Billmon, a guy I didn’t listen to enough a few years back, is back to blogging, and man is it depressing. Well, his return is not depressing, but what he has to say is. If you will, some quotes from Billmon’s new post at the Great Orange Satan, juxtaposed with some quotes from our illustrious media. Billmon:
McCain’s primary talent has always been his ability persuade simple-minded people (i.e. his media cheerleading claque) that he is flipping or flopping as a matter of great personal principle and at great possible cost to his political career – even as he has used his various flips and flops to climb the greased pole and become the presidential nominee of his party.***
Now, if you go back and look, you’ll see that if Keating didn’t comp McCain as generously and vigorously as he did the other four, it was probably because McCain was a very junior senator at the time, with relatively little influence to peddle. But it wasn’t because Honest John was shy about accepting the favors that were offered him. If John McCain had a problem with the way lobbying (i.e. legalized prostitution) was being done in Washington, you definitely won’t find it in the record of the Keating investigation. McCain’s fit of Puritan self-righteousness (or political calculation, depending on your view) came after the fact, once he’d already been caught. And yet, from that single Senate speech sprang the shoot that eventually grew into the sturdy tree of John McCain’s media image.
You have to admit it was a neat trick: Happily accepting the naughty goodies while they were being handed out, but then winning brownie points for admitting he took them – after the world had already found out he took them. But that’s precisely what McCain did. He’s never looked back since.
The St. Petersburg Times:
Virtually all candidates, including Obama, distort their opponent’s record. But McCain has gone beyond reasonable bounds. The self-described “happy warrior” in the 2000 presidential campaign has turned sour in 2008, and the candor and straight talk that once made him such an attractive candidate are rapidly disappearing.
Billmon, discussing McCain in 2000:
So suddenly John McCain, the supposed straight talker, was ducking and weaving around the perennially important issue of whether the Confederate flag should continue to wave over the cradle of the Civil War.
He lost anyway, of course — but here again, as during the Keating Five scandal, McCain managed to make political vice look like virtue, at least in the media’s eyes. In late April, he gave a speech announcing he’d been wrong not to denounce the Stars and Bars. “I chose to compromise my principles,” he confessed, and “broke my promise to always tell the truth” in order to win in South Carolina.
“I do not intend for this apology to help me evade criticism for my failure,” the noble McCain nobly added. “I will be criticized by all sides for my late act of contrition. I accept all of it, I deserve it.”
Once again, the hearts of supposedly hard-hearted reporters melted like butter – not withstanding the obvious fact that McCain had saved his road-to-Damascus moment until after the votes were cast in South Carolina and after Bush had effectively nailed down the nomination. (McCain’s flips and flops on racial issues, such as his forth and back and forth on making MLK’s birthday a federal holiday, are worth a post just in themselves.)
Todd Purdum, today in Vanity Fair:
Bill and Hillary Clinton proved the severe political dangers of running against hope last winter and spring, and McCain’s own great strength has always been his realistic optimism, his conviction that every American should sign up—as he did so long ago—in a cause greater than his or her own self-interest. “I’ll put my country first, and I’ll never let you down,” he told a crowd at a Caterpillar dealership outside Denver on Wednesday. Wise words to live by, for sure.
But by suggesting that Barack Obama is the kind of politician who would put self-interest and political expediency above problem-solving, as McCain did more than once this week, this honorable, intelligent, maverick, cagey, come-from-behind character risks doing precisely that himself.
Billmon, explaining why we are seeing McCain act the way he is the past few days:
But McCain and his new team of Rovian handlers now realize they won’t have a prayer in November unless they can motivate the conservative base and (to use Lee Atwater’s charming phrase) “strip the bark” off Obama. And they have to do it NOW, so McCain can pivot back to a softer, more upbeat message in September.
And when he does, you know what we can expect. All will be forgotten. All will be forgiven. The destruction of Obama’s character will be complete, the Maverick can go back to serving
donuts BBQ to the press, and he will be welcomed back in open arms. After all, they haven’t learned anything from his past behavior. Why should we expect a media universe filled with folks like Tapper and Halperin and Broder to begin to learn now?