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January 05, 2007

He Doesn't Mean It

I'm having a hell of a time parsing Todd Purdum's long profile of John McCain (see my two Tapped posts: 1, 2). The entire piece reads like a litany of McCain's panders and straddles -- but not because Purdum trolled the vote records and the speeches. Instead, McCain, in front of Perdum, cops to it all, asking his aide John Weaver if he'd fixed a gay marriage gaffe or demanding to know if his staff had had their morning glass of ethanol (McCain's a longtime opponent of ethanol subsidies) before touring an ethanol production facility. McCain's not a moron: He knows that Purdum is in the car, and the audience, and the entourage. And he knows that Perdum will write his experience. The only conclusion is that he's unermining his panders purposefully, hoping James Dobson doesn't read Vanity Fair.

Indeed, McCain's done something like this before. In a quote Perdum grabs from McCain's second book, the Senator writes:

By the time I was asked the question for the fourth or fifth time, I could have delivered the response from memory. But I persisted with the theatrics of unfolding the paper and reading it as if I were making a hostage statement. I wanted to telegraph to reporters that I really didn't mean to suggest I supported flying the flag, but political imperatives required a little evasiveness on my part. I wanted them to think me still an honest man, who simply had to cut a corner a little here and there so that I could go on to be an honest president.

I think that made the offense worse. Acknowledging my dishonesty with a wink didn't make it less a lie. It compounded the offense by revealing how willful it had been. You either have the guts to tell the truth or you don't. You don't get any dispensation for lying in a way that suggests your dishonesty.

McCain's not theatrically unfolding a piece of paper, but by letting a national political reporter peer behind the facade and report on his sad, willful pandering, he's trying to accomplish the same thing. He wants the press to know, for savvy politicos to know, that he doesn't mean it. McCain won't govern as he campaigns, and he hates having to campaign this way. Forgive him pundits, for he knows exactly what he does.

January 5, 2007 in Election 2008 | Permalink

Comments

I think you're probably right. McCain gave the commencement speech at Jerry Falwell's college, then turned around and went on The Daily Show to let Jon Stewart poke fun at him for going to Jerry Falwell's college. He gave diametrically opposite messages in two different venues, calculating that there wouldn't be much bleed between the two audiences.

Careful, though, you're starting to lull me into thinking a McCain presidency wouldn't be a terrible thing. When in fact I think it would be pretty terrible.

Posted by: Dix Hill | Jan 5, 2007 12:20:07 PM

McCain won't govern as he campaigns, and he hates having to campaign this way. Forgive him voters, for he knows exactly what he must do.

Yes he will. He'll govern exactly the way he's been campaigning. McCain has obviously deceived himself into believing that the ends do justify the means, that he can sell his soul over and over again for years, only to find it waiting for him in the White House, whole and unsullied.

Will the conservative interest groups he's trying to appease just disappear after his inauguration? Will all the people currently doing him favors never decide to call them in?

McCain is very good at creating his public persona. What he and others don't seem to understand is that his public persona is going to be the president, not the "real" him, whoever that is.

Posted by: Stephen | Jan 5, 2007 12:46:11 PM

Purdum

Posted by: A | Jan 5, 2007 12:53:01 PM

This is smart, but I disagree with the last line. He's actually saying "Forgive me pundits, for I know what I must do." He doesn't want to be forgiven by the voters, he wants them to support him out of ignorance so that he can then ignore what they want.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Jan 5, 2007 1:11:23 PM

If this is McCain's 'honor', then I'll take door #2 (some other person). I feel dirty when hearing of blatant, groveling, asslicking.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jan 5, 2007 1:13:01 PM

You're right. Changed to express that. And also to get Purdum's name right.

Posted by: Ezra | Jan 5, 2007 1:13:29 PM

In this Vanity Fair article, he's not trying to fool red-state Oklahoma--he's trying to fool us.

He's telling the liberal media he's gotta play a part for the rubes, but don't worry, he's really one of us--just terribly clever and passing! See, he's wryly pulling back the curtain (liberal elites LOVE to look behind the curtain), and telling us his big, clever secret--he's playing the rubes!

Can you think of anything more comforting to a liberal? Being told that he's really "one of us" and that when the chips are down, he'll do what we want and not what they want? And that he's good enough to fool the rubes into believing and supporting him? He can get them to support liberal initiatives because they think he's one of them? ALLRIGHT!

Newsflash, guys: he's telling the conservatives the same thing. How he had to take certain positions to get elected in liberal Arizona...compromises to get bills passed in a Democrat-dominated congress...but don't worry, liberals trust him and think he's "one of them," so he's pulled the wool over Ted Kennedy's eyes before, and he'll be able to do it again as President and get all kinds of conservative bills passed that George Bush didn't have the bipartisan credibility to get done...

