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Posted by on Feb 20, 2007 in At TMV | 14 comments

A short ride on the Straight Talk Express

I’ll admit it. Happily. I’ve been pretty hard on John McCain, criticizing him harshly for his views on, inter alia, Iraq, abortion, same-sex marriage, and so-called intelligent design.

Well, the old McCain — the far more admirable one — emerged yesterday in South Carolina. Sort of. At a retirement community near Hilton Head, he had this to say about the war (and one of the prime architects thereof) of which he has been one of the more enthusiastic boosters: “We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement — that’s the kindest word I can give you — of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously.” Indeed: “I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history.”

McCain is to be commended for pulling a 180 on Rumsfeld — although I suspect his past words of support were largely insincere. And he is to be commended, too, for acknowledging openly that the Iraq War has been so badly mismanaged.

And yet, a few points for perspective:

— McCain remains one of the war’s leading proponents. He supports Bush’s surge. To the extent that he disagrees with Bush, it’s only because he thinks the surge isn’t significant enough. While other Republican critics like Chuck Hagel have argued for an end to the war, McCain wants more war.

— McCain criticized Rumsfeld, a wildly popular figure on the right but a widely despised figure otherwise, not Bush. He is still a bit of a maverick, but his outward loyalty to the president, a sign of partisanship, continues to trump his rebelliousness. Plus, he didn’t take any responsibility for his own support for the war. He is quick to assign blame elsewhere, but he has been as enthusiastic about this disastrous war as any of the its architects.

— McCain made his remarks at a retirement community. It wasn’t exactly a major policy speech at, say, West Point.

— McCain continues to pander to the far right, the GOP’s evangelical base, on other issues. He isn’t about to jeopardize that delicate relationship.

All in all, the Straight Talk Express isn’t what it used to be.

If it ever was.

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  • Jason Shapiro

    Thanks Michael for a good summary. It should be obvious to one and all, that at this point, John McCain comes across as a small man, a damaged man, a desperate man, and unfortunately, a pathetic man. He is rapidly aging and knows that after this run he will have no more chances for national office. He never did a particularly good job of keeping either his ego or ambitions in check but it now appears as if “anything and anyone goes” in his efforts to siphon up as much money and support as he can. He should change his motto from “the straight talk expressâ€? to “pimp my candidacy.â€?

  • jammer

    So why arent people demanding an apology out of Mr. Straight Talker like they are hounding out of Hillary? McCain has an eve more hawkish position and he is Mr Steady. McCain praises Rumsfeld then disses him, and I suppose thats all well and good, but where is the apology for supporting him in the first place? And if, like me, you would find an apology to be pretty worthless, can we agree to have the same position on Hillary?

  • domajot

    McCain has found somebody to blame, that’s all.
    Hardly inspirational, and kind of weasely to boot, along the lines of all those who still insist that the war was a good idea, but if only……

  • He’s 3 years older’n Reagan in 1980- a little Alzheimer’s redux?

  • kritter

    Democrats can blame the Bush administration for the war’s mismanagement. It worked in ’06, and they are hoping it will work in ’08. McCain knows he can’t blame Bush, as a lot of big Bush donors are going to be supporting him in ’08. Rumsfeld is a much easier target, McCain can claim he disagreed with Rumsfeld’s strategy from the beginning, and advocated using a larger army from the start. He’s already attacked Casey and Cheney as well as Rumsfeld, but can’t offend party bigwigs by attacking Bush directly, even if he believes he bears most of the responsibility. Its actually a pretty good strategy- he doesn’t have to apologize for his vote, as he believed in the larger goal of a makeover in the ME.

  • stevesturm

    So you like McCain when he’s critical of conservatives/Bush and you don’t like him when he’s not… big surprise.

  • stevesturm

    Kim: Forgive me if I’ve said this before, but I’m not so sure that blasting Bush’s management of the war is going to work for the Dems in 08. Bush isn’t up for re-election and no republican is running as his philosophical successor as BushI did in 1988 and Gore did in 2000. To the extent that Iraq is an issue in 08, I think it will revolve around who is viewed as having the best plan on dealing with it, not whether Guiliani/McCain/Romney are to blame for how badly Bush screwed things up.

  • C Stanley

    To the extent that Iraq is an issue in 08, I think it will revolve around who is viewed as having the best plan on dealing with it, not whether Guiliani/McCain/Romney are to blame for how badly Bush screwed things up.

    I think you’re thinking a bit more rationally than most of the electorate, stevestrum, but I hope you’re right!

    I also think a lot depends on what happens during ’07. If the surge has even a temporary positive effect, many people in both parties will be spinning like mad to back off of their “just say no to Bush’s surge” stance. In that sense, McCain made a politically smart move in supporting the surge because he was careful to say that it “could” work. That way, if things are improving he can look like the maverick who was correct in backing the surge when others didn’t; if things are not improving of course he left himself wiggle room because he can say it’s not working because the Iraqis aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

  • kritter

    steve- I’m not sure if it will either, but it may be all they’ve got.It really depends on what is going on in Iraq .Bush wasn’t on the ballot in ’06 either, but he was successfully mentioned in many Democrat’s campaign ads against Republican incumbents. The Dems can still point (in congressional races) to the GOP’s unwillingness to separate themselves from Bush on the war.

    If GOP candidates like McCain pander enough to conservatives, they will lose the moderates. If Dem. candidates like Hillary pander enough to the anti-war crowd, they may also lose them. Its really too early to tell. I do think McCain has the right strategy on the war, though he’ll have some problems with other issues.

  • kritter

    CS- It may be smart politically, but its not showing intellectual honesty or integrity. Isn’t McCain just parsing his words- when the surge fails he can say “I never said it would work, I just said it could work!”. So if he believes has an infinitessimal chance of working, is it still ok for him to support it?

  • C Stanley

    I’m not a fan of McCain so I wasn’t making that statement in support of him. On the other hand though, just because I think he probably was calculating the political fallout of support/nonsupport for the surge, I don’t necessarily think we can assume that he only thinks it has an infinitessimal chance of working either. He may actually think the odds are great enough for success that he truly does think it was the right thing to do.

  • egrubs

    McCain has sold his soul for the nomination. If now he represents policies you favor, congratulations and good luck (though I’ll be voting against you).

    But let’s not have any more mention of straight-talk or maverick. Those words are out of play.

  • Rudi

    Maybe the ‘maverick’ label was a calculated scam for the moderate vote in 2000. Project VoteSmart never found McClown to be moderate.

  • kritter

    CS- Agreed. But I do remember that he was meeting with Bush at the WH while the strategy was being worked out (before it was labelled “Petraeus’ plan” for political reasons, lol, and he was very unhappy that the troop surge was going to be so small- he had wanted 50,000- 100,000. There was no way that they could send that number, so he had little choice but to accept the smaller number. Bush was politically adept to bring him in on the plan, because he knew that it would be continually brought up on the campaign trail and in the press. During that meeting, McCain probably let Bush in on the fact that he was planning on bashing Cheney and Rumsfeld for the war’s failures.

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