Recently, my father gave me an envelope full of press clippings which chronicle the history of a very notable part of our family. Most of the articles come from the Florida Times-Union, a Jacksonville-based paper he read during the '60s and '70s when he taught at Lake City Community College. They detail the years in which my cousin, then-Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain, was imprisoned in North Vietnam.
John and I are related through our grandmothers. Katherine Vaulx McCain and Huetta Vaulx Boles, both of Fayetteville, Ark., were sisters. My side of the Vaulx family represents a long line of Democrats, but it is with no small amount of pride that we've followed the life and career of now-Sen. John McCain.
My dad knew John when he was a child, and maintained a close relationship with his father, Adm. Jack McCain. When my dad was a teenager, the McCains visited his family in Arkansas around the time my great-uncle, John's grandfather, was commanding an aircraft carrier group in the Pacific during World War II.
He and Jack remained close over the years, exchanging many letters while my dad was in Lake City and Jack was commanding the fleet in the Pacific during Vietnam. When John was taken prisoner, the letters my dad sent took on a tone of deep concern and sympathy.
My father is, above anything else, dedicated to his family. Although he had never met John's then-wife, Carol, he knew that she lived an hour away, just outside of Jacksonville. He did everything he could to make sure she was taken care of during that time.
Although neither my father nor I have ever voted for a Republican, when John threw his hat in the ring in 2000, we were both very proud and encouraged, and not just because he's our relative. This was the first Republican who, on a national stage, was saying things like, "If we repeal Roe vs. Wade tomorrow, thousands of young American women will be performing illegal and dangerous operations," and, "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer-reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance." Wow!
Here was a man who was not abiding by partisan lines, who was, instead, living up to his promise of "straight talk" and commonsense thinking. The right-wing Republican base may not have agreed with everything he said, but the rest of America certainly respected him for speaking his mind honestly.
Jump ahead to the campaign Sen. McCain is currently running. Clearly, a lot can change in eight years. Our nation has gone from a time of unparalleled prosperity and peace to one marked by debt in the trillions of dollars, record foreclosures, and a global reputation for warmongering and neo-imperialism.
So, where is the straight-talking, commonsense John McCain of 2000? I'm afraid he is long gone, replaced by a desperate version of himself who seems to contradict nearly everything he once stood for.
What becomes apparent in his ideological about-face is just how out of touch McCain really is with America's working families.
In a time when the country is facing the worst housing crisis in the memory of most Americans, McCain couldn't even recall how many homes he owns. When asked how many homes my side of the family owns, I can answer you pretty quickly. Zero.
Just like so many working families in this country, we were nearly ruined by the ongoing mortgage and foreclosure crisis. Our family home of three generations was sold at auction last year. The story is a familiar one: We were suckered into a refinance deal during the real estate boom, and when times got tough, the near criminally deregulated mortgage companies changed the rules on us.
What was John McCain's response to this? He lumped together all the families who fell victim to the smarmy sales pitches from subprime lenders, calling us "irresponsible," a move the New York Times described as "mean-spirited and economically naive."
What contortions has this new John McCain twisted himself into in order to win this election? When asked last year about his stance on abortion, he told a group of supporters, "I do not support Roe vs. Wade. It should be overturned." This statement not only sharply contrasts with what he said back in the 2000 election cycle, but is also at odds with a majority of American public opinion, according to the most recent Harris poll on the subject.
Further, McCain's decision to put the antichoice, creationist Sarah Palin on his ticket appears to be motivated completely by a political desire to shore up the radical right evangelical base with whom he's been at odds for so long. This is the same woman who claimed in June "that our national leaders are sending (our soldiers) out on a task that is from God."
A part of me is made very sad to write this article. As I've said, my family has followed John's life and career with no absence of pride. If there ever were a Republican we might consider voting for, it would have been my cousin John.
But, as he continually demonstrates in this campaign, my cousin John is long gone. "Straight talk" has been replaced with "flip-flop." Saddest all, this is the same man who, when campaigning in 2000, told a crowd of supporters, "I don't think Bill Gates needs a tax cut. I think your parents do."
My parents, John, need some help after the economic destruction Bush has wrought in the last eight years, but it's clear you're not the one who'll give it to us. America's working families no longer recognize you, nor does your own.
Adam Vaulx Boles lives and works in Tallahassee.