Daniel Larison has a pretty perceptive piece up that is worth visiting:
Of course, the “fiercely independent” McCain spent the bulk of 1999 and the early months of 2000 (and many years after that) trying to please other people. The difference then was that Ignatius and other members of the Washington press corps were the ones he was trying to please and unironically, accurately referred to members of the media as his base. During the 2000 campaign, he referred to the GOP establishment as the “evil empire,” which seemed perfectly fair and satisfactory to his boosters in the press because they thought this was simply a description of reality and not a slur. Pretty much every “maverick” episode in McCain’s career has involved staking out a position in opposition to his party in the interests of attracting good press and cultivating a reputation as one of the “good” Republicans–the “noble, tolerant” McCain that Conason refers to in his piece–and he has done this by adopting a haughty, self-righteous tone as a champion of reform fighting against the forces of corruption (campaign finance) and bigotry (immigration “reform”) within his own party. By endorsing the worst prejudices about his party held by his party’s political opponents (while enabling some of their genuinely worst attributes in his warmongering), he became renowned for his integrity, just as Republicans have been lauding Joe Lieberman for his character and courage for denouncing liberals, his own party and that party’s nominee in terms that perfectly fit GOP talking points…
That he now approves of taking the so-called “low road” against Obama is nothing new. Indeed, by comparison with the treatment of some of McCain’s other opponents in policy debates, Obama is still being treated pretty easily.
He has a point. Much of what created the perception of his being a maverick was the object of his attacks. What made him a maverick was that he spent much of his time attacking Republicans, which made the press love him and the party hate him. Now, the target has changed, and we find the rank-and-file slowly moving towards him and the press wrinkling up their noses in disgust.
And let me just state again that you really should be reading the American Conservative magazine.