After winning the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Republican primaries on Tuesday night, Sen. John McCain has all but sewn up the GOP nomination and will most certainly be his party’s nominee this November. McCain has long been a media darling and so far the coverage of McCain has been predictably adoring. Members of the press affectionately call him “Maverick McCain” and refer to his campaign as “the Straight-Talk Express.” The often-sycophantic adulation the media bestows on McCain has allowed him, for years, to get away with the same pandering hyperbole that can regularly get a politician ridiculed. The problem isn’t that John McCain is your typical politician – he is – it’s that he’s been labeled as something different – he’s not. Now that he’s the only plausible GOP candidate, let’s hope the media finally gives him an honest look.
Perhaps the most underreported story about the so-called “straight-talking” nominee regards his serial waffling on the issues. While public officials are entitled to change their opinions upon encountering new evidence, few politicians are as opportunistically ambitious as Sen. McCain. While serving as a relatively staunch conservative for decades in Congress, upon being passed over in the 2000 GOP primary by the Republican establishment in favor of George W. Bush and his Rovian smear-machine, McCain took a sharp turn towards the left. He passed sweeping campaign finance legislation with liberal Democrat Russ Feingold. He worked on a Patients’ Bill of Rights with Ted Kennedy. Perhaps most strikingly, he opposed the Bush tax cuts. But then, in 2004, a curious thing began to happen. McCain, eyeing no heir-apparent to the Bush White House, began contemplating another run for the presidency. He quickly re-entered the conservative fold and began placating former opponents within the party. He eased tensions between himself and big business Republicans by trumpeting the same tax cuts he once opposed. He even attempted to make amends with his party’s evangelical wing. While McCain once labeled the right-wing Rev. Jerry Falwell as an “agent of intolerance,” he distanced himself from those comments and spoke at Falwell’s Liberty University last year. Had this been John Kerry or Mitt Romney, the media would incessantly mock them as flip-floppers. Apparently, when John McCain does it, it never really happened.
One issue he’s been relatively consistent on for the last decade or so – and this should give pause to any moderate voter considering supporting McCain – is his support of war. And it isn’t merely his unwavering cheerleading of the butchered occupation of Iraq that reveals his inherently hawkish nature. It’s also the casualness he exhibits when he all but guarantees there will be plenty of other future wars – should there be a McCain presidency. These positions are dangerous, yet he seems content to view the presidency through a prism of dutiful commitment to alter the world through irresponsible foreign policy conflicts.
While continuing failed wars clearly makes the man excited, McCain reveals little interest in addressing domestic concerns. His message to Americans lacking health care seems eerily similar to his message to American soldiers on a third or fourth tour of Iraq: Tough it out. McCain also offers little patience for addressing the economy. In the past, economics was an issue he never understood as well as he should. In fact, he recently said, “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.” Coming from a would-be president, this should be at least a tad worrisome. Moreover, were Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama to say this, they’d be laughed out of the race. Apparently, when John McCain says it, it never really happened.
Although McCain consistently talks about ending the “bickering in Washington” and his uncanny ability to get things done, he’s frequently hurled mud and invoked some of the nastiest invective of any mainstream politician. In the late 1990s, McCain reportedly joked: “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno.” While McCain apologized, the tastelessness and cruelty of the quip are striking. Had any other candidate – no matter how marginal – made this crack, the press and pundits would slam them.
But again: When John McCain says it, it, apparently, never really happened.