The New York Times has 10 regular op-ed columnists. Two of the 10 just so happen to be the very same guys who invented the GOP presidential frontrunner's ideology, re-introduced him to the historical fantabulousness of Teddy Roosevelt, recommended senior staffers he maintains to this day, then cheered along his presidential campaign in the pages of the Weekly Standard. Having 20 percent of the op-ed lineup of the country's most influential opinion page under the covers of one candidate's bed sheets makes for an interesting media-ethics exercise (if you can forgive the oxymoron), and has already produced some unintentional comedy, in addition to at least one usefully informed piece.
But today's offering from David Brooks, a defense of John McCain against (accurate) charges that he "is more tainted than his reputation suggests," is just propaganda. Example:
[McCain] has challenged the winds of the money gale. He has sometimes failed and fallen short. And there have always been critics who cherry-pick his compromises, ignore his larger efforts and accuse him of being a hypocrite.
This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus.
Love that "any decent person" bit. Brooks' evidence of McCain's reformist purity doesn't pass the laugh test.
In 1996, McCain was one of five senators, and the only Republican, to vote against the Telecommunications Act. He did it because he believed the act gave away too much to the telecommunications companies, and protected them from true competition. He noted that AT&T alone gave $780,000 to Republicans and $456,000 to Democrats in the year leading up to the vote.
In 2000, McCain ran for president and reiterated his longstanding opposition to ethanol subsidies. Though it crippled his chances in Iowa, he argued that ethanol was a wasteful giveaway. A recent study in the journal Science has shown that when you take all impacts into consideration, ethanol consumption increases greenhouse gas emissions compared with regular gasoline. Unlike, say, Barack Obama, McCain still opposes ethanol subsidies.
Reading that, you'd almost think that McCain believes ethanol is objectionable because it "increases greenhouse gas emissions." Well, he did … until 2006.
McCain may flatter himself into believing he has "battled concentrated power," but somehow he almost always manages to do so in such a way that the federal government ends up (or would end up, if his legislation passed) with more concentrated power, at the expense of the individual citizen. It happened with campaign-finance reform (which Brooks claims "was a direct assault on lobbyist power"), and it would happen in a McCain White House, even if he's good on ethanol subsidies.
In the meantime, we can expect a thick chunk of the New York Times op-ed page to bulldoze over these distinctions with absurdly absolutist statements about the man's nearly infallible virtue. It's gonna be fun.