This profile is from back when McCain ran for president the first time around - but I think it still holds up well (which it would if what it says about McCain is correct).
[i]But how does a man of proclaimed “principle”–a proclamation bolstered by those who know him best and by a 16-year voting record–go so wrong on such consequential issues? Skeptics heap scorn on the notion that McCain has any principles. “His principle is that he should codify any prejudice he happens to have,” scoffs Ed Crane, president of the Cato Institute.
McCain’s friends, foes, and biography suggest a more complicated, but no less politically worrisome, explanation. For John McCain, principle is fundamentally about honor–personal honor: about keeping his word, about doing what is right and doing it well. “Principle” combines honesty, stubbornness, and loyalty. This notion of principle is very different from adhering to a consistent political philosophy. It explains McCain’s popular appeal, especially in contrast to the exceptionally dishonorable Clinton administration, but also accounts for the distrust, even contempt, he inspires among the ideologically committed.
“John does what he believes but doesn’t have that kind of well-thought-out philosophy,” says David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, who generally speaks highly of McCain but opposes his recent attacks on the tobacco industry and free speech. “He is a guy who does do what he thinks [is right]. The problem is what he thinks [is right] is neither consistent nor always that helpful to himself or his party.”
McCain’s view of principle grows out of an aristocratic code of virtues, which in turn informs the ethics of the military, the institution within which McCain was born, raised, and spent much of his life working. The heart of the aristocratic code of ethics, according to University of Tulsa historian Paul A. Rahe, is that one doesn’t let people down. Obligations, in this view, are not owed to abstract systems of belief. They are specific, personal, owed to individuals or institutions: one’s troops, the Senate, one’s country. By this definition of principle, McCain’s story shows him to be quite principled indeed.[/i]
It’s not all roses, but to me it rings accurate - and fair.