01/18/2011 11:35 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

I Believe That John McCain is a Patriot

On Saturday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrote in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post that President Barack Obama "is a patriot."

I'm so relieved to know.

To be clear, it's admirable and noteworthy that John McCain among almost all Republicans has been upfront in his comments on civility. A needed oasis in a barren desert. The difficulty I have is that, while being glad to hear his voice on the subject, he has more to be upfront about. Further, since he remains the GOP presidential standard-bearer, his voice should be heard. But it's so little. And so late.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. McCain and his personally-selected running mate Sarah Palin went around the country with the biggest possible microphone trying to make believe that Mr. Obama had a "different world view" from most real Americans in the real America. And they were the first to do so.

In fact, while much attention has been paid on how John McCain's vice presidential nominee would reprehensibly frighten crowds that Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists," what is little known is that, according to the book, Game Change , about the 2008 election, authors John Heileman and Mark Haleprin explain that that notorious statement, "palling around with terrorists," actually came from John McCain himself, who suggested it to Ms. Palin.

But now John McCain wants to let us all know that Barack Obama "is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause."

Among the reasons that Mr. McCain likely feels compelled to tell his public this utterly unremarkable factoid about an American President is -- in part -- because the Arizona Senator and his partner did their best to whip up crowds into fearing their Democratic opponent so much that 'Kill him!" and "Traitor!!" were screamed out at their rallies. And neither of them ever told anyone to stop.

Until now, of course. Now, John McCain tells his followers that Barack Obama is really okay. Not just okay, but a patriot. "I reject accusations," Mr. McCain writes -- now, "that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals.

O huzzah. And except for the reality that he himself and his running mate suggested those very accusations, his rejection of them now, two years later, would have actual meaning.

It took John McCain two years to "reject" the accusations, two years to say that Barack Obama is a patriot. All it took was two years -- and a shooting in his home state of Arizona where six people were killed and a fellow-Arizona Congresswoman apparently, miraculously has survived. And within the week, John McCain gets around to telling us that Barack Obama is a "patriot."

To be clear, it's important that John McCain has finally recognized the irrational, sick, angry, fearful rhetoric against the president that has been flying around for the past two years, and finally wants to tamp it down.

Moreover, I much admire that John McCain wrote, "Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so." That it took two years is no matter -- taking responsibility at any time is worth commendation.

Less impressive is when he next writes: "It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times by persistent modesty and empathy from committing rhetorical excesses." Telling his public that someone is "palling around with terrorists" is more than a paltry "rhetorical excess," it is an intentionally-crafted, campaign smear intended to cause specific fear, and it isn't asking too much of human nature to expect someone who wants to be the Most Powerful Man in the World to be restrained when attempting to cause widespread panic.

Yet, though I am not even a fake Freudian psychiatrist, it doesn't take more than open eyes to read John McCain's very next sentence -- asking that "character assassination" be replaced by "spirited and respectful debate" -- and suspect that what is on his subconscious mind is less "character assassination," than warding off the real thing.

This is an extremely good thing he did. Truly. But he brought a spitball to put out a four-alarm fire. That started two years ago. When he was setting the direction for the party as its presidential candidate.

John McCain's op-ed is a very noble sentiment that stands above and virtually alone among Republicans. But it is wrapped in paper-thin meaning.

Consider: In its very first sentence Sen. McCain writes, "President Obama gave a terrific speech Wednesday night." A speech which "comforted and inspired the country." This is the same John McCain who during the campaign kept lambasting Barack Obama for only giving speeches. Now, Mr. McCain is trying to grab your initial attention by acknowledging how deeply important such speeches are.

Indeed, ultimately, for all its appearance to the contrary, John McCain still can't actually even bring himself to say flat out that Barack Obama IS a patriot. Instead, he waffles by writing, "I believe he is a patriot." Meaning, hey, it's just my opinion, folks. If you believe otherwise, that's your choice.

However, one thing about John McCain's op-ed stands out above all others:

John McCain (rightly) felt it was necessary to tell his Republican base that the President of the United States is "a patriot." Felt that he felt he had to explain to the far right base that any President of the United States is "sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause." As opposed to subverting it.

And why in the world would anyone get that idea?

Gee, why?