Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 29, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

STANDING TALL....Sunday morning, here's the candidate himself talking about Social Security on ABC:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, that means payroll tax increases are on the table, as well?

MCCAIN: There is nothing that's off the table.

Today, after getting beat up by the tax jihadist wing of the GOP, here's the candidate's mouthpiece on Fox:

KELLY: Might the Social Security tax go up? Is that on the table?

BOUNDS: No, Megyn, there is no imaginable circumstance where John McCain would raise payroll taxes. It's absolutely out of the question.

This is just getting embarrassing. Is McCain running for president of the United States or is he trying out for a part in some high-concept wacky political comedy? He needs to make up his mind.

Via ThinkProgress.

Kevin Drum 6:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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Comments

Who are you to say he can't do both?

Posted by: dallas on July 29, 2008 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

The man clearly lacks the courage of his alleged convictions. If he surrenders on this minor issue this easily, how is he going to handle something tough?

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 29, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

If any of you folks have an open mind, or just want to see the McCain speech that may well get him elected president, you should go to the cite below. Reactions to the content of speeches may be the most highly subjective of political assessments, but the tone and message of this seems exactly right in terms of emphasizing McCain's strenghths and hitting Obama's weaknesses in a not heavy handed way.

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MzhhMzI5MmJlZWE4ODczNjI5NDk5YzIxMDQ2YjZlZDY=

[Brian, you have overlooked signing several of your posts today, but I am not too busy right now so I will go back and do that for you. Try to remember in the future, I don't usually have time to fix your oversights. --Mod]

Posted by: brian on July 29, 2008 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Ron,

McCain lacks the courage of his convictions? You got to be kidding if you think that argument will fly. He's a politician and you'll see some tactical flips and mistakes, but I don't think you want to challenge his courage.

[Brian, you have overlooked signing several of your posts, but I am not too busy so I will go back and do that for you. Try to remember in the future, sometimes I don't have time to fix it for you. --Mod]

Posted by: Brian on July 29, 2008 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

This is the third time this week the McCain staff has had to clean up after their man. Question, who is in charge of the McCain campaign? If it is the staff why do they let him out in public? If it is McCain why does he put up with his staff's refusal to stand by their man?

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 29, 2008 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, commenter who refuses to identify himself, you know a lot about courage don't you?

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 29, 2008 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

but I don't think you want to challenge his courage.

well then I do. He's got no balls. His platform has completely devolved to "I should be president!" and "surge!" Everything else is negotiable.

Posted by: haha on July 29, 2008 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

So Ron, is flip flopping on payroll taxes any less cowardly than flip flopping on FISA?

Posted by: optical weenie on July 29, 2008 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

some tactical flips and mistakes

is that what you call them? I call them "total and complete position changes in order to get votes from conservatards and other ignorant voters". Maybe not as catchy.
if you're not kidding then you should be.

Posted by: haha on July 29, 2008 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

We don't have to tell you, that it depends mostly on "us" to get the word out that McCain is a worse flipper than Obama (and yes, "worse" is the realistic adjective.)

Posted by: Neil B. ☼ on July 29, 2008 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

McCain is betting on the fact that most of the voters are not paying attention to the details. If people are not listening, they can't tell that one version differs from the other. He and his campaign know that they are sending contradictory messages but they think they can get away with it because we're idiots.

Posted by: Rosali on July 29, 2008 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

He's sounding dumber than Duyba. Is this possible?

Posted by: jeff on July 29, 2008 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

McCain is counting on the fact that there is no possible way to lose a Republican vote - absolutely none. He can flip, flop, fold, bend, waffle, whatever - Republicans don't care.

Don't believe me? Just watch the comments here and on TV. There's always an excuse, and never a Republican calling McCain out for his wandering all over the place.

Posted by: Mark-NC on July 29, 2008 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Senator McCain did not say both things... he said one thing, someone else said the other.

He has clear plausible deniability.

Posted by: Jim G on July 29, 2008 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the pattern:
Dog whistle, contradiction, dog whistle, dog whistle, contradiction
The base will only hear the dog whistles.

Posted by: Rosali on July 29, 2008 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

According to the McCain campaign, John McCain is only expressing personal views and is not authorized to speak for it.

Posted by: AJB on July 29, 2008 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

Ron,

Good point on the annonymous post.

