the word “love” in his speech — not a common McCain word — five times in less than 10 minutes.

In the debates, and to his face on the Senate floor, McCain has shown his disdain for Obama. They may never be friends. But friendly is in the realm of possibility. McCain has never enjoyed being unpopular, except perhaps with Republicans from time to time. For the most part, he is a politician in the truest sense — like Bill Clinton — who craves forgiveness for his transgressions and affirmation for his success. He has written in stark detail about his discomfort with disappointing people, including the reporters surrounding him, when he changed his position and lied about his position on the Confederate flag in the 2000 primary campaign in South Carolina.

The Republican Party is likely to assail McCain in the months to come, blaming him for failing to stave off a Democratic wave that took the White House and eroded further the GOP’s bewildered minority in the Congress.
But in an Obama administration, there may be room for olive branches from the maverick with no more races to run. McCain may be closing out the end of a remarkable career, should he retire instead of seeking reelection in 2012. No matter the road ahead, recall the words McCain e-mailed to supporters last summer when his presidential campaign faced a brush with death: “Challenges are nothing new to me. Whether political challenges, physical challenges, or even personal challenges — how you stand up, face them and move forward defines your character and your strength.”

Indeed, knowing McCain, a last bit of spotlight awaits him, and he will likely push to go out in style. After some well-deserved rest, the Mac will soon be back.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.