April 10, 2007

The Tragedy Of Consistency

I'm an avid reader of E.J. Dionne, not because I sometimes agree with what he writes, but because he writes one of the most reasoned liberal columns. Today, Dionne looks at what he sees as a tragic transformation of John McCain, and laments McCain's missed opportunity to tell truth to power:

There is another tragic element: McCain suffered mightily during the 2000 presidential primaries at the hands of George W. Bush's political machine, which smeared the senator on everything from his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to the racial identity of his adopted daughter.

Yet McCain is being dragged down now by his loyalty to the very same Bush and his policies in Iraq. Earlier in the war, McCain was a fierce critic of the president's strategy and tactics. But those criticisms count for little now. Bush destroyed McCain's candidacy by design the first time and is smothering him by association this time.

McCain had hoped that this week would mark the beginning of his comeback, but it got off to a difficult start. Coverage of his Sunday appearance on "60 Minutes" was dominated by his apology for talking about how safe parts of Baghdad were -- even as CBS footage showed that McCain's stroll through a market was peaceful only because of the formidable military presence around him. Later this week, he'll give the first in a series of major policy speeches.

But even the best speeches and op-ed pieces cannot free McCain from the consequences of his choices. It turns out that no matter what he does to court, soothe and pamper the right, many in its ranks will never abide him. He spoke out too forcefully in 2000 for campaign finance reform and against "the demands of big-money special interests." He condemned the "self-appointed" leaders of conservative groups -- a rather influential constituency -- and singled out Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "the agents of intolerance." People in politics have long memories.

I was a little surprised to see Dionne use the Iraq war as an example of McCain's transformation. McCain did criticize the Bush administration and Donald Rumsfeld earlier, but because he insisted that the Pentagon had not committed enough resources to get the job done. He criticized Rumsfeld for clinging to his paradigm of a smaller, lighter force despite what McCain saw as clear needs for a heavier presence in Baghdad, as well as Rumsfeld's management of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

What changed? Bush replaced Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, and then replaced General Casey with General Petraeus. With those changes, Bush took McCain's advice and added more brigades to secure Baghdad and put in broader rules of engagement to handle the insurgencies. Bush took McCain's advice; McCain didn't change at all.

McCain has engaged more with conservative activists, notably Pat Robertson, than he did in the previous campaign. I'm no fan of Robertson either -- I described him yesterday as the "embarrassing old uncle" of the GOP. However, Dionne shows no evidence that McCain has changed his policy stands in regards to this new outreach. He snubbed CPAC this year, which shows that McCain still feels uncomfortable with "self-appointed leaders" of the movement, although CPAC has a long track record of leadership for conservatism. He hasn't backed away from campaign-finance reform, either, even though he might win back a lot of conservative support if he did so.

If anything, McCain's tragedy can be found in his consistency, or rather his obstinacy, on issues like the BCRA. It's no small irony that his campaign has fallen far behind that of Mitt Romney, a more obscure candidate until just recently, on raising money. The record amount of fundraising this early in the campaign has completely discredited the McCain-Feingold approach to reform; checkbooks are busier than ever, making the free-speech sacrifices a waste.

When I see John McCain, I don't see a man who has changed at all, on policy or in character. I have my beefs with McCain, but inconsistency isn't one of them. My friend Paul Mirengoff at Power Line has more thoughts along the same lines.

UPDATE: I meant to say that I sometimes agree with what he writes, so I rewrote my opening sentence, which made no sense in context. Also, if you missed his interview with Hugh Hewitt tonight, the transcript is here. I think one can get a sense of the genuine, decent nature of Dionne -- and that's not just because he reads CQ.


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Comments (13)

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 7:32 PM

John McCain has already seen what happens to a nation at war, when weak-kneed civilian leaders first tie the hands of their military, and then choose surrender over victory. At least McCain knows first hand that dying is not the worst thing that can happen to a soldier. The worst thing is not being allowed to fight.

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 7:44 PM

McCain has TOTALLY changed from 2000! He just panders now, he's lost all support among the independents and sucking up to gwb is like having an anchor around your neck. He'll say anything and do any thing, like that staged photo-op in the market in Bagdhad. What a total farce. EJ was spot on on this one CE.The fiasco in Iraq will be the albatross for the gop in 08, and you can take that to the bank!

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 8:09 PM

conservative democrat wrote: "What a total farce. EJ was spot on on this one CE.The fiasco in Iraq will be the albatross for the gop in 08, and you can take that to the bank!"

Then you have nothing to worry about. Bush and the military will be disgraced. "You can take that to the bank" as you say. Isn't that exactly what you want?

Posted by OldDeadMeat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 8:58 PM

Bush and the GOP (and, I think, the nation) owe McCain for supporting Gates and Petraeus. Regardless of what anyone may think about whether attacking Iraq was a mistake, McCain is honest enough to realize the only way out is thru - which stands as a refreshing contrast to both Rep & Dem politicians who are waffling on their own positions.

conservative democrat, McCain was savaged by Bush in 2000 but still supported the war, while critiquing its execution. He was right - prior planning failed so we got p***-poor performance after the invasion. The Captain called it correctly - Bush has realized that McCain was right (though I sometimes wonder if GWB would ever bring himself to say to McCain).

