Apparently it's a dying art.
John McCain was never a maverick. He was a staunch Republican whose positions deviated from those of his party only on occasion. But the one thing he had going for him was honesty and sincerity. He told the country what he believed and why he believed it, firmly and unapologetically. He stood up for his beliefs even if they were unpopular. He defended his principles. But somewhere along the line John McCain gave up. He sacrificed his principles, he surrendered to the sordid tactics of his party, the tactics he once despised and vocally denounced. To fully understand the magnitude of his fall, one must look back -- a glance at the McCain of a month ago, really, is sufficient to understand the duplicity of his statements and positions, but the differences between the McCain of 2000 and the McCain of 2008 are staggering. A brief list compiled by blogger Alex Valentine shows the stark contrast between the two McCains:
John McCain 2000Since his 2008 campaign began, John McCain has "flip-flopped" on the issues no less than 100 times. But it isn't just his stance on the issues which has changed, it's his entire demeanor. The McCain of 2000 would be ashamed of the campaign his current incarnation is running. From the man who once said negative attack ads are indicative of a lack of vision...
- Generally told it to you straight, spoke freely with the press, and avoided being handled by spin doctors.
- Refused to campaign based on his Vietnam experience, barely mentioned it, and discouraged discussion of it during interviews.
- Despised the hatred and intolerance pushed by the religious right.
- Fought for getting big money out of politics
- Despised soft money and lobbyists
- A True friend of the environment, pushed for global warming efforts and was against expanded drilling.
- While not a pacifist, he was generally anti-war, and discouraged nation building.
John McCain 2008
- Completely filtered and scripted, taking a page from the Rove playbook.
- Milks his Vietnam experience in an intolerable fashion, pushing his bio, ala John Kerry.
- Courts the religious right fanatics with his VP pick, panders to people like Falwell.
- Gladly influenced by big donors and corporations.
- Has a campaign run by lobbyists
- Pushes oil drilling, and barely mentions a peep about environmental issues.
- Pushes war and fear, and continues to defend his foolish pro Iraq war position.
... we now see vicious attacks not only in his ads, but in his stump speeches. This is a man who once believed in fairness and positive campaigning -- who decried the dirty tactics employed by his party, the tactics which helped destroy his chances at the nomination eight years ago. John McCain and his campaign promised Americans a clean race, one which remained focused on the issues instead of the usual sideshows we see in national politics. His campaign released a memo to the press back in March, vowing that John McCain and the campaign itself would remain respectful:
To: Campaign LeadershipJohn McCain has not delivered on his promise. The DNC has released a web ad contrasting McCain's statements about negative campaigning in 2000 with the caustic tenor of his 2008 campaign.
From: Rick Davis
Subject: McCain Message
John McCain is now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. It is critical, as we prepare to face off with whomever the Democrats select as their nominee, that we all follow John's lead and run a respectful campaign focused on the issues and values that are important to the American people.
Throughout the primary election we saw John McCain reject the type of politics that degrade our civics, and this will not change as he prepares to run head-to-head against the Democratic nominee.
- from Real Clear Politics
We are currently bearing witness to what is perhaps the sleaziest campaign in American history. From asserting that Senator Barack Obama has been playing the race card to releasing virulent ads accusing Obama of palling around with terrorists (I refuse to embed the video, but you can watch it HERE), McCain has taken presidential politics to a new low. So much for rejecting the type of politics that degrade our civics. But Obama saw it coming.
He anticipated the use of the politics of fear. It's unfortunate that the GOP resorts to such despicable tactics to win elections, but it's a real pity to see this sort of behavior coming from McCain, a man who once so staunchly opposed it.
The principled John McCain of 2000 stood against his party's platform and refused to condemn Roe v. Wade because he understood that overturning it wouldn't stop abortion, but rather, would endanger the health of American women who would be forced to seek out and endure illegal abortion procedures.
"I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."He ripped George W. Bush over abortion in a 2000 Republican primary debate.
- John McCain, 1999
That was straight talk (my friends). Surely he hasn't forgotten. He just doesn't care anymore. He is willing to imperil the lives of untold numbers of women in order to toe the party line -- a line he once refused to cross. The John McCain of 2000 would be ashamed.
There was a time when John McCain stood up for what he believed in -- when he stood against torture, not only because it's fundamentally wrong, but because he believed in American values and in this country's reputation. In 2005, he defended his amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would bar U.S. officials from inflicting "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" on detainees, asserting, "It's not about who they are. It's about who we are." Three years later, on the floor of the Senate, he voted against the Intelligence Authorization Bill, which contained a provision from Senator Feinstein, establishing a single interrogation standard across government and banning waterboarding. In the midst of the primaries and under the watchful eye of the conservatives he was attempting to woo, he abandoned his principles and followed George W. Bush's lead.
The John McCain of 2000 condemned intolerance in all its forms. In South Carolina on January 9th, 2000, he condemned the symbolism of the confederate flag, saying, "The confederate flag is offensive in many, many ways, as we all know. It's a symbol of racism and slavery." In April of that year, he called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from atop the South Carolina Statehouse and repented his failure to take a stronger stance on the issue during the Republican primary, admitting that he "deserved" the criticism of his detractors.
