McCain may be Obama's secret weapon A desire by both men to secure their places in history might forge an unlikely pairing.

Posted: January 15, 2009

I have been to New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington in recent weeks. In those cities, at least, you cannot watch the news, pass street vendors selling T-shirts, or browse magazine racks at the grocery store and not feel good about our next president, his family, and our nation's future.

There is an air of something big, something grand, something electric about to explode upon us. Barack Obama's visage is everywhere. His relaxed and reassuring - even beatific - smile is omnipresent. So are his irrepressibly cute girls and their together mom.

It seems less like a run-up to an inauguration than like a publicity campaign for the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Instead of on billboards, bus sides, and TV and Web ads, the Obama: The Movie glitz comes to us in news reports, magazines, daily papers, and network news shows. It's all part of what certainly will be the longest, most hyped media promotion of an agenda in history.

But that's not the end of it. Combine it with Democrats' beefy congressional majorities, which can pass whatever the new president proposes, and a nation looking to Washington to ease its economic woes, and Obama seems poised to take Washington as the Allies took Paris.

But a close look at Capitol Hill makes plain that Team Obama has put the Staples "Easy" button in the drawer. In this climate, it would be easy to leave Republicans out of the debate and still pass a whopping stimulus package. But, as the media have repeatedly noted, Obama the statesman has offered the olive branch to his impotent potential adversaries.

How noble of the president-elect? No, how politically smart.

Obama was a candidate of scant accomplishment but grand promise. Promise won, but promising to be a unifying, transformational force creates high expectations. Rolling Republicans right away would shatter that Hollywood story line.

Obama also faces the reality of needing at least one Republican senator to join him to break filibusters. Many speculate that three moderate Republicans will provide the necessary Senate votes and the imprimatur of bipartisanship.

Still, Obama and the GOP moderates will not produce the kind of post-partisan harmony that Obama promised and the public now expects.

But I believe Obama has an ace in the hole among Senate Republicans. This unlikely ace can deliver not only the GOP moderates needed to break a filibuster, but also the stamp of bipartisanship: the 2008 GOP standard bearer, John McCain.

McCain was once the mainstream media darling, back when he joined Democrats on a host of issues. He prized his maverick moniker and used it to propel himself onto the national scene in the 2000 Republican presidential primary. Early in the Bush years, he shored up his status as the media's favorite Republican by opposing Bush on taxes and the environment.

But this love fest came to a halt when McCain became the front-runner for the GOP nomination. First he began to sound more like a conservative by altering his stands on immigration, the environment and taxes. Then he named Sarah Palin his running mate. It was too much for a media that had fallen head over heels for Obama. The media had a new darling.

In McCain's mind, however, losing the presidency will not be the final chapter of his life story. He knows the path to "Big Media" redemption. Working with the man who vanquished him in November will show them all the real McCain again.

Remember, it was this onetime prisoner of war who led the charge to open diplomatic relations with Vietnam. If that past is prologue, and McCain's legislative record is any guide, he will not just join with Obama but lead the charge in Congress on global warming, immigration "reform," the closing of Guantanamo, federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, and importation of prescription drugs.

But McCain won't stop there in his effort to rehabilitate himself in the media's - or maybe his own - eyes. He will forge common ground on a long list of initiatives that go far beyond where he has gone before, including the stimulus package.

Alas, the two White House rivals now stand positioned to help secure each other's place in history. The next mainstream media blockbuster could be Barack Obama and John McCain: The Movie.

E-mail Rick Santorum at rsantorum@phillynews.com.

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