McCain and Bush, together at last

The only real disagreement between George W. Bush and John McCain was over which of them was going to get to be President first. Now, after McCain’s parade of “indepdendence” – which was always more shadow-play than substance – they’re coming together. That will be fine with Bush’s fans. But how about McCain’s?

So Senator Straight Talk has decided to make nice to Team Bush. He wrote the bill that put a ban on torture, a bill which Bush threatened to veto, then signed with a signing statement that rendered it meaningless, while torture continued in practice at least until the Hamdan decision ruled in effect that torture constituted a war crime under U.S. criminal laws. But what’s a little torture among friends?

Meanwhile, President Sticks To His Principles seems ready to sell out Senator Straight Talk’s “balanced” immigration package and go with “enforcement-only” plus a figleaf. Yet there’s no hint that Senator Straight Talk regards this as a betrayal.

In fact and in truth, McCain and Bush are virtually identical products: both are right-wing by instinct, but neither will allow his policy views to get in the way of his relentless pursuit of power. Neither can be bothered with the facts, and both have short attention spans, enormous egos, and hair-trigger tempers.

Yes, there are differences: McCain is a war hero who was tortured himself and disapproves of the practice. Bush is a chickenhawk who has never faced any pain that wasn’t self-inflicted and seems to get off on torture. McCain married money (dumping an inconveniently non-wealthy first wife in the process), while Bush made his money via crony capitalism and eminent domain.

But when push comes to shove, they’re more or less on the same side. Now that they’re no longer competing for the Presidency, they’re natural allies. I expect Bush’s admirers to adjust quickly to the new alliance; the certifiably crazy McCain who hated free speech (because he supported limits on legalized bribery) will disappear down the usual memory hole.

But what about McCain’s admirers (Marshall Whitman and Ana Marie Cox, to name two more or less at random)? They saw in him, or claimed to see in him, independence and integrity. Will they now recognize that they’ve been duped, and react with appropriate outrage?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

5 thoughts on “McCain and Bush, together at last”

  1. Mark, remember that, while McCain was a case-study in moral and physical courage forty years ago, he's been a case-study in cashing in on that reputation for at least the past decade. It's sad, but his course is well set, and the press loves him, and will enable him by putting out love stories for the next decade.

  2. Have you ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The way that vampirism works is that the person dies; their soul leaves their body, and a demon posesses it. The demon has the brain and memories to use, and so usually acts like an evil version of the original person.
    At one point Buffy tells somebody: "your friend is dead. She's gone. That's a demon inhabiting your friend's body, not your friend".
    Same way with McCain.

  3. Anyone who "saw" independence and integrity in the transparently demagogic McCain is working with mental machinery that's inferior to Terry Schiavo's.
    McCain DID say that he preferred "clean" campaigns to the First Amendment.
    This fool—896th in his 900 man class at Annapolis—is not just an egomaniac but an intemparate savage.
    Exhibit A is here…” target=”_blank”>=
    Do you really want this man's finger on the button?

  4. Presumably the question at the end of this post was a rhetorical question, but I'll answer it anyway: no.
    A full explanation of why the answer is no would require an essay, but a somewhat condensed answer is: American journalism (and punditry, which is intertwined with journalism to the degree that it's often not worth the trouble to distinguish them) works by storylines and narratives. Once a narrative has been established, we get confirmatory bias: anecdotes that support the narrative get printed, and anecdotes that don't support it don't. In some cases the confirmatory bias is so extreme that an anecdote is taken to support a narrative even when exactly the same facts would be taken to support an opposite narrative about someone else.
    We already see that about McCain, where his pandering toward Falwell is being taken as a sign of his moderation instead of his lack of principles. So no, I do not expect that the people who are invested in the image of McCain as a principled moderate will change their narratives to fit the new evidence. Instead they will look harder to find better evidence that fits the established narrative.

  5. I see no integrity in a man who has such open contempt for the Constitution he has repeatedly sworn to defend. It might be said of some politicians that they violate the Constitution unknowingly, but that can't be said about McCain, who has clearly stated in interviews his willingness to violate it's provisions.
    In a crusade he began in a fit of pique when an interest group representative, ordered by him to pull an advertisment, refused and cited the 1st amendment to him. Ever since then he's been on a crusade to strip that protection from political speech.

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