"My ancestors fought for the Confederacy ... but I don't believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors."He likewise accused Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and the Republican establishment itself of harming GOP ideals. He stood up for the policies and platforms he believed in, while condemning the nefarious tactics employed by many agents of the Right.
- John McCain, April 2000
"The political tactics of division and slander are not our values, they are... They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country. Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right."
- John McCain, February 28, 2000
Preparing for his his next presidential run, he flipped-flopped in 2006, telling Tim Russert that Falwell was no longer an agent of intolerance.
In 2008 he sought and embraced the endorsement of hate-monger John Hagee, who contended, among other things, that Catholics were responsible for the Holocaust. McCain's blind ambition didn't pay off. Under fire from the MSM, he was forced to backtrack and flip-flop yet again, admitting that it was "a mistake to solicit and accept [Hagee's] endorsement."
And just as he embraced the extreme religious Right he once condemned, he has likewise embraced the war on science. Where he once largely supported embryonic stem cell research, he now stands opposed. From Wired Science:
Republican presidential nominee John McCain would criminalize a promising branch of stem cell research, according to a statement issued by the candidate's campaign. Though such legislation would probably not survive Congress, he might extend President Bush's much-criticized limitation of embryonic stem cell research.One is left wondering when his running mate will convince him to attempt to outlaw the teaching of evolution in our classrooms.
[. . .]
McCain also took a harder line than the Bush administration with somatic cell nuclear transfer, better known as therapeutic cloning -- a cutting-edge process that could some day provide personalized embryonic stem cell therapies. Though currently legal, McCain would outlaw the technique.
The new stance is an abrupt reversal for the Arizona senator. As recently as 2007, McCain appeared to favor embryonic stem cell research more strongly than most of the Republican party, especially its most religiously conservative members. "I believe that we need to fund this," he said during a presidential candidates' debate in May 2007.
The John McCain of 2000 stood opposed to offshore drilling because he cared about the environment and recognized that America is better served by seeking alternative forms of energy.
During his last run for the presidency, in 1999, McCain supported the drilling moratorium, and he scolded the "special interests in Washington" that sought offshore drilling leases. Yesterday, he announced that those very same "moratoria should be lifted" and proposed incentives for the states "in the form of tangible financial rewards, if the states decide to lift those moratoriums."He in fact maintained his opposition to offshore drilling until June of 2008:
- Dana Milbank, Washington Post
"[W]ith those resources, which would take years to develop, you would only postpone or temporarily relieve our dependency on fossil fuels. . . . We are going to have to go to alternative energy, and the exploitation of existing reserves of oil, natural gas, even coal, and we can develop clean coal technology, are all great things. But we also have to devote our efforts, in my view, to alternative energy sources, which is the ultimate answer to our long-term energy needs, and we need it sooner rather than later."
- John McCain, June 2008
Within three weeks, he'd reversed his position in one of the most blatant flip-flops of his campaign.
"I believe it is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions and to put our own reserves to use . . . as a matter of fairness to the American people, and a matter of duty for our government, we must deal with the here and now, and assure affordable fuel for America by increasing domestic production."- John McCain, June 2008The John McCain of 2000 stood up for the middle and lower classes. He stood against his party and their relentless attempts to pass tax cuts on to the wealthiest Americans. McCain has always believed in tax cuts, but it's only recently that he's decided they should go to the wealthy. He once understood the oppressive financial burdens faced by much of the country and sought to give relief to the people who needed it most. In their noble quest to sabotage their own nominee, Human Events has collected a list of McCain's "top ten" arguments against tax cuts. Bitter as they are, they unearthed several notable quotes, among them:
"I don't think the governor's tax cut is too big--it's just misplaced. Sixty percent of the benefits from his tax cuts go to the wealthiest 10% of Americans--and that's not the kind of tax relief that Americans need. ... Gov. Bush wants to spend the entire surplus on tax cuts. I don't believe the wealthiest 10% of Americans should get 60% of the tax breaks. I think the lowest 10% should get the breaks. ...Remarkably, the McCain of 2008 has flopped so hard that he's accomplished the unthinkable: He's come up with a tax plan worse than Shrub's.
"I'm not giving tax cuts for the rich."
--Discussion with media, reported in "Bush, McCain Snip Over Tax Cut Plans," Los Angeles Times, and "GOP Rivals Bicker on Taxes," Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2000.
"There's one big difference between me and the others--I won't take every last dime of the surplus and spend it on tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy. I'll use the bulk of the surplus to secure Social Security far into the future to keep our promise to the greatest generation."
--McCain campaign commercial, January 2000.
"Mr. President, the principle that guides my judgment of a tax reconciliation bill is tax relief for those who need it the most--lower- and middle-income working families. I am in favor of a tax cut, but a responsible one that provides significant tax relief for lower- and middle-income families. And I commend Sen. Grassley for moving in that direction. But I am concerned that debt will overwhelm many American households. That is why tax relief should be targeted to middle-income Americans. The more fortunate among us have less concern about debt. It is the parents struggling to make ends meet who are most in need of tax relief.