McCain isn't sucking up to Bush - why should he? You suck up to people who can give you something and Bush can't deliver squat to anybody these days.

If anything, I think the tendency is reversed - I bet the White House returns McCain's phone calls PDQ.

Posted by gaffo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 10:11 PM

if you cant see that McCain has changed since the late 90's I can't help you to see Captain.

all i know is that the millions of Democrats and Independent Libertarians who loved the man only a few years ago now LOATHE the toady flip flopper.

myself included.

Posted by gaffo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 10:32 PM

no bub, the worst thing that can happen to a soldier is to die for a worthless cause.

as any Vietnam vet.

Posted by Carol_Herman [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 11:01 PM

To steal Neal Boortz' line, doesn't matter if you vote for the democratic candidate. Or, the republican one. You're still screwed.

About the only reason I like Guiliani is that I like his STYLE. He's the HEAD. He tells you who he is putting in agencies. He holds weekly meetings. (When mayor, they were at Gracie Mansion.)

Works the same in the White House.

Around the Cabinet Table you can expect every head of department to BRING HIS PROBLEMS. Put them on the table. For open discussion.

Guiliani never ran away from being the HEAD. That was responsible for the running of government.

This way? Citizens KNEW the man on top was paying attention.

And, the other thing? Guliani is smart enough to know that to be a successful HEAD, you need teamwork.

The other guys? Who will they assign? Who will they bring on board?

The presidency is no longer a place where you can script the guy to say stuff for the nightly news on TV. As a nation, we've moved away from all of that boob tube stuff.

And, after all these years with Bush; where you hardly see him. And, where he has trouble talking. As well as lots of trouble hiring people even weaker than himself;

I think the voting public will look very closely AT THE PACKAGE. And, McCain's package? At one time he was of favorite of sports writers. Okay. All the reporters who clambored onto the bus.

You care? You need another Hunter Thompson to entertain you?

McCain's the kind of guy, surrounded by flacks. Worse, he'd be coming from the senate. The worst political hangers-on, hang around there. And, for sure, I wouldn't want to see an idiot like Feingold given a Cabinet chair. Yikes! The potential for mischief is much too great.

But there's gonna be a lot of wholesaling going on. As the election, itself, doesn't arrive till November 2008. By then? We will know the money spread.

What the left wants to do (which includes destroying freedoms. And, interfering with business. There's a lot of "old money" out there, that wants to guarantee there are not going to be new enterpreneurs. Just the jackasses who've already bought up the european mind set. And, they'll work hard, too, to convince you there's "something wrong with America."

Anyway, in my book, Guiliani is the man to beat.

I also think that Special Interest Politics; where you get compaigners to swear to your special interest is a weak way to persue a goal that takes a lot of people voting for you, to achieve.

Some men really have this charisma. But, ahead, it's gonna be a tough sell.

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 11:39 PM

gaffo wrote: "the worst thing that can happen to a soldier is to die for a worthless cause. as[k] any Vietnam vet."

I have asked Vietnam Vets. They think that a lot of worthless liberals in Congress, like Ted Kennedy, betrayed an American war ally, starved the ally of support after pulling our troops out, and let them (the South Vietnamese) get massacred and imprisoned by the communists. But don't put that on the troops. They weren't allowed to win. They were betrayed just like the South Vietnamese were betrayed by American politicians--most coming from the left.

Posted by gaffo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 11:57 PM

oh ya - dems fault as always.

hope that works for ya for Iraqnam when we loose over there.

lets not duck the facts bub. the majority of surviving Veitnam vets today DO NOT believe they fought for a worthy cause.

sadly we cannot ask the dead if they died for nothin. not in this life at least.

Posted by Linh_My [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 10:09 AM

gaffo wrote: "the worst thing that can happen to a soldier is to die for a worthless cause. as[k] any Vietnam vet."

I am a Viet Nam War Vet and I despise the arrogance of people who speak for me who have never asked permission. I think that it is especially for someone who is not a Viet Nam War Vet to presume to speak for us. You sir are totaly dispickable.

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 10:27 AM

Bottom line, McCain is sti ll more Dim-blooded RINO than anything else.
He is like a rampaging elephant gone mad, on the loose.

He'll stomp ANYTHING, for his own whims.

He stomped on the Troops with the anti-torture bill, and he stomped on the Constitution with McCain Feingold, and he stomped on America with the McCain Kennedy illegal alien amnesty bill, and he stomped on Justice with the gang of 14.

It was the DIMS of Arizona who voted him back in as Senator, while the GOP Caucus of Arizona censured him. It was Arizona where they found ILLEGAL ALIENS with 37 voting cards EACH.

It was mighty hard for Hanoi John to get as low as McCain. Yet he made it looks so very easy.

Same cloth, as far as I am concerned. Identical same bolt.

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 1:30 PM


Relax shipmate. The dimwit gaffo did ask a "Vet"...only problem was it was one of the "street vets". Picture the "Vet" played by Eddie Murphy in the begining of trading places.

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 1:38 PM

dimwits like gaffo don't have the first clue that RBMN was correct...it's bad enough to die for an "unworthy cause" (whatever that is...) but to die while not given the opportunity to FIGHT (whether or not the cause was "worthy") is the worse lot.

dimwits will never understand this. they only understand chanting dhimmi slogans.