One of the reasons my John McCain book was subtitled The Myth of a Maverick instead of, say, An Ideological Portrait, was that you couldn't adequately paint the latter without scraping off the scum of the former. The four-decade love affair between the media and the son/grandson of four-star Navy admirals so distorts any basic discussion that it's necessary to first point out that much of what we think we know about the man -- that he's a "man of the people," a straight-talker, a world-weary pragmatist on foreign policy -- is provably false by the senator's own words, no matter how many times you read otherwise in your morning paper.
Take this weekend's McCain endorsements in the Des Moines Register, Boston Globe, Manchester Union-Leader, and Portsmouth Herald. Not content with supporting a candidate they feel affinity for, each of these newspapers are backing a man who, in fact, does not exist. I'll use only the Register as an example, though all four are similarly culpable:
He was beaten and kept in solitary confinement, held 5 years. He could have talked. He did not.
He did so! After four days of torture in 1968 McCain tape-recorded a "confession" of his crimes against the Vietnam people, which was later broadcast and transcribed. Prior to that, he had also given more information about his squadron than just name, rank and serial number (for example, the name of his ship). You can find this information in books written by John McCain. (And needless to say, I would have blubbered up that information before my plane hit the bay.)
The one-time playboy emerged from prison a changed, more serious man.
Doubtlessly. But if the implication was that he changed away from being a "playboy," that implication is false.
Time after time, McCain has stuck to his beliefs in the face of opposition from other elected leaders and the public. He has criticized crop and ethanol subsidies during two presidential campaigns in Iowa.
Did McCain really "stick to his beliefs" on ethanol? Not according to a devastating October 2006 Fortune piece that I can't find the link to:
"Ethanol is a product that would not exist if Congress didn't create an artificial market for it. No one would be willing to buy it," McCain said in November 2003. "Yet thanks to agricultural subsidies and ethanol producer subsidies, it is now a very big business - tens of billions of dollars that have enriched a handful of corporate interests - primarily one big corporation, ADM. Ethanol does nothing to reduce fuel consumption, nothing to increase our energy independence, nothing to improve air quality."
Even the most slippery politician would have a tough time wriggling away from a statement as unequivocal as that one, yet McCain's Straight Talk Express has been taking some audacious detours during recent trips to Iowa.
In a flip-flop so absurd it'll be a wonder if it doesn't get lampooned by late-night comedians - not to mention opponents' negative ads - McCain is now proclaiming himself a "strong" ethanol supporter.
"I support ethanol and I think it is a vital, a vital alternative energy source not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but its greenhouse gas reduction effects," he said in an August speech in Grinnell, Iowa[.]
Back to the Register endorsement:
He bucked his party and president by opposing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.
Right. And he stopped bucking his party on tax cuts -- in a way that makes rubbish of the statement "time after time, McCain has stuck to his beliefs" -- after 2005.
In this campaign, he continues to support comprehensive immigration reform -- while watching his poll standings plunge.
He does no such thing. As one of his operatives told the Washington Times in October, in explaining why the senator was no longer supporting the very same DREAM Act that he had once co-sponsored, "The senator has said 1,000 times since immigration reform failed this summer that he got the message. The American people want the border secured first."
He knows war, something we believe would make him reluctant to start one.
"Belief" being the operative concept, given that the on the record facts scream otherwise.
But with McCain, Americans would know what they're getting.
If that's true, it's no thanks to the Des Moines Register.