Has there ever been a more repugnant example of political pandering than John McCain's decision to vote against a bill banning waterboarding, putting hoods on prisoners, forcing them to perform sex acts, subjecting them to mock executions, or depriving them of food, water, and medical treatment?
That's right, John McCain, the former POW who has long been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's disturbing embrace of extreme interrogation techniques.
But that was before his desperate attempt to win over the lunatic fringe that is running the Grand Old Party.
Earlier this week, I showed how outdated the image of McCain as an independent-thinking maverick had become -- and called on the media and independent voters to snap out of their 2000 reverie and see the 2008 McCain for what he has turned into: a Rove-embracing Bush clone, willing to jettison his principles in his hunger for the presidency.
And now comes this latest unconscionable capitulation, which should drive a stake through the heart of the McCain-as-straight-talker meme once and for all.
McCain the maverick had been unequivocal in his condemnation of torture, and eloquent in expressing why. "We've sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists," he said at an Oval Office appearance in December 2005, after he had forced the president to endorse an earlier torture ban McCain had authored and pushed through (a ban the president quickly subverted with a signing statement). "What we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are. And I think this will help us enormously in winning the war for the hearts and minds of people throughout the world in the war on terror."
He made a similar case on the campaign trail in Iowa in October 2007: "When I was imprisoned, I took heart from the fact that I knew my North Vietnamese captors would never be treated like I was treated by them. There are much better and more effective ways to get information. You torture someone long enough, he'll tell you whatever he thinks you want to know."
And there was this pithy and powerful summation of why torture should never be an option: "It's not about who they are, it's about who we are."
Of course, all that was before he put his conscience in leg irons -- and before caving to the would-be Torquemadas on the Right became his campaign strategy.
Now we get tortured logic instead. Taking to the Senate floor to justify his vote against the torture ban yesterday, McCain twisted himself in knots trying to explain how he could sponsor a bill -- the 2006 Detainee Treatment Act -- that prohibits the use of any cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment by the military while voting against a bill that would extend that ban to the CIA and other intelligence agencies: "It is important to the war on terror that the CIA have the ability to [detain and interrogate terrorists]. At the same time the CIA's interrogation program has to abide by the rules, including the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act."
Got that? The CIA has to abide by rules prohibiting torture but we can't tie the CIA's hands by making it abide by rules prohibiting torture. Straight talk, RIP.
What's more, McCain said he voted against the bill because it would be a mistake to "tie the CIA to the Army Field Manual" -- a Manual he gave a ringing endorsement to in a November debate: "I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The army general there said that techniques under the Army Field Manual are working and working effectively, and he didn't think they need to do anything else. My friends, this is what America is all about."
But not apparently once you have the White House in your sights. Then all bets -- and deeply held convictions -- are off.
The media and independent voters need to stop offering McCain valentines, and start interrogating him -- humanely, of course -- about the Faustian bargain he has struck.