Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 31, 2008

MCCAIN'S MENDACIOUS MEMORY....In 2001 and 2003, Bush pushed two massive tax-cut packages through Congress, with near-universal Republican support. Indeed, it was something akin to a GOP fealty test -- to vote for the White House tax cuts was to be a good Republican.

In the Senate, two GOP lawmakers balked -- Lincoln Chafee, who later left the party, and John McCain, who no longer wants to talk about his votes.

When pressed, McCain usually argues that he rejected Bush's tax cuts because there were no accompanying spending cuts to prevent massive deficits. The defense has always been largely incoherent, for at least two reasons. First, McCain now believes tax cuts can pay for themselves (aka, the "Tax Fairy" theory), so there was no need for spending cuts. Second, McCain, at the time, said quite clearly that his opposition to the cuts had nothing to do with spending, and everything to do with Bush's policy being excessively skewed to the wealthy.

At last night's Republican debate in Simi Valley, the LAT's Janet Hook asked for an explanation. McCain responded:

"I was part of the Reagan revolution. I was there with Jack Kemp and Phil Graham and Warren Rudman and all these other first that wanted to change a terrible economic situation in America with 10 percent unemployment and 20 percent interest rates. I was proud to be a foot soldier, support those tax cuts, and they had spending restraints associated with it.

"I made it very clear when I ran in 2000 that I had a package of tax cuts, which were very important and very impactful, but I also had restraints in spending. And I disagreed when spending got out of control, and I disagreed when we had tax cuts without spending restraint. And guess what? Spending got out of control.

"Republicans lost the 2006 election not over the war in Iraq; over spending. Our base became disenchanted."

Does this make any sense at all? The question was rather straightforward: what McCain said in 2001 and 2003 doesn't match what McCain is saying now. He had one rationale for his position then, and a different rationale for his position now. That's not necessarily the end of the world -- candidates can change their mind -- and this was a chance for McCain to explain the pretty obvious inconsistency.

But he responded with a garbled and incoherent mess. Noam Scheiber said McCain's answer was "one of the most incoherent answers I've heard at a presidential debate this campaign season." I'm hard pressed to disagree.

The point I can't get around, though, is that McCain had to realize a question like this was coming. Indeed, after a year of campaigning, he's probably heard it before.

Maybe McCain's vaunted political skills have been exaggerated a bit?

Steve Benen 8:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Comments

For a politician being fast and loose with facts is no vice, especially for someone of McCain's stature. Most likely he will win in November with his shtick that the Democrats have raised the white flag of surrender to the Islamofascists, a loathsome statement that has, inexplicably, never been condemned by any Democrat.

Posted by: gregor on January 31, 2008 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

And this suprises you why? McCain has never been a straight talker. It was a TradMed creation. He's as big a lying, cheating scumbag as the rest of the Republican Senate caucus.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on January 31, 2008 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

When Reagan became President, the unemployment rate was not 10%. Try closer to 7.5%. Yes, it did jump up to 10.8% but that was in December 1982. The 1984 "Morning in America" campaign tried to con voters that Jimmy Carter was President when this happened. I guess McCain still has a very confused calendar.

Posted by: pgl on January 31, 2008 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

If McCain wins the presidency he'll be roughly 6 months shy of his 73rd birthday upon inauguration. During debates, speeches and interviews it seems signs of age show themselves. Hesitations, little hiccups in the thought process. Do we really want a president in his 1st term functioning on a level as if Reagan had wrangled a 3rd?

Posted by: steve duncan on January 31, 2008 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Before I go any further: Pery, Obama hasn't been negotiating anything in Kenya. He taped something for VOA asking for people to calm down. In case you missed it, he's been running for the president the last few months. I hope you're a Republican, because if this is coming from a Hillary supporter, I worry about the future of the party.

