John McCain used to held in high regard by many in the press corps, including guys like Joe Klein. Those days are over.

McCain earned a tremendous amount of respect for the way he ran his 2000 campaign, and in the manner he endured the despicable attacks levied against him and his family during that election. Now he’s decided he can only win by using those same tactics.

Klein used to have lots of nice things to say about McCain, but now he’s fed up, and he’s letting McCain have it.

But there is no excuse for what the McCain campaign is doing on the “putting America first” front. There is no way to balance it, or explain it other than as evidence of a severe character defect on the part of the candidate who allows it to be used. There is a straight up argument to be had in this election: Mcain has a vastly different view from Obama about foreign policy, taxation, health care, government action…you name it. He has lots of experience; it is always shocking to remember that this time four years ago, Barack Obama was still in the Illinois State Legislature. Apparently, though, McCain isn’t confident that conservative policies and personal experience can win, given the ruinous state of the nation after eight years of Bush. So he has made a fateful decision: he has personally impugned Obama’s patriotism and allows his surrogates to continue to do that. By doing so, he has allied himself with those who smeared him, his wife, his daughter Bridget, in 2000. Those tactics won George Bush a primary–and a nomination. But they proved a form of slow-acting spiritual poison, rotting the core of the Bush presidency. We’ll see if the public decides to acquiesce in sleaze in 2008, and what sort of presidency–what sort of country–that will produce.