Acid Test

A response to Mark on NPR on McCain.

Ok, I’ll bite.

1. The Kerry parallel is apt enough. But there were plenty of Democrats (both party faithful and compromising leftists) who thought him insufficiently doctrinaire, who probably would’ve voted for Nader if the 2000 vote hadn’t tarnished him so badly. I am, mercifully, only barely familiar with Bay Buchanan’s oeuvre, which I’ll assume is the same as her brother’s. So, Angela Davis is a fair comparison (and she’s ambivalent about Obama). But there are plenty of GOP elected officials and activists who aren’t cable-TV-dwelling blowhards who are uncomfortable with McCain. The most extreme congressmen from each party reflect large but mostly dispersed constituencies; if we had a low-threshold parliamentary system, there would be many more Barbara Lees and Wally Hergers in the legislature (but I still don’t think that Angela Davis could get elected). And John McCain is no Wally Herger

Wherever you may place McCain on a radical-liberal-moderate-conservative-reactionary axis, NPR’s formulation is empirically sound: McCain does have to reach out for more-conservative support. That Kerry didn’t face a similar constraint (nor would Obama or Clinton have to reach out to the Code Pink crowd) reflects differences in how the two parties are constituted and in their members’ worldviews.

2. As Henny Youngman said, “compared to what?” McCain’s “straight talker” reputation certainly is less deserved than it used to be. But he’s stood firm on torture, while Romney was vowing to “double Guantanamo.” And look at his and Romney’s Michigan campaigns: Romney was in cloud-cuckoo land, promising to bring back all the lost auto-industry jobs (I don’t think he told Tennessee or Alabama that he was going to send their jobs back to Michigan); McCain said that those jobs were gone—deal with it. One could argue that he’d conceded Michigan to the favorite son and so could afford to be candid, so that’s no test of his integrity. Perhaps, but in the present company, he’s the Bulworth of the GOP.

Update: Several readers have taken me to task for saying that McCain has “stood firm on torture.” They’re better acquainted than I with his voting record on the relevant acts, and I hadn’t fully realized how accommodating he’s been to the Bush torture agenda. So, point taken, and thanks for the edification. Still, I can’t not vote for him any more than I’d always intended to not vote for him.

But my argument with Mark was about whether McCain deserves his reputation for telling people what they don’t want to hear. Even if McCain has been hypocritical or inconsistent in his voting record versus his rhetoric, the fact remains that he speaks out against torture to audiences that don’t agree with his message.

While I’m at it, I’ll add that on defense procurement, his voting record matches his rhetoric. And telling defense contractors and Arizona voters that our procurement system is broken is hardly the path of least resistance.