He’s every liberal’s favorite conservative, but since McCain has his sights set on running for president again in 2008, let’s not forget that the senator from Arizona has his wingnut bonafides. McCain is a crypto-conservative whose principled stands put him on the side of reason every so often. But the rest of his principled stands are the opposite of progressive. Here’s a balance sheet of McCain’s policy sins and redemptions.

Campaign Finance Reform

Laudably, McCain’s 2000 campaign focused almost exclusively on rooting the monetary evil out of politics. It was one of the reasons the Straight Talk Express was on a roll until Bush and the Republican Party machinery sabotaged him. McCain’s persistence in the Senate eventually yielded the strongest campaign-finance reform legislation in history, and even that bill, McCain-Feingold, was a compromise: If McCain had his way, American elections would be publicly funded.

Global Warming

McCain is the best Republican in the country on global warming. And that’s not just because he’s one of the few members of his party who believes that there is such a thing called science. Always willing to back up words with action, McCain has repeatedly tried to broker legislative deals on the issue. He hasn’t yet succeeded, but given a slightly different congressional makeup, McCain could conceivably force a bill to the president’s desk.


I think it’s safe to say he’s against it. Five years in the Hanoi Hilton gives a guy a certain amount of credibility on the subject, and McCain sees his fight against torture as protecting future POWs from the same treatment he got. And maintaining America’s moral authority and image. That’s why it didn’t matter to him that Bush was embroiled in scandal when McCain led a successful crusade directly against the White House on the issue of torture. McCain knew exactly what he was doing: Had the same number of senators, but not including McCain, opposed torture, Bush would not have caved. McCain was rightly celebrated, but how low has the political bar fallen when a Republican who refuses to euphemize torture has become an anomaly?

Which brings us to McCain’s dark side:

John McCain Hates Choice

You gotta work hard to get a 0 percent rating from NARAL. Meaning: On the hundreds of votes McCain makes on abortion-related issues, he never once even accidentally found himself on the pro-choice edge. That’s commitment. Worse, The New Yorker reported that McCain got Gary Bauer’s endorsement in 2000 by promising not to appoint any Supreme Court justices who didn’t support overturning Roe. Even Bush, according to Bauer, refused to take that pledge. That’s a shocker that puts things into perspective: On choice, Bush is McCain-lite.

The Shill

McCain actually called campaigning for Bush “one of the proudest moments of my life.” This after Bush and Rove ran the dirtiest campaign in modern political history against the Senator during the 2000 South Carolina primary, questioning his sanity, his war record (!), and running a whisper campaign about his adopted Bangladeshi daughter, whom they called his “black love child.” Instead of kicking Bush’s ass personally, McCain holds Bush’s hand all across the country in 2004, probably winning the election for him — even after Bush fucked up the country and opposed McCain’s legislative priorities his whole first term. The Straight Talk Express seems to be jumping its rails at the chance for party-line work that will help McCain in 2008.

Pragmatic Creationism

Yes, even sane McCain believes we should teach intelligent design alongside evolution. So that’s how we’re going to compete with China and India with faith-based science? It’s a strange inconsistency, in light of McCain’s work on global warming, but this summer McCain told the Arizona Daily Star that he endorsed teaching intelligent design in the nation’s schools because “he believes ‘all points of view’ should be available to students studying the origins of mankind.” Again McCain’s famed principles are being overcome by the whiff of politics; the only people publicly backing intelligent design when not faced with legislative decisions on the issue are Republican presidential hopefuls.

He Holds Barry Goldwater’s Seat

And is damn proud of it. Goldwater, of course, was the ultraconservative Arizona senator who ran for president, terrified the nation and lost to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide. But Goldwater’s failed bid was the fiery political phoenix from whose ashes rose the entire modern conservative political movement. If Goldwater is the progenitor of conservatism, John McCain, his immediate successor, is its faithful son. McCain despises taxes, fights minimum-wage increases and tried to impeach Clinton. Don’t believe the media who all fell in love with McCain on his bus in 2000: The dude’s a Republican.

We Don’t Want To Fight, but By Jingo, if We Do . . .

Which is why McCain is just as much a warmonger as Bush. Or even more so. Double Bush’s aggression, halve his political caution, and expand his target list and you’ve got something approaching McCain’s foreign-policy program. McCain was the original neoconservative adventurist, the presidential prospect of choice for the cadre of neocons most closely identified with the Iraq war. Rational people should not be lauding the guy that Bill Kristol’s The Weekly Standard endorsed for president. Even now, his big idea for Iraq is “more troops.”

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