Way back in February 2000, at the beginning of presidential primary season, The Eye received a phone call that was a prerecorded campaign message of indeterminate sponsorship. Not only was the message anonymous, but was particularly nasty, appealing to the lowest racial sensibilities of South Carolinians.

The recording was part of a campaign that alleged Arizona Senator John McCain had sired an illegitimate black daughter with a hooker, that he had “gone over” to the North Vietnamese during his confinement in the notorious Hanoi Hilton, and that his wife was a drug addict.

Shortly thereafter, McCain participated in a televised debate in Columbia and went after his main opponent — Texas Gov. George W. Bush — for his negative campaigning

“You should be ashamed,” sneered McCain, “You’re putting out stuff that is unbelievable, George, and it’s got to stop … This is probably the nastiest campaign that people have seen in a long time.”

McCain, who was known for calling a spade a spade, never recovered from the damage to his reputation and was trounced by Bush in the S.C. GOP primary (aka: The Gateway to the White House).

In the here and now, McCain has become the unofficial man to beat in the spring training phase of Election 2008. The reason for this is that the old “Straight Talk Express” has become the “Same Old, Same Old Choo-Choo.”

McCain has been de-emphasizing his progressive credentials (anti anti-gay marriage amendment and pro-stem cell research) while laying on thick his support of his former rival (pro-Iraq War and anti-abortion).

He spoke at Liberty University’s commencement ceremony at the behest of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, someone McCain had previously identified as part of the “agents of intolerance.”

Just last week, McCain let it be known that he would consider an invitation to address the student body at Greenville’s Bob Jones University.

Back in 2000, Bush made a speech at Bob Jones U following his spanking by McCain in the New Hampshire primary. His appearance, in which he emphasized his conservative Christian credentials (and wore boots), is widely credited with sealing his victory here and vaulting him to the head of the GOP candidate pack.

Yes, America, you can blame South Cack-a-lackey for the cross we all now bear.

Anyhoo, McCain was the one screaming the loudest about the Bush appearance because of the school’s ban on interracial dating and anti-Roman Catholic positions.

Among other things, McCain said, “Look, what you’re doing in this ban on interracial dating is stupid, it’s idiotic, and it is incredibly cruel to many people.”

Since then, Bob Jones III has retired and handed the reins over to his youngest son, Stephen. Officially, the school has rescinded the interracial dating ban (unofficially, The Eye is sure the status quo remains the status quo) and kept its RC intolerance quiet.

Although no invitation has been extended yet, McCain said he would consider the school’s current policies.

He told The State, “I understand they have made considerable progress … I can’t remember when I’ve turned down a speaking invitation. I think I’d have to look at it.”

McCain acknowledged that a major consideration for his candidacy would be his ability to win. “I know from the 2000 campaign that this is a tough business. It takes a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice and I’m prepared to do this.”

The Eye guesses McCain is also apparently willing to sell his soul in the pursuit of craven ambition, because it certainly hasn’t heard any substantive policy ideas lately.

Too bad.

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