But the issue is McCain's courage and, as far as politicians go, his is extraordinarily high. Has Obama ever taken what anyone considers a courageous political stand? Don't bother with the anti Iraq War position - Obama was running with a far left crowd at that point laying the foundation for a liberal run in the Senate primary -- being against the war was the easy position and being FOR the war would have been an act of political courage

[Brian, you have overlooked signing several of your posts, but I am not too busy so I will go back and do that. Try to remember in the future, I don't usually have time to fix it for you. --Mod]

Posted by: brian on July 29, 2008 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

You know.... I just think the man is getting senile and just doesn't remember what he isn't supposed to say. Seems to me that not raising taxes would have been simple enough to remember though.

I think he referenced the way Reagan and Tip O'Neill did things in the past and that was his reasoning for not taking anything off the table. That's great... but this ain't the eighties anymore.

Posted by: tripoley on July 29, 2008 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

... is flip flopping on payroll taxes any less cowardly than flip flopping on FISA?

Much as I'd absolutely love to see Obama succumb to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party on FISA, but he can't exactly undo his vote on that bill. I will, however, bet my next paycheck against yours that McCain folds like a lawn chair in front of the Club for Growth on the issue of payroll taxes.

Posted by: junebug on July 29, 2008 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

commenter who refuses to identify himself,

There is physical courage and moral courage. I give McCain very high marks on physical courage. Moral courage, at least since 2004, not so much. He is willing to say anything to be elected. Then he lies when he is confronted with his change. Last week he claimed he didn't say "timetable" when he did. Just pay a little attention. He just can't help himself.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 29, 2008 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

Anonymous on July 29, 2008 -- OK, it's a more concise compilation/reprise of what McCain's said before, including plenty of previously debunked half-truths, and lies. That stuff we expect from surrogates; coming straight (*cough*) from McCain doesn't improve his credibility, and dilutes whatever of real substance he has to say.

That said, the most significant difference appears to be his focus on the "I'm a maverick" meme. A renewed emphasis on that may help ameliorate the fallout from his flip-flops and misstatements, and lay the groundwork for rationalizing anything he does later... "I told you I was a maverick, you voted for a maverick, so I'm being a Maverick."

Credible or not, that's not exactly confidence-inspiring, nothing to look forward to on Nov 5, and McCain's "tone and message" does nothing to improve it.


p.s. optical weenie -- there must be a good FICA vs. FISA joke in there somewhere.

Posted by: has407 on July 29, 2008 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, previous post was to Anonymous on July 29, 2008 at 7:01 PM.

Posted by: has407 on July 29, 2008 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, Surge anyone?

Posted by: RollaMO on July 29, 2008 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

I know exactly what happened. I'm the same age as Mc...whatisname. Your short-term memory goes south...now if I can only remember where I put my glasses.

Posted by: Etaoin Shrdlu on July 29, 2008 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

VOTE DIGBY-CLARK-2008---VOTE THE INTERNET put some commonsense AND moral courage into the Whitehouse.

Posted by: Mike Meyer on July 29, 2008 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

This is all unfair, payroll taxes are subjective in an eclectic sort of way...

Posted by: elmo on July 29, 2008 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

has407,

I appreciate that you read the McCain speech. As I said, reactions to the content of speeches may be the most highly subjective of political assessments. It is almost impossible to set aside our political biases. However, you admirably identify the best theme by McCain - "I'm a maverick" means I serve the people, not any party, president or special interst. It could be pretty effective, because his image already is defined as a maverick and now he suppiles what it means in a way that allows him to distinguish himself from President Bush and even the republicans - pretty clever stuff.

Ron,

I appreciate your respect for McCain's physical courage. But you don't respond on the issue of political courage, which I think McCain has repeatedly shown in supporting positions contrary to his party and to his political interest. Can you think of anytime that Obama has done that?

As to signing posts, I did not realize it was required. I originally failed to sign the other day by accident and then, since people around her don't like my viewpoint, I thought I would continue doing it to get a fairer and more reasonable response (which has turned out to be true). But if the rule is that comments should be signed, so be it.

Posted by: Brian on July 29, 2008 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

McCain has taken firm stands that are contrary to his party and his political interests? I must have missed that.

If you mean campaign finance reform, many Republicans may have a knee-jerk opposition to any spending limits, but it is not a do-or-die issue for the party. Meanwhile, by increasing individual donor limits and trying (unsuccessfully) to limit soft money, McCain helped tilt the field in the Republicans favor. If he was a real maverick, he would support public financing of campaigns.