McCain's answer doesn't surprise me because he's yet to be really tested during this campaign. Because his chances imploded in the summer, he skated through the fall all but ignored. And when his rivals have had an opportunity to go after him, they've demurred. The fact is, we don't know much about his political skills. There's a fair chance he turns out to be a lousy campaigner. What's frightening for the GOP is that he does stink, they won't find out until after he wins the nomination.

Posted by: NHCt on January 31, 2008 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

@pery- i like how this obama-free post gets a comment implying obama has made the situation in kenya worse. shaping the field for the general election, karl?

Posted by: jim on January 31, 2008 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

I think the answer is pretty simple - McCain has sold out to become President and he hopes people don't notice.

Hugging Bush? Courting the religious base?

If he was a Democrat he'd be labeled a flip-flopper and hectored to death.

Posted by: Tripp on January 31, 2008 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

McCain has always gotten a free pass because the press loves him. Unfortunately, he'll have to screw up pretty royally for them to even notice, much less pile on the way they do now with Clinton and will do to Obama if he (or any other Democrat) gets the nomination. If a Democrat had McCain's explosive temper and shady history with the Keating Five, it would have been endlessly flogged by now in the media. But we've only heard... silence.

Posted by: dalloway on January 31, 2008 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

I was part of the Reagan revolution. I was there with Jack Kemp and Phil Graham and Warren Rudman and all these other first that wanted to change a terrible economic situation in America with 10 percent unemployment and 20 percent interest rates. I was proud to be a foot soldier, support those tax cuts, and they had spending restraints associated with it.

Oh, no you don't, sir. No, you don't get to claim credit for something that was well beyond your skills and well above your "pay grade." You don't get to cite chapter and verse about the 1980s because you didn't get to the Senate until 1986 and, in your first few years there, all you did was suckle at the teat of Charles Keating and draw funds from him alongside some corrupt Democrats.

This man is not a Republican. He is an opportunist, and he has been programmed by the Peoples Republic of China and their Vietnamese allies to destroy America from within. He is the real threat to our values. I say this with all candor--I would vote for a Clinton over a McCain any day. I wouldn't vote for McCain unless he was running against the Devil, and one doesn't vote for the Devil. The Devil is too dangerous to be handed Executive Power on Earth.

Rush is right, liberals. McCain is the end of the Republican Party. People like myself are going to have to defeat him to save our way of life. If not, we're going to start the Constitution Party of America and attract millions away from the McCain party.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on January 31, 2008 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think the explanation is very difficult. John McCain is not very smart. It is that simple.

Posted by: GW on January 31, 2008 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that McCain is increasingly incoherent. Some people say that he might be entering the early stages of dementia, but I don't think so. In Florida last week his campaign (not all of those people are senile) ran an ad attacking Romney for being for a timetable for withdrawl That ad was basically a lie made out of whole cloth. His defense of that lie last night was incoherent.

Maybe he is having trouble telling the truth because he knows that if he tells the truth, sound bite Republicans will abandon him in droves. More importantly for years he has been given a giant pass by the monkeys running the consolidated corporate media. Can you imagine Wolf calling him on a lie? Just in the last week has he experienced real questioning from the Sunday morning and cable news talking heads.

Posted by: corpus juris on January 31, 2008 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

What political skills? We can beat him. We don't need a presidency of Senior Moments.

Posted by: hollywood on January 31, 2008 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Please, McCain's statements are filled with non-sequiteurs, ramblings and leaps of incoherence that should provide us with lots of entertainment as this campaign moves on.

Listening to his "answers" during yesterday's debate was painful. The sentences have no bearing on one another, and there is no connection between the beginning of a statement and its conclusion.
The man is too old, waited too long - and if the US elects a man who will be 72 by the time he sits in the Oval Office, then you've all gone insane. Two terms with Bush should be enough.

