Glancing at the headline of Nicholas Kristof's op-ed in this morning's New York Times certainly didn't cause me to object. It reads, "The World's Worst Panderer" and has to do with John McCain. And, naturally, I agree that McCain is the world's worst panderer, mainly because each example of his pandering - and they are legion - is exacerbated by a stunning ineptness. Such as: as he cozied up to cuddle and spoon with the religious right, desperate for their votes, he sort of hoped that people might forget that he once called the religious right "agents of intolerance." But that's the old John McCain. The new John McCain wants to win, and he'll use whatever help the zealots and the bigots and the Swift Boaters and the Jew-counters can offer him.
With that in mind, I expected Kristof to more or less expand on that theme. However, about two sentences in, I realized that this editorial was being beamed directly from some bizarro nincompoop universe:
Even for those of us who shudder at many of John McCain's positions, there is something refreshing about a man who wins so many votes despite a major political shortcoming: he is abysmal at pandering.
And by the fourth paragraph, you get this:
Consider torture. There was nary a vote in the Republican primary to be gained by opposing the waterboarding of swarthy Muslim men accused of terrorism. But Mr. McCain led the battle against Dick Cheney on torture, even though it cost him donations, votes and endorsements.
Even more than his time as a prisoner in Hanoi, that marked Mr. McCain's most heroic moment. He risked his political career to protect Muslim terror suspects who constitute the most despised and voiceless people in America.
Right about now, you have to be wondering, "Surely Kristof is aware that McCain "caved" to Dick Cheney on torture?" Indeed, just this week, McCain was out, pandering in force, supporting the torture of political prisoners - a de facto extension of support for these techniques to be used on American troops as well - so that his "principles" would not cost him a single "donation, vote, or endorsement." As it turns out, Kristof does know that McCain voted that way this past week, and is additionally aware of many of McCain's past breaks with principle.
What Kristof doesn't seem to understand is that McCain's stand against torture could very well cost McCain votes. Many anti-war conservatives backed McCain on Super Tuesday. It's not hard to see why. As a rule, conservative voters who are against the war had few electable options on Super Tuesday. But even though McCain offers little hope that troops will be withdrawn anytime soon, his refusal to approve of torture was an indication that McCain had little stomach for the more shameful aspects of Bush's warmongering. Last week's sudden change of heart could permanently dampen what little enthusiasm this bloc of voters had for the frontrunner.
Somehow, all of McCain's inconsistencies strike Kristof as laudable, "In short, Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste. That's preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates." Preferable? Isn't it actually precisely the same?
Kristof sums up by saying, "Yet Mr. McCain himself would probably acknowledge every one of these flaws, and he is a rare politician with the courage not just to follow the crowd but also to lead it. It is refreshing to see that courage rewarded by voters."
These are the actions of a "rare politician" with "courage?" Could Kristof be kidding himself any harder?