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Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Real McCain?

Paul Krugman says John McCain is not a moderate:

It's time for some straight talk about John McCain. He isn't a moderate. He's much less of a maverick than you'd think. And he isn't the straight talker he claims to be.

Last week, Jonathan Chait disagreed with the claim McCain isn't a moderate, though he agrees McCain is not a "straight talker":

McCain is clearly happy to be denounced by liberals like me. It reassures conservatives, who (correctly) distrust McCain's popularity with the liberal media and whom McCain needs to make him president. Well, I'm not going to give him the pleasure. Go ahead, senator, flip-flop away. I know you're with us at heart. (Why am I endorsing this weasel-y behavior? I'll explain next week.)

So he thinks McCain is just doing what he needs to do, moving to the right, to get the nomination. Chait believes McCain has a "genuine desire to transform his party and his country, and he's willing to say things he doesn't agree with in order to be able to do it."  If McCain is a flip-flopper, how can Chait trust his word? How does he know that MCain's endorsement of people like Falwell and intelligent design is all a show to win votes? Chait says, "It's possible he was lying then and he's telling the truth now. But why would he?". Finally, he says McCain "...is better than a Republican who didn't have to sell his soul to get the nomination."

So as far as I can tell, the column supports McCain's lying, misleading people, making false promises, and selling his soul in order to take the Republican party to a more honorable place:

He's a weasel, but he's my weasel, by Jonathan Chait, Commentary, LA Times: Last week I wrote in this space that John McCain is repositioning himself from Bush-smiting champion of the center-left to Falwell-feting champion of the loony right. I also wrote that that's not such a bad thing.

How could I condone such a colossal flip-flop? The answer is that, unlike most other liberal journalists, I never swooned over McCain for being a dreamy military hero and straight-talker. ... My swoon over McCain was for ideological reasons. McCain adopted all sorts of positions I shared. ... As a presidential candidate in 2000, McCain had to think about the direction he wanted to take the country. He came into contact with middle-income Americans who were concerned about healthcare and making ends meet, not the capital gains tax. And he found himself attacked by the party apparatus for championing campaign finance reform, which up to that point had been his only real heresy.

McCain began questioning the GOP's alliance with the business lobby. "I think the party to some degree has lost its way," he told me, "and I think this is because of the influence of big money." He read up on Teddy Roosevelt, and saw himself as an heir to the great progressive who championed regulation and progressive taxes and bolted the GOP because of its alliance with business. ...

He also wanted, very badly, to be president. Although he reportedly considered joining the Democratic Party, McCain's advisors believed he couldn't win enough support from down-the-line liberals to make it through a Democratic primary. ... Besides, McCain wanted all along to stay in the GOP and recast the party in the image of his hero.

Remaining competitive for the Republican Party's 2008 nomination has required McCain to mend fences with the conservatives who savaged him during the 2000 primary season and after. Most of the concessions he has made to the right, though, have been symbolic.

He lavished extravagant praise on President Bush for his leadership in the war on terror, even though McCain criticized most of Bush's specific decisions, such as letting Osama bin Laden escape and invading Iraq with too few troops. His overtures to Jerry Falwell and his endorsement of "intelligent design" sent friendly signals to conservatives without actually binding McCain to legislative positions if he wins.

These are, certainly, acts of weaselry. But like I said, I don't really care. Politicians can always persuade themselves to make small compromises in the pursuit of a larger good. I think McCain has a genuine desire to transform his party and his country, and he's willing to say things he doesn't agree with in order to be able to do it.

It's possible he was lying then and he's telling the truth now. But why would he? The liberal positions he took during the GOP primaries made him radioactive to the base and killed his campaign. They nearly got him run out of the party he hoped to lead...

The more pertinent question is, will McCain make specific promises to the right that he can't weasel out of? His vote to extend the Bush tax cuts he once opposed is a bad sign ... Also, can McCain get through a GOP primary without committing himself to a series of litmus tests? Will he surround himself with conventional right-wing staff?

I suspect that if he emerges victorious from the primaries, he will have had to shed many of his ideals. It's not attractive. On the other hand, it's better than a Republican who didn't have to sell his soul to get the nomination. I'd prefer somebody who's uncomfortable in Karl Rove's Republican Party to somebody who genuinely likes it.

So, was he lying then or now? I say then. I think that then, like now, he was "willing to say things he doesn't agree with" due to the fact that he "wanted, very badly, to be president" and thought that moving to the middle would help. Krugman's bottom line is worth remembering:

So here's what you need to know about John McCain. He isn't a straight talker. His flip-flopping on tax cuts, his call to send troops we don't have to Iraq and his endorsement of the South Dakota anti-abortion legislation even while claiming that he would find a way around that legislation's central provision show that he's a politician as slippery and evasive as, well, George W. Bush.

He isn't a moderate. Mr. McCain's policy positions and Senate votes ... place him ... in the right wing of the Republican Party. And he isn't a maverick, at least not when it counts. When the cameras are rolling, Mr. McCain can sometimes be seen striking a brave pose of opposition ... But when it matters, ... Mr. McCain always toes the party line.

It's worth recalling that during the 2000 election campaign George W. Bush was widely portrayed by the news media both as a moderate and as a straight-shooter. As Mr. Bush has said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

    Posted by on Sunday, April 23, 2006 at 08:27 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (2)

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