Posted by: SteinL on January 31, 2008 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

"Republicans lost the 2006 election not over the war in Iraq; over spending. Our base became disenchanted." - JM

Of the three factions in the GOP, the fiscal conservatives have been generally unhappy all along with GWB's tenure, but the war and corruption is what lost the 2006 election for the GOP and McCain knows better. However, the fiscal conservatives are at odds with the warhawks because of the wasteful spending on the war. That contradiction is going to bite McCain's ass, if he expects to get their votes. Now, if the GOP could front somebody who could run on an antiwar ticket decrying the wasted money in Iraq, then that person would appeal to the "base" that McCain speaks of.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 31, 2008 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Please - have ANY Republican candidates in recent memory paid ANY cost for ANY incoherent, fantasy-land answer...?

No. McCain's political skills are fine. He made that answer becasue it sounds OK NOW, and he knows he will pay no price for it's absurd stupidity.

I think it's pretty funny for Kevin to question McCain's political skills. I mean, I love ya dude, but you sit at home and blog about politics and your cats.

Posted by: steveconga on January 31, 2008 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Reagan raised taxes, though. Multiple times. When will this be pointed out to these clowns? I know Russert made a half-assed attempt at a recent debate but it needs to be said, and more often.

Posted by: josh on January 31, 2008 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Taxcuts.

I'll say it again. Taxcuts.

As preznut, you can be assured of taxcuts.

Taxcuts for all of you who deserve to keep more of your money.

Taxcuts for all of you who believe that our economy is strong and not teetering on the brink of a reccessive depression.

I will win the presidency by standing by taxcuts.

Nothing else matters.

Yes, I might have been hesitant in the past about taxcuts. But now we have to look towards the future. And I can rest assure you, my future is premised on how vehemently I embrace taxcuts.

Taxcuts for the rich. Ooops I mean the ones who actually need them the most. Like the wealthy.

I will cut taxes. God bless america.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 31, 2008 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Both McCain and Romney have flipped and flopped and pandered so much during this campaign that they are damaged beyond repair for the general election. It would take an idiot for the Democratic nominee to lose. Now, given some of the performances of our candidates in the past, it's not beyond the realm of possibility but let's just say, I give the Giants a better chance on Sunday than I do the GOP in November.

(And did you see that Hulkamania is running wild for Obama? Who needs that wimp Chuck Norris when we've got the Hulkster?)

Posted by: Other Ed on January 31, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Well good grief. He obviously can't come out in a Republican primary and say he opposed the tax cuts because they were skewed to the wealthy. He probably wouldn't make it off the stage alive. So what if he has to come up with some pretzel logic to keep the red-meaters in the base happy? It's just possible that the GOP may actually nominate a candidate with a sane view on tax policy. All in all, a step forward in the political process.

Posted by: demisod on January 31, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

steveconga

It is funny that you are raging Kevin. He was called away on family business last night. Steve Benen is running the show in his absence. I don't know if Steve even has cats.

Posted by: corpus juris on January 31, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

No matter how much we rant about this, his response did nothing to hurt him in the eyes of Republican voters. (shrug)

Posted by: Quinn on January 31, 2008 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

"He is an opportunist, and he has been programmed by the Peoples Republic of China and their Vietnamese allies to destroy America from within."

Norman, your first assertion about McCain being an opportunist is entirely consistent with reality. I think the guy's a bit of a political fraud myself.

However, your second assertion puts you in company of those very imaginative souls who believe that Dwight Eisenhower was a dedicated member of the Communist Conspiracy.

For your own sake, don't let Rush know that you'd rather vote for Hillary. He'll come and repossess your Dittohead coffee cup.

Posted by: bluestatedon on January 31, 2008 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

However, your second assertion puts you in company of those very imaginative souls who believe that Dwight Eisenhower was a dedicated member of the Communist Conspiracy.
For your own sake, don't let Rush know that you'd rather vote for Hillary. He'll come and repossess your Dittohead coffee cup.

In point of fact, yes, he was. He was led astray by a woman. It happens every day.