McCain is saying to both conservatives and liberals that he's got deeply held values that are the same as yours, only he has to cover them up a bit to get elected--but don't worry, when he's in office, he'll push as far as he can go on the things "we care about." On its face, it's a credible argument--after all, Lincoln downplayed his anti-slavery feeling to get the nod, and other politicians have done the same on polarizing issues.

But, um, that argument has zero credibility when you're making it to BOTH sides! You can't simultaneously be a liberal and a conservative at heart and just pulling the wool over the other side's eyes.

Flip-flopping doesn't make you a moderate. It makes you a calculating liar who doesn't want the American people to actually know what you stand for.

This is McCain's version of what Bush did when he called himself a "compassionate conservative." McCain, like Bush, is trying to get everyone to believe he stands for what they stand for. Bush did it by refusing to give specific answers to questions and just spouting off comforting platitudes like "compassionate conservative." McCain is doing it by giving everybody the answer they want to hear, while winking to the other side.

I don't know what the hell he stands for, because he keeps winking while he tells everybody what they want to hear. I don't have a clue what his priorities would be--beyond expanding our military presence in Iraq (the "McCain doctrine" of escalation). I just wonder if he knows.

Posted by: anonymous | Jan 5, 2007 1:52:46 PM

He wants the press to know, for savvy politicos to know, that he doesn't mean it.

Bingo ... and moreover, by letting the press, politicos, etc. in on his little secret (that it's all a game and pandering) he makes them feel smart, special etc. Which is why they think he is being so "honest" and being such a "maverick", etc. -- because they know when "he's [not] toeing the conservative line (on gay marriage, say, or immigration) [...] he's telling someone what he really thinks." Or at least that's what they presume.

McCain's such a thouroughgoing parody of Strauss' reading of Plato's ideal leader you never can tell what McCain is going to do. And at some level many on the right know this, but they cannot see through the spin that he's anything but a straight shooter (which, by being "honest" about his game with the media, he's convinced the media he is and they convince everyone else ... and remember, those who are the most invested in believing the media is liberal and not to be trusted believe exactly what the media says if the media supports a conservative -- which is part of the reason for that working of the refs, nu?), so they chalk up his volatility in positions not to him pandering but to him being volatile, i.e. insane.

Posted by: DAS | Jan 5, 2007 2:01:46 PM

If he gets away with that, it'll be infuriating. I remember when Bob Rubin, who was advising the Kerry campaign, suggested to the press that all of the hot talk about outsourcing wasn't going to affect policy and that the candidate was in fact a supporter of free trade. Some acted like Kerry literally reversed his position, whereas all he did was pander, like all politicians.

Posted by: Brian | Jan 5, 2007 2:20:44 PM

McCain has obviously deceived himself into believing that the ends do justify the means, that he can sell his soul over and over again for years, only to find it waiting for him in the White House, whole and unsullied.

That seems possible. It's also possible that he just thinks that someone who is aware of selling his soul will be in a better position to find whatever part of it might still remain his than someone who fools himself about it over and over. Saying it the way he has is surely an unusual gambit, though.

This is smart, but I disagree with the last line. He's actually saying "Forgive me pundits, for I know what I must do." He doesn't want to be forgiven by the voters, he wants them to support him out of ignorance so that he can then ignore what they want.

That's smart too, but I disagree with your last line, given what you say in the one before it. If what you say is true, he doesn't want voters to support him out of ignorance; he just sees the necessity of it. And, to anticipate the next quote a little, I suppose he might intend to give them what they really want instead of what they merely think they want.

such a thouroughgoing parody of Strauss' reading of Plato's ideal leader

There's an idea with so many layers of irony to try to see through that it's probably more trouble than it's worth to sort out, even if it could be true. You seem to think it would be a bad thing.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 5, 2007 3:05:53 PM

Forgive him pundits, for he knows exactly what he does.

And of course they will. (Although Tweety did show signs that his man-crush is over.) They love this shit: and shit is what it is.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Jan 5, 2007 7:10:20 PM

In The Magic Face (1951), Luther Adler played an actor who killed Hitler, took his place, but then became the Führer. Not that that story has anything to do with this.

Posted by: Henderstock | Jan 6, 2007 11:01:16 PM

Give the guy a break. Haven't Democratic bloggers been writing post after post about how we need to show some understanding of red state Democrats pandering on social issues?

Posted by: Adam Herman | Jan 8, 2007 9:06:18 AM

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Posted by: judy | Sep 26, 2007 8:11:39 AM

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