If you mean his statements against torture and various Bush power grabs for the War on Terror(TM), he ultimately blinked. He supported bills that made it a criminal act to employ "cruel and inhuman treatement", but opposed the Democratic bill to force all U.S. interrogators to abide Army Field Manual. And he has significantly toned down his criticism even as it has been clear that the Bush administration continue to take a very broad view of what it permissable.

Posted by: tanstaafl on July 29, 2008 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Has Obama ever taken what anyone considers a courageous political stand? Don't bother with the anti Iraq War position - Obama was running with a far left crowd at that point laying the foundation for a liberal run in the Senate primary -- being against the war was the easy position and being FOR the war would have been an act of political courage./i

This crap is straight out of Richard Cohen's piece in the Washington Post today. And it is crap.

I live in central Illinois, and I can tell you that there's a whole lot of this state that ain't Hyde Park. It ain't ultra liberal. And at the time Obama spoke out against the Iraq war, it was a courageous stand in Illinois.

So come up with some other example of how Obama lacks courage. Because the one you cite is BS.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on July 29, 2008 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

W + Dimensia = McCain.

Posted by: Bub on July 29, 2008 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Brian: ..."I'm a maverick" means I serve the people, not any party, president or special interest.

Or it means I serve whatever I want at any particular moment. While he's been stalwart and arguably right on some issues, his track record is at best mixed. Moreover, his flip-flops reinforce the idea that he is willing to get behind whatever works in the moment, and has increasingly diluted his credibility.

So people should vote for him because he's a "maverick" (which is way overblown considering his record)? As if that compensates for good judgment? As if that somehow excuses his demonstrated pandering and flip-flopping? As if that weighs more heavily in the balance than his flaws and errors? Please.

Posted by: has407 on July 29, 2008 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

has407,

My principal point was that the maverick argument is pretty effective. I did not expect you as a partisan to agree with it.

But since you seem pretty straightforward, do you agree that it was not an act of political courage for Obama to oppose the Iraq war in 2002, at a time when he was positioning himself for a run in the senate primary appealing to the liberal wing of the party and as part of a Chicago liberal political crowd?

Lifelong dem thinks that because downstate Illinois is not ultra liberal, Obama was "courageous" in opposing the war in 2002. That does not seem logical to me, since Obama's base for the senate primary run was the ultra liberal Chicago voters. Of course, Lifelong dem's theory about appealing to down state voters has some logic with respect to July 2004, when Obama was looking at the general election and saying there was not much difference between him and President Bush on the Iraq War, but I doubt that lifelong dem considers that an act of political courage.

Posted by: Brian on July 29, 2008 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

Brian,

The very act of Obama running as a "liberal" senator and "running with a liberal crowd" was itself an act of courage - remember, this was the the same time that liberals were being branded as anti-american treasonous snakes by neo-cons and their ilk, the white house was outing CIA agents as an act of political vengeance, and the justice department was being systematically used as way to silence and intimidate prominent liberals (see: Don Siegelman).

And the question of being anti-Iraq war isn't so much a question of courage - it's a question of foresight and correctness. Barack Obama was right about Iraq. John McCain was wrong. The Surge Is Working (TM) arguments not-with-standing, Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster, one John McCain has cheered on from the beginning.

Posted by: An Anonymous American Patriot on July 29, 2008 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

I am so tired of this invisible table. The only thing material I know it holds is cookies.

Posted by: Jet on July 29, 2008 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

Is McCain running for president of the United States or is he trying out for a part in some high-concept wacky political comedy?

As much as I appreciate being kept abreast of all of McCains various gaffes and hypocrisies, I fear liberal bloggers are missing a key point, which is that McCain's campaign knows that if he wins, issues will have nothing to do with it. The election will ultimately be decised on personalities, not issues, therefore McCain can say whatever he wants and it will make little difference.

When the National Enquirer and the New York Times are seen as equally credible in the eyes of the public, this is the politics you get.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on July 29, 2008 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

Why this table is really what is commonly called as debate. Yet whats on the 'table' is often not debated even if it is 'on the table.'

Enough of the colorful abstractions that deny real debate because they are either on or off this unidentifiable, non-existent table.

Posted by: Jet on July 29, 2008 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

The election will ultimately be decised on personalities, not issues.


The problem is the personalities are as false as the 'issues' are, I think.

Posted by: on July 29, 2008 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Olbermann's having kittens over this statement from the campaign:

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's chief economic adviser: "[McCain] has certainly I'm sure said things in town halls" that don't jibe perfectly with his written plan. But that doesn't mean it's official."