I have called Rush several times in the last few days, but since we are like-minded, there's no point in me going on the show again.

For the record, I have been on the Limbaugh program twelve times in the last two years.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on January 31, 2008 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Silly Norman! McCain couldn't run against the Devil. Cheney's been saying for years that he wouldn't run.

I certainly support your idea to splinter off from the GOP to the right. Women and children first, though, OK? There might not be enough lifeboats.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on January 31, 2008 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Fewer Americans know about the Keating 5 than Rezko or Travelgate. Yes, the MSM loves McCain, but it's mostly because they were never forced to really scrutinize him. Obama has been vetted, compared to this guy. He's been sitting cozily in the media providing wonderful soundbites and occasionally sponsoring somewhat controversial legislation. But since 2000, when the current narrative of the wronged maverick got written, no one's taken a real hard look at McCain. I'm not saying he'll wilt under the scrutiny; but he will be scrutinized. One thing the media loves more than McCain is controversy and drama. It'll be interesting, that's for sure.

Posted by: NHCt on January 31, 2008 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Good point NHCt. Starting on about 9/12/2001, Rudolph Giuliani was ordained to be President. He was treated with kid gloves by the media. America's Mayor. Hero of 9/11. Savior of Gotham. But once, sometime towards the end of 2007, people started to look at his record. Shag Fund. Too busy collecting fat talking fees to go to 9/11 Commission Meetings. Firefighters and policemen hate him. Etc.

Now, McCain probably isn't as easy a target as Giuliani. But the facts will come out at some point. It all depends if people will choose to listen (Giuliani) or not (GWB).

Posted by: joshua on January 31, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Uhh, since when does "political skills" equate with giving an honest, direct answer to any question? McCain's political skills seem well-honed to me. One simply grabs on to some phrase in the question (however tangential) and plugs in whatever message of the day they want to get across, which he did admirably.

It matters not a whit the analysis of some pundit of the words actually spoken. It only matters the impression left in the mind of the targeted voter demographic. Read his answer again and all he is saying is vote for me so you can return to the (fairy tale) days of Reagan.

Posted by: CB on January 31, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

One simply grabs on to some phrase in the question (however tangential) and plugs in whatever message of the day they want to get across, which he did admirably.

And it matters what you looked like and sounded like when you say it.

Inconsistency and analysis only matter if it can be made to rattle his cage, or move voters. If his temper is really there, maybe the Dem candidate can rattle his cage during the debate enough to show it.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on January 31, 2008 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Will the media call McCain on it?
No, and he damn well knows it. So why not rewrite history to soothe what passes for the "conservative" base these days?

Not coincidentally, I didn't have an intense dislike for McCain in 2001 - he behaved as an adult back then - now, not so much.

Posted by: ckelly on January 31, 2008 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Ex-lib: because the liberal media built him up. The liberal media...blah, blah, blah...

What is this "liberal media" of which you speak?

Posted by: ckelly on January 31, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

McCain's senior economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, was on Marketplace yesterday spewing the same line about McCain being a foot-soldier for Ronald Reagan and his tax cuts that were coupled by spending restraints. Kai Ryssdal neglected to remind Mr. Holtz-Eakin that the deficit ballooned during the Reagan presidency and David Stockman (RR's first Director of OMB) wrote an entire book lamenting about how the Republican Congress did not offset the tax cuts with sufficient spending reductions.

Posted by: sdh on January 31, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Not to nitpick, but it's Phil Gramm, not Graham.

Posted by: tc on January 31, 2008 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

As CB noted, a seasoned politician when asked a question whose answer might be politically damaging, simply answers another somewhat related question. The average listener will note that he is saying something that doesn't strike them as objectionable. By the time he reaches the end of the answer, the listener has forgotten the question. This is why the oral debate or meet the press style interview is so poor. An interviewer who blurts out "you didn't answer the question" will look petty and mean spirited. A written record, whereby people can go back and check, and clarify things etc. is what is really called for.

