THE PLANK JULY 31, 2008
Glenn Greenwald identifies me as a "long-time Beltway McCain worshiper."
Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. My most recent TRB column:
"If one needs any final proof of the ridiculousness of this quadrennial exercise, it is the fact that John McCain has embraced the flip-flopper attack. John McCain! I've said this before, I'll say it again: This is a man who, in his quest to make himself an acceptable GOP nominee, reversed his political philosophy (crusading anti-business progressive in the Teddy Roosevelt mode); his political orientation (frequently siding with, and nearly joining, Senate Democrats); and almost every particular undergirding it (taxes, the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill, his own immigration bill, etc.). But if you actually think that flip-flopping is a sign of flawed character, and not just a handy partisan cudgel, then, sure, Obama might be slightly cynical, but McCain must be a dangerous sociopath."
Alas, this followed a sad pattern of blasphemy.
"[McCain's] descent into Giuliani-ism, however, suggests his campaign thinks winning on Iraq wouldn't be enough. It's as if, by invoking 9/11, he can summon the return of the mentality that prevailed in the years after the attack. McCain spent the previous couple months mimicking every theme of the Hillary Clinton unsuccessful candidacy. Now, dropping in the polls, he's mimicking the themes Giuliani rode to a spectacular flameout."
"During the GOP primary, McCain presented his economic program as a more ideologically pure version of Bushism. Now he puts the same thing forward as a new synthesis. "It will not be enough," he says, "to simply dust off the economic policies of four, eight or twenty-eight years ago." Right; those other presidents had huge tax cuts for the rich combined with unspecified spending cuts. McCain's plan has those things and a joke about bear DNA. How heterodox!"
"On his website, John McCain boldly announces, "I believe climate change is real, I think it's devastating, I think we have to act." Great! Except that McCain has also said he supports the Republican filibuster. Welcome to the new kind of global-warming denial."
"Does McCain actually believe we must achieve victory in Iraq at all costs? He certainly didn't believe that about Lebanon in 1983 or Somalia a decade later, forcefully advocating withdrawal in both cases. But ‘We're Americans. And we'll never surrender' sounds a lot better than ‘We're Americans. And we rarely surrender, except when the costs of fighting on outweigh the potential for success.'"
"[McCain] has diverged wildly and repeatedly from conservative orthodoxy, but he has also reinvented himself so completely that it has become nearly impossible to figure out what he really believes... McCain's ideological transformation is unusual for two reasons: First, he has moved across the political spectrum not once--like Al Smith or Mitt Romney-- but twice. And, second, he refuses to acknowledge his change."
The official explanation is that McCain's heroic record makes him more prepared to conduct foreign policy than other candidates. As his spokesperson recently put it, "John McCain's record of service and sacrifice makes him uniquely qualified--more than anyone else running on either side--to lead as commander-in-chief from day one."
But the official explanation is obvious bunk. McCain's years in the Senate might qualify him as commander-in-chief. His prisoner of war experience is, at best, a marginal consideration. James Stockdale--another Vietnam POW hero and Ross Perot's hapless 1992 running mate--was not more qualified to serve as commander-in-chief than non-veteran Joe Biden. Most Republicans would prefer a conservative non-veteran like Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney over liberal general Wesley Clark.
McCain, no doubt, isn't really trying to persuade voters that his years as a prisoner in Hanoi have rendered him more qualified to grapple with the foreign policy landscape of 2009. The real point of constantly invoking his service is to substitute the gratitude and admiration we (rightly) feel about McCain's war service for our judgment of him as a political figure.
"The New York Times reported that Kerry and McCain had seven conversations about the idea, which seems like six more than would have been needed if McCain had said, "No thanks, I'm a conservative Republican who firmly supports Bush."
Shortly thereafter, McCain decided to seek the 2008 GOP nomination. Soon he was seen hugging Bush, which began his return into the conservative fold. Where McCain used to tout his admiration for trust-busting progressive Teddy Roosevelt, today he takes counsel from supply-side guru Arthur Laffer. That a total philosophical inversion like this doesn't count as a "flip-flop" just demonstrates how little flip-flopping tells you about a candidate."
‘THIS IS NOT Luke Skywalker here,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), discussing his friend and Senate colleague John McCain’s second run for the presidency. “This is a totally different campaign.”Graham was looking for a way to reassure his fellow conservatives that they no longer had anything to fear from McCain. His choice of metaphor is one of those windows into the fundamental cultural gap that separates hard-core conservatives from the rest of humanity.
To most people, who think of Luke Skywalker as a hero battling an evil and immensely powerful empire, Graham’s implication would be seen as an unmitigated insult. In the world of the GOP elite, though, it’s a form of praise: No, no, don’t worry, McCain’s with the empire now.
In the spirit of confession, I should admit that there are many other examples I haven't included here. But it is a strange kind of worship we Beltway insiders practice, one that frequently (or even primarily) takes the form of criticism of our own deity. Greenwald, devoted as he is to disinterested inquiry and the open-minded pursuit of truth, could never understand the fervor of our practices. Now I will go before David Broder to confess my sins, and imbibe the sacred wine and crackers. (This is a ritual for McCain-worshippers known to outsiders as the "Beltway cocktail party.")