A Great Fall: John McCain Caves on Waterboarding Ban

That’s about it, then, isn’t it—-all the talk about McCain as the new type of Republican moderate destined to lead the party back to its roots? I’m guessing that this latest news will put an end to talk among disenchanted Democrats of voting for him in November. 

Today, McCain voted legislation that intended to do exactly what he himself has advocated: adopted the Army Field Manual interrogation standards for the US government. Anti-torture advocates, such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, supported this crucial  bill. McCain himself said in a Republican debate in November that the Army Field Manual should be ‘the gold standard for interrogations.’

Senate Republicans generally opposed the bill, but several of them also did not want to cast a vote that could be construed as supporting torture, and so were relying on President Bush to make good on a threat to veto legislation limiting C.I.A. interrogation techniques …

[T]he White House has long said Mr. Bush will veto the bill, saying it “would prevent the president from taking the lawful actions necessary to protect Americans from attack in wartime.”

Senate Democrats, sensing an opportunity to highlight a policy dispute between the White House and Senator John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, had been hoping that Republicans would make a procedural challenge to the provision on interrogation methods.

Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war, has consistently voiced opposition to waterboarding and other methods that critics say is a form torture. But the Republicans, confident of a White House veto, did not mount the challenge. Mr. McCain voted “no” on Wednesday afternoon.  (New York Times)

I’m shocked. Should I be shocked? No, I should not be shocked. Yet I am. But Joe Gandelman wrote only yesterday:

[For McCain], [t]he good news is that exit polls shows that a large portion of Republicans — a chunk of conservative voters who don’t go along with conservative talk show hosts and that increasingly vanishing species called “moderate Republicans” — are willing to accept him. The bad news is that a hard-core group of conservatives, most typified by conservative media establishment types such as top radio talk show hosts, continue to reject him….

Despite opposition from the hard-right, the results show that McCain does enjoy the (sometimes begruding) support of a large chunk of the Republican party including independent-minded conservatives and conservatives who look at McCain’s overall record.

But he’ll need a unified party to win — unless the Democrats splinter.

And to do that he will have to do what most candidates don’t do during elections: move more to the right to try and appease the hard-line conservatives. UNLESS he ignores them — figuring he can indeed put together a new kind of winning Republican coalition that will not bend over backwards to placate elements of the party that seem to want to resist working with and creating coalitions with other parts of the American electorate that aren’t “pure” in terms of talk-radio-style-defined conservatism.  (TMV)

Oh, John McCain.  You’re like the nice guy in a film who rejects the good but poor girl who loves him to marry the rich, arrogant, cold-hearted heiress his venal parents have picked out for him.  (Check out the cartoon accompanying Joe’s piece.)  How could you go against your heart and let down the people who believed you would stand on principle this way?

Why not create a ‘new kind of winning Republican coalition that will not bend over backwards to placate elements of the party that…resist…creating other parts of the American electorate that aren’t ‘pure’ in terms of talk-radio-style-defined-conservatism’? (TMV)  It’s exactly what I thought John McCain of all Republicans could achieve: a return to the old GOP I remember from my younger days (and of which, pre-Reagan, I considered myself a member).

I certainly didn’t look for quite such a precipitous plunge  (I mean from my point of view as a moderate Dem).

Moreover, it seems like a questionable move from a political standpoint:  it might win over a hardliner or two, though those guys are noted for intransigence.  On the other hand, moderates who were toying with the notion of voting for him—and there seem to be a number—are likely to see it as a betrayal of principle. 

Meanwhile, what do we make of it? What can we infer from McCain’s 180?

Michael Stickings:

[W]hat about John McCain, presumptive GOP presidential nominee, who has argued passionately against the use of torture — at least in theory — not least because he himself was the victim of torture?

Like most in his party, he voted NO. Apparently, when it comes right down to it, he’s fine with waterboarding….I think it’s pretty clear what McCain is up to — and just how much he’s willing to sell out to the torture-happy goons that make up his party’s base.

Kevin Drum:

[W]hy was the famously anti-torture and press-friendly senator avoiding phone calls last night?  Because he ended up voting against the bill.

But hey — who can blame him? It’s one thing to be against torture in a primary debate where you’re trying to appeal to independents and crossover voters, but it’s quite another thing to be against torture after you’ve won the nomination and need to appease a conservative base that’s righteously pissed off and not afraid to let you know it….[T]he voters McCain needs now…don’t want a president who opposes state sanctioned torture of captive prisoners. So McCain doesn’t oppose it anymore. Any questions?

Yes, I have a question. Why, John McCain? Why? I don’t mean “Why did you vote the way you did?” The answer is obvious. But why, or how, could you let down people who regarded you as someone who would stand by a moral principle, even if it appeared to be detrimental to his own interests? (And I would argue that it has not been detrimental to your interests.)

From being an honored outsider who would take on the establishment, you’ve revealed yourself as an ordinary cynical politician. It’s only now that I am realizing how much I esteemed you for standing by your convictions and insisting on holding the government to a higher standard.

This moderate Democrat mourns your fall.

Author: DAMOZEL