I'm a day late, but John McCain's invocation of Teddy Roosevelt in Sunday's Times reminded me of this passage from piece I wrote at the nadir of his campaign last summer (link lost somewhere in the howling wilds of Canada):
One antidote to the grimness of Iraq is a strong return to reform as a theme. John McCain "will reform government," declared a bolded bullet point in a set of talking points recently distributed by his campaign. But, unlike in 2000, it's not clear that McCain really means it. In a July 23 speech in Michigan, McCain vowed to use presidential vetoes to rein in congressional spending and also to eliminate the alternative minimum tax's bite on middle-class families. But, while McCain spun both of those proposals as "reform," neither bears much resemblance to his Teddy Roosevelt-style crusading of 2000. (Backing middle-class tax cuts, which will expand the deficit, is hardly a model of political courage.) Meanwhile, McCain panned Democratic proposals to tax massive private-equity profits as income rather than capital gains. Shutting a tax loophole for hedge-fund billionaires during wartime? This once would have been a sweet-spot issue for McCain, who, borrowing from T.R., used to lament "the new malefactors of wealth." Instead, in Michigan, McCain sneered at the "fuss over 'reforming' the tax treatment of private equity firms" and the "mumbo jumbo" of Democrats trying to enact a "tax hike." Maybe standing up for hedge-fund managers really is McCain's idea of being a reformer. But it's hard to imagine many voters, particularly those who flocked to him in 2000, agreeing.
A quick Nexis search indicates that McCain has not repeated that "malefactors of wealth" line in this campaign. McCain's celebration of a watered-down version of TR is symbolic of the watered-down version of McCain 2000 we see today.