Posted by: big on January 31, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Fact check: "Lincoln Chafee, who later left the party..." I don't think so. Lincoln Chafee ran as a Republican for reelection in 2006, and was defeated by current Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). As I recall, an important theme of Whitehouse's campaign was to oust Chaffe just because he was a Republican, whose support for the Republican organization of the Senate promoted the Bush agenda, no matter how many times Chafee jumped ships on specific issues (which he didn't tend to do when the chips were down, anyway). A lot of people have wondered if Chafee, who was personally popular in Rhode Island, would have been reelected if he had switched parties before 2006.

Posted by: Jim Hart on January 31, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

"[S]ince 2000, when the current narrative of the wronged maverick got written, no one's taken a real hard look at McCain. I'm not saying he'll wilt under the scrutiny; but he will be scrutinized. One thing the media loves more than McCain is controversy and drama. It'll be interesting, that's for sure."
Posted by: NHCt on January 31, 2008 at 10:57 AM |

I really hope you're right -- but I'd bet otherwise. (And I mean that literally, of course; we're all betting the entire country on it. World too, for that matter.)
Did the MSM "scrutinize" W for his failure to fulfill his commitments in TANG? For his all-but-admitted hard-drug past? For the long-rumored but never provem claims that he was responsible for a girlfriend's abortion? For that matter, how many voters knew, in 2000 (or now), that his personal fortune (as distinct from the family fortune) was built entirely on the backs of Texan taxpayers -- and property owners whose land was stolen under "eminent domain" to build the stadium that gave him a return on investment at least one order of magnitude (and I'm pretty sure it was two) greater than the one that conservatroids get so exercised over in Hillary's case (that $100k in cattle futures or whatever it was)?
The one thing the media are reliably more interested in than controversy and drama, is whatever political outcomes will most favor the interests of the corporatocracy that now owns every major media outlet.
Now that Edwards is out, of course, it might well be that the powers that matter will be just fine with either a Hillary or an Obama administration, in which case you may well be right. But if GE or Disney or Viacom perceive their interests will fare better under a McCain Presidency, I don't think we'll be seeing or hearing too much of anything that isn't perfectly consonant with the "Straight Talk"ing maverick image anywhere but the internets.

Posted by: smartalek on January 31, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

McCain's political skills consist mostly in making the traveling press feel like he's confiding in them. As he said in (I think) 2000, they're his real constituency.

It's worked out pretty well for him. They loved him even more after the rovian slime offensive in SC because McCain was done wrong but bush also gave them a charm offensive. They knew bush was being cynical at the time-- just ask Al Hunt-- but it didn't matter when he started feeding their self-importance.

They'll never give McCain any scrutiny-- at least not until the day he blows up at them. Then all bets are off.

Posted by: Altoid on January 31, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

The majority GOP position on taxes is an inherently hypocritical one (personal aggrandizement masquerading as concern for the public good). It isn't surprising, therefore, that a candidate billing himself as the "straight talker" and at the same time maneuvering to align himself with the majority position would be caught up in all kinds of contradictions.

Posted by: Independent on January 31, 2008 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

TC says "not to nitpick". Heck with that, I'll nitpick ... Phil GRAMM. I don't blame Steve for failing to fix it when he cut and paste the text, but I do blame the NY Times for having it wrong. There's nothing wrong making a few mistakes when they put something out in a rush, but the transcript has been on the website all day now. There's been plenty of time to notice the error and fix it. That's what editors are for. Any major national media outlet that leaves a mistake like that uncorrected -- and this isn't the only example -- ought to be embarrassed.

Posted by: markdlew on January 31, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

McCain says he is a leader. He ought to lead instead of running from what he said earlier. He ought to stand by his words and convince naysayers that his positions and reasons for it are correct.

Posted by: john of personal training Austin on February 10, 2008 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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