Posted by: on July 29, 2008 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

Please, kiddies, listen to Dr. Sardonicus. I've enjoyed the McCain Idiocy Watch as much as anyone but it's time to, um, move on.

Posted by: thersites on July 29, 2008 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Brian, I respect your viewpoint. You seem to work hard to present an alternative. That is something we all admire.

As to McCain's political courage, my wife said something to me a couple of weeks ago that really rings true. Somebody got to John McCain in 2000. He hasn't been the same man since. Notice what he did in the last couple of days. On Sunday he took a reasoned and reasonable position to the effect that although he didn't like it compromise on social security might require an increase in the payroll tax. He was right. It might.

The Club for Growth went ape shit. Today his official spokesman said that he would never, ever, never agree to increase the payroll tax to reach a compromise to save social security.

That isn't political courage. That is political cowardice.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 29, 2008 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

Brian,

Political courage is telling people what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear. McCain has long since abandoned telling people, especially on the right, what they need to hear.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 29, 2008 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

Personalities? Courage? Maverick? Feh.

As far as I'm concerned, the election comes down to whether you want the country run by the GOP or not. McSame can self-contradict or maverick it up as much as he wants, but he's running at the head of the GOP ticket. I don't give a rat's ass about his legislative history or what he did in the Nam two generations ago. That's who he is and what he represents. He's the mask the GOP happens to be wearing at the moment. We've had 8 years of seeing what it means to have the GOP in charge in this country. We can't survive any more.

Posted by: DrBB on July 29, 2008 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

Brian: My principal point was that the maverick argument is pretty effective. I did not expect you as a partisan to agree with it.

I don't disagree that it may be effective. I disagree that it is a substitute for substance. As to the rest... yes, I think Obama demonstrated courage in opposing the war--you realize that a Senate seat is state-wide, don't you?

As to your assertion that Obama did not differ with the administration in subsequent years, you are wrong. While Obama wasn't as stridently anti-war as some might wish, I think he was coming to grips with the fact (correctly) that we couldn't get out as easily and simply as we got in.

Contrast that with McCain's position that, having stuck our foot in it--with his full support and backing--we should continue to stick it in deeper, regardless of cost. Comparatively, Obama's position was a breath of fresh air.

Posted by: has407 on July 29, 2008 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

I like McCain more as a person than as a politician or a a policy guy.

When I heard he had turned down an early release from POW camp after a year of torture because others had been there longer, and then was imprisoned another 5 and a half years, that was all I needed to know to be comfortable with the man as president. But I think there is a list of things where he disagreed with his party and/or his own political interests, campaign finance reform, earmarks, "torture," the tax cuts, the need for the surge, the gang of 12, etc. I don't even think he was right on all these issues, but I respect that he had the political courage to take the position.

At to Obama, I don't see how anyone could seriously view his opposition to the war in 2002 as an act of courage. It as obviously in his political interest to take that position. He may well have also sincerely believed it, but it was not an act of courage. And I honestly don't know of any act of political courage by him in the sense of standing for something that was contrary to his party or to his personal interest.

Posted by: on July 29, 2008 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

As you no doubt could figure out, that was Brian on the pro-McCain post. I also recognize that he says some dumb and inconsistent things from time to time.

Posted by: Brian on July 29, 2008 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to value the moral judgment of some asshat who refers to torture of Arabs as "torture."

Whatever mccain's original position on torture, his recent capitulations suggest that he needs to pander to the pussies and racists, as exemplified by brian, which comprise the remainder of those who still publicly identify as republicans.

mccain NEEDS to pass this litmus test of being willing to torture Arabs in order to be conservative enough for the far right. This isn't a "reasonable-people-disagreeing" sort of position ... and these morally bankrupt pieces of shit need not be engaged with respect.

Posted by: Gonads on July 29, 2008 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

Since he flip flops on everything else (even timetables never expected that) what makes you confident that once he makes up his mind he won't change it.

Well in 2000 he was definitely running for president, but during the primaries he looked at the guys ahead of him in the polls and flip-flopped to high-concept wacky comedy, the back to campaigning for president. Now he is trying to make up his mind between tragedy and farce.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on July 30, 2008 at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

I think the American people realize that the nation has become divided into selfish special interest groups who vote against candidates who do not support their piggy little interest, so that it is necessary to take both sides of an issue to get elected.

