john-mccain_web.jpgThe Republican presidential nominee is Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Barack Obama is the nominee for the Democratic Party.

The country is in a mess, and one of these men will succeed President George W. Bush to become the 44th president of the United States. It should not be McCain.

McCain is often referred to as a maverick, but magician may be a better word to describe him.

Before now, I believed that anyone would be better in the White House than Bush, so I yearned for the Jan. 20, 2009, Inauguration Day to hurry along.

The damage he has overseen is done, and it will take decades to correct. For these and other reasons, I wanted to bid him farewell back to Texas as soon as possible.

But after paying closer attention to McCain over the past few months, and delving deeper into his past, I now know I was wrong. The American people should be concerned, if not downright scared, of a John McCain presidency and the tricks he is pulling from his bag.

Nearly every position he has staked out in this year's campaign runs counter to those positions he took during the 2000 presidential primary.

McCain is a political chameleon; his stance on issues can change to suit the audience he is in front of, or the person asking the questions.

In 2004, he considered joining the Democratic presidential ticket with Sen. John Kerry. This year, his first choice for a vice presidential running mate was widely rumored to have been Democrat turned Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was on the Democratic ticket with Al Gore in 2000.

Republican Party stalwarts privately expressed concern about McCain, but he still managed successfully to present himself as a conservative, something he is not, and then went on to attain the party’s nomination.

Now he is trying to unleash his bag of tricks on the entire voting public, but the people have caught on to his illusions.

Instead of putting forth ideas and offering his own solutions, McCain has engaged in gimmicks, a campaign of misinformation, and at times, outright lies. McCain has said he is opposed to gay marriages and same sex unions, only to state the opposite position hours later.

While campaigning in 2000, McCain agreed with protestors that the Confederate Flag should have been removed from the South Carolina statehouse and capitol buildings. He has now reversed his position, and apologized for his prior views on the flag issue.

During this year’s campaign, and depending on where he was, he claimed he supported the Bush tax cuts, when he was actually one of only two Republican senators to vote against them.

In an interview this year, he falsely claimed to have walked freely down the streets in Iraq with no protection or body armor. Yet news video of his visit shows him in full body armor, surrounded by over 100 troops, with five attack helicopters hovering above him for protection.

He has taken both sides of nearly every issue. In March, and after the government bailout of Bear Stearns, he vigorously supported loosening more regulation on Wall Street firms, only to state the opposite days later.

Even in our age of  YouTube and other electronic information, it’s almost as if he and his advisors thought the people would not catch on.

Nonetheless, the last straw came with his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, which amounts to an insult being foisted upon the American people. Palin is in no way qualified, and her only asset to the campaign appears to be her ability to throw acid-tongued quips at Obama.

The home schooling the campaign has done on her gets a failing grade, and she is proving to be an embarrassment. There are a number of qualified, sensible women he could have chosen as a running mate, like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But what does it say about his judgment when he selected a pleasing face and empty bathing suit, instead of experience and substance?

Yes, we really should be concerned.

At 72, McCain would be the oldest person ever elected president. The odds of his not completing his term or suffering some type of mental or physical breakdown are real. This makes his vice presidential choice more of an issue than in other elections. He went with an inexperienced governor, already mired in controversies in her home state, who has only a year and a half in office.

This raises serious questions about his cognitive ability to make sound decisions.

If the Palin choice was not bad enough, there are those quiet, but increasing whispers about his temperament, that cannot be overlooked. As he continues to slip in the polls, the scowl on his face has become more pronounced, and the incidents of his being set off by questions from the media and flying off the handle are becoming more frequent.

During last week’s debate for example, his contempt for Sen. Obama was evident. His angry retorts and talking down to Obama made him appear grumpy, on the edge, and reckless. It made me wonder if he has the ability, or stability, to cope with the rigors of being president.

What lies ahead for America is a path of uncertainty, and McCain has not demonstrated he can handle the pressure. Grumbling about bombing other nations with his hair-trigger rants will only lead to disaster.

Consider the events that unfolded during the current administration, like the unwarranted aggression against Iraq, its callous reaction in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the abysmal economic policies that have contributed to one of the most profound economic collapses in the nation’s 232-year history.

McCain has supported and stood with the Bush administration in each of these disgraceful events. The question is, would he be able to maintain his cool when being grilled by the media for days on end, or would he make one of those rash  “rush to judgment” decisions he is known for?

In short, President George W. Bush is arguably the worst commander in chief the American people has ever had to endure, and on the issues at least, McCain is joined to him at the hip.

According to the results of a USA Today/Gallop poll released just this week, a majority of Americans seem to agree.

Only 26 percent approve of the job the president is doing, which means 74 percent of Americans now say they are disappointed with his performance.

These low approval numbers, mind you, are the worst of any president other than Harry Truman and Richard Nixon.

At the same time Bush’s numbers are falling, McCain too is slipping in the polls as more people are beginning to see through the smoke, and are coming to realize those rosy images in his mirrors are fake.

Under the Bush presidency, the pillars of America’s free enterprise system are teetering on their limits, and many of them now require government intervention and tax payer-funded bailouts to survive. All the while, the people continue to wilt under dangerous economic conditions. But as people lose their homes, life savings, jobs, and way of life, McCain thought they were a nation of whiners.

Two weeks ago, McCain gave a speech in which he invoked the words uttered by President Herbert Hoover, during The Great Depression, who stated, “the fundamentals of the economy are sound.”

Before the week was out, the largest insurance company in the world had to be bailed out and two of America’s largest investment banks on Wall Street failed. He then claimed to have been warning an economic downturn was looming. Furthermore, McCain supported deregulation of the banking and other industries, claiming this would be good for the economy.

He even joined Bush in calling for the privatization of Social Security, so those funds could be invested on the same Wall Street that is now reduced to rubble. These were bad positions designed to fill the pockets of the privileged, not help the people.

In the face of these realities McCain is at it again, acting like a magician, not a maverick, and changing his tune.

The American people, however, have caught on to his illusions, and he should know, the presidency of the United States cannot be had for a song, or his trick bags of rhetoric.

Photo: Sen. John McCain