Sunday, February 17, 2008

Straight Talk About Straight Talk (JM)

Nicholas Kristof has a pretty interesting article today about McCain and pandering. He argues that McCain is generally honest and a terrible panderer. His discussion is a bit bright-eyed, but compared to say Mittmentum, sure John McCain is honesty personified. He also claims that Obama has vaulted to the lead in the Democratic primary by being the most honest with voters (a claim I take a bit of exception with, but an argument I am tired of having). Here's the paragraph I find most interesting:

His most famous pander came in 2000, when, after earlier denouncing the Confederate flag as a “symbol of racism,” he embraced it as “a symbol of heritage.” To his credit, Mr. McCain later acknowledged, “I feared that if I answered honestly I could not win the South Carolina primary, so I chose to compromise my principles.”
I am surprised I have never heard this before, but totally less surprised that even someone I really respect, Nicholas Kristof, is using it as a badge of honor. Look, I am glad McCain admitted he pandered in this case, politicians rarely do such things. But it some very real way this is kind of about allowing McCain to have his cake and eat it too. The press is so interested in maintain a positive McCain image, that this admission is seen as positive sign coming out of Camp GOP. Here's the problem, if this were ethanol or free trade I would be much more forgiving. But it's not. It's pandering to racism, basically McCain admitted that he was desperate enough to win South Carolina that he was willing to cater to basest elements of our society.

I simply don't think admitting this makes McCain a better man. The truth is that we now know what McCain is like when the chips are down. We are seeing it again, when McCain was down and out, "Bye, bye immigration reform, hello protecting our borders first!" John McCain is the conductor of the Straight Talk Express until there's a roadblock, then he's willing to guide the STE down to the level where he pledged, "No New Taxes" this morning on This Week.

Look, I am certain John McCain is one of the better men in the Republican party. I actually like him a lot, in a crazy, old uncle kind of way. But the press has, as a legion, decided to give certain people a free ride, and McCain is one of them. In fact, it's a shame because really the most robust attacks and criticisms of McCain come from the rightist news sources (which of course hate him for not being crazier).

This is a general problem the press has, they are hard to get on your side, but once you convince them that you're not "really a politician" it's very hard to get them out of that paradigm. The press corps would be doing us a world of service if they were to recognize that John McCain and Barack Obama are just as political as Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton. We lose out on valuable critiques when even pandering to racist elements of society is seen as a mark of good character if you admit it. Instead McCain gets it both ways and we have no idea what to expect from a McCain presidency.

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