Posted by: Luther on July 30, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

Obama's political courage. Obama went up against the newly elected governor of Illinois and the police advocating a requirement that questioning of suspects in capital cases be videotaped. In the end, he won a unanimous vote in the Illinois senate.

Going against the police in defense of defendants rights takes courage anywhere in the US (probably the world). We now know he was aiming for the US senate. I assure you, defending defendants from the police is not the way for an African American representing Chicago to win votes in Southern Illinois.

On McCains occasional slips and flip flops, I hope everyone has seen Steve Benen's list
http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/flipflops
All documented by links.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on July 30, 2008 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

No one here seems to have commented yet that the "no payroll tax increase" statement was out of Bounds...

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on July 30, 2008 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

I just heard a rumor that John McCain had close ties to the "Keating Five". How could this be true? Him being such a courages maverick devoted to the good of the people and all that.

Posted by: fafner1 on July 30, 2008 at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK

Here's what I think happened. McCain heard the phrase "on the table," and in his addled brain a light went on making him sure that "everything's on the table" was the right thing to say. "Everything's on the table" is manly, you see, like when when we boast that all options are on the table when it comes to Iraq. It means you're courageous enough not to rule anything out, you've got that wide-open mind that wuss politicians don't. Trouble is, McCain had already repeatedly ruled out raising taxes.

Posted by: SqueakyRat on July 30, 2008 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

"I assure you, defending defendants from the police is not the way for an African American representing Chicago to win votes in Southern Illinois."

Right on, Bob. And neither was speaking out against the war in 2002.

Posted by: SqueakyRat on July 30, 2008 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

I think there are two things at work here: one, I don't think McCain has any idea how Social Security works (see here, for example), and two, "nothing's off the table" sounded good in his head so he ran with it. If you asked him the same question tomorrow, you undoubtedly would get a completely different answer, mainly because he has never given the issue much thought.

One thing that has surprised me this election is how vacuous McCain actually is. I never really thought he was a policy wonk, but I certainly didn't think he was as intellectually disinterested as W.

Posted by: Mark S. on July 30, 2008 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

McCain is a fool.

Courage ? If he was a real republican he would have opposed the housing bailout bill.

You know - the one that bails out the foolish and punishes the prudent ?

You know, the one that contradicts the entire repub principle of fiscal prudence and having personal responsibility ?

Bah, tweedledum and tweedledee, screw them both

Posted by: lolcat on July 30, 2008 at 3:01 AM | PERMALINK

McCain: Read my lips... "no more flip-flops."

Of course I'm referring to beach footwear.

Posted by: lobbygow on July 30, 2008 at 4:35 AM | PERMALINK

Most conservatives have no memory and no conscience. All is forgiven. They would vote for a syphilitic monkey if it promised to cut their taxes. That's why we are in the world of hurt we are in....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 30, 2008 at 7:06 AM | PERMALINK

[Brian, you have overlooked signing several of your posts, but I am not too busy so I will go back and do that. Try to remember in the future, I don't usually have time to fix it for you. --Mod]

Oh, so brian, everyone's favorite faux-reasonable Republican concenr troll, been posting his GOP propaganda anonymously? That's rich!

brian, one of your smarmier tactics is to accuse Kevin of a lack of credibility. Well, bucko, Kevin signs his posts. You, on the other hand, tacitly admit your lack of credibility by posting anonymously.

And why not? I wouldn't want to sign even a handle to a bullshit statement like the flip-flopping opportunist McCain has political courage, either, even if I was a dishonest GOP shill like you.

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

McCain knows that he can say whatever he likes and the giant corporations that own and control America's mass media will cover for him.

America's corporate-owned mass media will say anything and do anything to put Their Man McCain in the White House.

We are already seeing a repeat of the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, in which the corporate-owned mass media glorified Bush, and collaborated with the RNC and the right-wing hate media in onslaughts of character assassination against Gore and Kerry.

That's what got Bush close enough to steal two elections in a row with voter disenfranchisement and fraud, and that's the plan for 2008 as well.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 30, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

McCain has backed himself into a corner. He can cave to his right wing masters, lose face, and lose the election, he can stand up to his right wing masters and lose the election due to their lack of support, or he can try to finesse the middle, which makes his look like a doddering old fool with Alzheimer's.

His timing is terrible. He is getting his chance after Bush ruined things for Republicans and after he has lost focus and energy.

He can't even hold a pineapple because people will think of Dole and what happened to him.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK
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