Here's another one for all of the Democratic McCain lovers. To be blunt, if you think John McCain is some sort of independent maverick who would be much better for America than George W. Bush, you're sorely misinformed. Writing in the supposedly liberal New Republic
, Byron York of the certainly conservative National Review
details McCain's efforts to ingratiate himself with the Bush/Rove team over the last few years, especially during the 2004 election. (The article is unfortunately subscription only.)
McCain campaigned like a workhorse for Bush in 2004, making more appearances for (and with) the president than he made for himself in his own reelection campaign. "I spent a grand total of three days in Arizona between the first of September and November," McCain tells me. "I thought it was a lot more important for him to be reelected than for me to be reelected." (That kind of it's-not-about-me humility is easier when you win, as McCain did in Arizona, with 77 percent of the vote.) McCain points out that he also campaigned for Bush in 2000 but got little credit for it, because "people wouldn't accept the fact that I had gotten over any real or imagined problems with the South Carolina primary."
But, in 2004, Republicans took notice. "People who were for George Bush in the Bush-McCain fight appreciated McCain standing up for the president," says Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. "We knew he didn't have to do it, and that will be a tremendous asset for McCain in South Carolina." Dawson makes it clear that he hasn't chosen sides and that other candidates--Senators George Allen and Bill Frist, in particular--have accumulated some significant political IOUs in South Carolina. But McCain has, at the very least, earned the credibility to go back to the state, not as a loser, but as a major contender.
More than any other issue, the war is the reason why Republicans thank McCain for standing by Bush. As the level of public approval for the war goes down, and some Republicans worry that they have to accommodate Democratic calls for withdrawal, McCain's hawkishness looks better and better to those in the GOP--still a majority--who want to stay the course.
It's all right there. McCain is a Bush loyalist whose position on Iraq is 'stay the course.' Another issue York touches on in the article is one that I've heard Democrats give McCain credit for -- fiscal responsibility. To many, McCain's attacks on pork barrel spending are a nice change of pace from the profligate spending of the last few years of Republican leadership. But John McCain's definition of pork might be different from theirs. Sure, both sides may agree on the infamous Alaskan 'Bridge to Nowhere,' but I strongly doubt that many Democratic McCainiacs support the privatization of Social Security that McCain does.
Just two McCain quotes from the recent Ari Berman article in The Nation, "The Real McCain," says quite a bit about how far McCain is willing to go to solidify his support from the GOP extremes. He refers to campaigning for Bush in 2004 as "one of the proudest moments of my life." On Larry King's show on CNN, he said, "I admire the religious right for the dedication and zeal they put into the political process." That second quote might be defensible as relatively objective if it weren't coming from someone who is going to rely on "the dedication and zeal" of the extremists to win in 2008. Personally speaking, there's nothing I find admirable about the religious right's attacks on anyone who doesn't endorse their bigotry.
Returning to the New Republic article, York quotes McCain saying some surprisingly incendiary things about Democrats that he's already backpedalling from. This morning on 'Meet the Press,' McCain seemed to imply that the quotes were taken out of context. If that's true, they were taken out of context by someone who seems to support him. But I don't buy the out of context idea anyway, as these are pretty simple statements without much room for misinterpretation. Much more likely is the explanation that notoriously loose-lipped McCain said some things he now regrets.
With his war hero credibility, McCain is able to dismiss the calls of some of his fellow lawmakers--and fellow veterans--who want to get out of Iraq. John Kerry, McCain says, doesn't have "the strength to see it through." And John Murtha is "a lovable guy," but "he's never been a big thinker; he's an appropriator." Using language that Bush never could, McCain tells me that Murtha has become too emotional about the human cost of the war. "As we get older, we get more sentimental," McCain says. "And [Murtha] has been very, very affected by the funerals and the families. But you cannot let that affect the way you decide policy."
Shorter McCain: Kerry's a wimp and Murtha's a dumb, sappy geezer. A stubborn stay-the-courser like McCain apparently can't imagine that fellow veterans like Kerry and McCain might actually be basing their shifts on the reality on the ground in Iraq. I simply can't understand how some Democrats can continue to think John McCain cares one iota about their interests after knives in the back like these.