A lot has been written during this presidential primary season about change. Obama's major theme is "Yes We can," and reiterates the idea that American politics, mired for so long in bitter divisiveness, can change for the better. However, there is another kind of change that has been successfully vetted by those who seek to gain higher office. The question is what happens when politicians suddenly perceive they are on the wrong side of an issue? John Kerry was vilified by the right during the 2004 election cycle because of the changes he made on certain issues. President Bush offered the following at the time. "They're for tax cuts and against them. They're for NAFTA and against NAFTA. They're for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. They're in favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts." The term "flip flopper" came into our lexicon embodying the notion that politicians will say and do anything it takes to win an election, principles and conviction be damned.
Now we have John McCain whose attractiveness as a potential president is his strength of character. For years he has carefully cultivated his image as a man who would stand up for his principles and beliefs, often in the face of intense pressure from his fellow Republicans. Up until very recently, the hope I felt about McCain was that because he was a decent and honest man, he would do the right thing when the chips fell and that his statements and actions would be based upon principles. When he spoke last week about continuing Bush's policy on appointing hard line judges to the federal judiciary I became concerned. This concern was fostered by my belief that the U.S. Supreme Court has shifted so far to the right that it no longer adequately represents the interests of the citizens of the United States, but instead serves as a shill for corporate America. My concern led me to do some research on McCain's current campaign pledges. Steven Benen in The Carpet Bagger Report, April 16, 2008 has summarized the flip flopping of McCain on issues of portent during this campaign:
* McCain pledged in February 2008 that he would not, under any circumstances, raise taxes. Specifically, McCain was asked if he is a “‘read my lips’ candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?” referring to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 pledge. “No new taxes,” McCain responded. Two weeks later, McCain said, “I’m not making a ‘read my lips’ statement, in that I will not raise taxes.”
* McCain claims to have considered and not considered joining John Kerry’s Democratic ticket in 2004.
* In 1998, he championed raising cigarette taxes to fund programs to cut underage smoking, insisting that it would prevent illnesses and provide resources for public health programs. Now, McCain opposes a $0.61-per-pack tax increase, won’t commit to supporting a regulation bill he’s co-sponsoring, and has hired Philip Morris’ former lobbyist as his senior campaign adviser.
* McCain’s first mortgage plan was premised on the notion that homeowners facing foreclosure shouldn’t be “rewarded” for acting “irresponsibly.” His second mortgage plan took largely the opposite position.
* McCain vowed, if elected, to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term. Soon after, he decided he would no longer even try to reach that goal.
* McCain’s campaign unveiled a Social Security policy that the senator would implement if elected, which did not include a Bush-like privatization scheme. In March 2008, McCain denounced his own campaign’s policy.
* In February 2008, McCain reversed course on prohibiting waterboarding.
* In November 2007, McCain reversed his previous position on a long-term presence for U.S. troops in Iraq, arguing that the “nature of the society in Iraq” and the “religious aspects” of the country make it inevitable that the United States “eventually withdraws.” Two months later, McCain reversed back, saying he’s prepared to leave U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years. [Note" Last week he reversed himself again saying that the troops would be out by 2013.]
* McCain used to champion the Law of the Sea convention, even volunteering to testify on the treaty’s behalf before a Senate committee. Now he opposes it.
* McCain was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants’ kids who graduate from high school. Now he’s against it.
* On immigration policy in general, McCain announced in February 2008 that he would vote against his own legislation.
* In 2006, McCain sponsored legislation to require grassroots lobbying coalitions to reveal their financial donors. In 2007, after receiving “feedback” on the proposal, McCain told far-right activist groups that he opposes his own measure.
* McCain said before the war in Iraq, “We will win this conflict. We will win it easily.” Four years later, McCain said he knew all along that the war in Iraq war was “probably going to be long and hard and tough.”
* McCain said he was the “greatest critic” of Rumsfeld’s failed Iraq policy. In December 2003, McCain praised the same strategy as “a mission accomplished.” In March 2004, he said, “I’m confident we’re on the right course.” In December 2005, he said, “Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course.”
* McCain went from saying he would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade to saying the exact opposite.
* McCain went from saying gay marriage should be allowed, to saying gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed.
* McCain criticized TV preacher Jerry Falwell as “an agent of intolerance” in 2002, but then decided to cozy up to the man who said Americans “deserved” the 9/11 attacks.
* McCain used to oppose Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy, but he reversed course in February.
* On a related note, he said 2005 that he opposed the tax cuts because they were “too tilted to the wealthy.” By 2007, he denied ever having said this, and insisted he opposed the cuts because of increased government spending.
* In 2000, McCain accused Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly of being corrupt, spending “dirty money” to help finance Bush’s presidential campaign. McCain not only filed a complaint against the Wylys for allegedly violating campaign finance law, he also lashed out at them publicly. In April, McCain reached out to the Wylys for support.
* McCain supported a major campaign-finance reform measure that bore his name. In June 2007, he abandoned his own legislation.
* McCain opposed a holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., before he supported it.
* McCain was against presidential candidates campaigning at Bob Jones University before he was for it.
* McCain was anti-ethanol. Now he’s pro-ethanol.
* McCain was both for and against state promotion of the Confederate flag.
* McCain decided in 2000 that he didn’t want anything to do with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, believing he “would taint the image of the ‘Straight Talk Express.’” Kissinger is now the Honorary Co-Chair for his presidential campaign in New York.
What seems obvious to me is that the proponent of the Straight Talk Express is just another politician who will say and do anything for votes. I find myself feeling sad about this situation for, as an independent, I truly admired the guy and seriously considered voting for him. There are several possible explanations for what is happening to him. Either he is not the man of principle he appeared and claimed to be, he is getting bad advice from his staff, or the rigors of a presidency campaign are too much for him. I strongly suspect that it is a combination of all three factors.