--Senate floor statement during debate over President Bush's tax relief package, May 21, 2001.
Under George Bush, 31 percent of the tax cuts were given to the wealthiest one percent of Americans, but under McCain's new plan, 58 percent of tax cuts will go to the wealthiest one percent. He has embraced the failed policies of the Bush administration and taken them a step further.
Perhaps one of his most obvious and well known reversals is his flip-flop on immigration. Throughout 2005, McCain worked to develop a comprehensive immigration reform bill with other members of Congress (including Senators Kennedy and Obama), and as recently as 2006, on the Senate floor, he made a statement calling for immigration reform, expressing the need for a policy which treats immigrants as human beings, and elucidating some of the the economic contributions of immigrants.
Now only two years later, his platform has changed from immigration reform to border security, claiming that our borders must be secured before we can institute comprehensive immigration reforms (he has more recently flipped on the sorts of reforms he plans to implement). He has forgotten -- or chosen to ignore -- the humanity of our immigrants, and has forsaken the compassion which spurred him to reach across the aisle in the first place. During a debate at the Reagan Library during the Republican primaries, he admitted that he wouldn't sign his own immigration bill.
- "However, I do not believe the Senate should or will pass an "enforcement only" bill. Our experiences with our current immigration system have proven that outdated or unrealistic laws will never be fully enforceable, regardless of every conceivable border security improvement we make."
- "We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries - to the extent they are needed - to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled."
- "As long as this situation exists, without a legal path for essential workers to enter the country, we will have desperate people illegally crossing our borders and living in the shadows of our towns, cities and rural communities. That is not acceptable, particularly when we are fighting the war on terror. The vast majority of individuals attempting to cross our borders do not intend to harm our country; they are coming to meet our demand for labor and to earn money to feed their families."
- "That is why any immigration legislation that passes Congress must establish a legal channel for workers to enter the United States after they have passed background checks and have secured employment."
- John McCain, 2006 (excerpts taken from a speech transcribed at mccain.senate.gov)
And in an attempt to portray Obama as reckless on foreign policy, he has recently switched positions on the search for Osama bin-Laden. During the Republican debate at the Reagan Library in May of 2007, McCain vowed to hunt down bin-Laden, promising, "We will bring him to justice. I will follow him to the gates of hell." Interestingly, McCain is likely to run into a catch-22 of sorts in the event that the gates of hell are to be found somewhere in Pakistan. Just over a year after vowing to pursue bin-Laden to those gates, he told Larry King that he wouldn't be chasing him into Pakistan. After McCain repeatedly promised to take no action inside Pakistan, King asked him what he would do as president if he discovered that bin-Laden was hiding within its borders. McCain responded, "Larry, I'm not going to go there and here's why, because Pakistan is a sovereign nation.... But I want to assure you I will get Osama bin Laden as president of the United States and I will bring him to justice no matter what it takes."
There seems to be something of a contradiction here. McCain's new position comes in response to Sen. Obama's statement that he will launch limited attacks within Pakistan if actionable intelligence affirms the presence of high-value terrorist targets. This is a policy which has been implemented in the past, and which has resulted in the capture of several al Qaeda leaders. McCain's intent is to draw a distinction between himself and his opponent and to paint Obama as careless of the sovereignty of foreign nations: an untenable position for a man who seems more than a little intrigued by the prospect of attacking Iran, which -- unless I'm much mistaken -- is currently a sovereign nation.
McCain's flip-flops on the economy are dizzying. For well over two decades, McCain stood up for the policies which have helped create the current financial crisis. He claims that he's always been for less government, lower taxes, and less regulation, but in the wake of the nation's economic woes, he has backflipped on a number of issues, from the AIG bailout to deregulation. From ABC:
"In the mid 1990s, he supported a measure to ban all new government regulations. McCain supported legislation a decade ago that broke down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks and insurance companies -- the very rules companies like AIG exploited to get in the current mess. And as recently as March of this year, after the collapse of Bear Stearns, McCain was all for deregulating Wall Street." - David WrightWe all know McCain has little to no understanding of the American economy, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to determine whether he has any idea what he believes anymore. His fundamental lack of understanding explains 25 years of pushing for deregulation, but only ambition explains his inability to pick a position and stick with it. For decades McCain's views and policies on the economy have been distorted, wrong, and spawned from a lack of comprehension, but at least he was consistent -- at least he stood up for them. At least he knew what he believed.
[. . .]
"When deregulation was the wave through Washington, he surfed that wave. Now it's not, and the populist inside John McCain is out. . . . It's a conversion of convenience, some will say." - George Will
In trying to flip -- and flop -- his way to the White House, John McCain has compromised his values and his principles. The Straight Talk Express derailed somewhere along the way, and at the end of the day, when he has lost the election and his reputation lies in shambles, he will have no one to blame but himself.
John McCain has forgotten how to put his country first. He has forgotten how to protect and serve the American people. He has forgotten what he stood for, forgotten the bravery required to stand up to his party -- the bravery required to do the right thing in the face of scorn and adversity and political peril.
John McCain has forgotten himself.