A ‘MAVERICK’ NO MORE…. There was at least some question, I suppose, about which John McCain we’d see this year. With the prospects of national office no longer a possibility, and after having been soundly rejected by the electorate, the Arizona senator was not without options.

Would we see the firebrand McCain? The reform-minded McCain? McCain the Moderate, circa 2000 and 2001? The bitter and confused partisan McCain of 2008?

President Obama invested a fair amount of time during the transition to bring out the old McCain — the one, for example, who twice rejected Bush’s tax cuts as irresponsible, and co-sponsored a Patients’ Bill of Rights with Ted Kennedy and John Edwards.

Politico leads today with a piece on McCain having made up his mind about which of his many personas he’s decided to embrace.

Barack Obama began his presidency with an open hand toward the man he had just defeated in a race that was at times bitter.

“There are few Americans who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain,” said Obama at an inauguration-eve tribute dinner to his former foe.

But in the year since that evening of comity and collegiality, McCain has emerged as one of the leading critics of the new president. On foreign policy, his traditional area of expertise, and domestic affairs, where McCain has shown new passion, the 72-year-old Arizonan is making it plain that he has no plans to serve out his years in the rank-and-file, as a politician known more for what he lost than what he will yet accomplish.

In many respects, this is backwards. Putting aside the fact that McCain has no expertise in foreign policy, by becoming another predictable, reflexive conservative attack dog, the Republican senator would very much be “serving out his years in the rank-and-file.” That’s the point — he’s no longer doing anything interesting or noteworthy.

The Senate Republican caucus is filled with literally dozens of conventional conservatives, who don’t take public policy especially seriously, who can’t think creatively or come up with innovative solutions, and who base their professional existence on bashing Democrats, government, journalism, and reason.

Which in some ways is the tragedy of John McCain. He, perhaps more than any Republican lawmaker of this generation, had an opportunity to become a giant. The media loved him. The public respected him. His rivals perceived him as a reasonable, honorable man. Over many years, he cultivated a reputation that most politicians would kill for.

In his quest to be president, McCain threw it all away. Offered a chance to reclaim the mantle, and with President Obama extending an outreached hand, McCain let the opportunity again pass him by, preferring instead to be little more than a petty, tiresome far-right partisan, undistinguished from his fellow petty, tiresome far-right partisans.

“His political epitaph is going to be dictated by how he conducts himself in next six or 13 years,” John Weaver, formerly one of McCain’s closest advisers, said. “Will he be seen as a giant of the Senate who came back from a presidential loss like Scoop Jackson, Robert Taft or Ted Kennedy, or will he go down a different path? Only he can decide it.”

He’s already decided. What a waste.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.