What is it going to take for the media to snap out of its starry-eyed -- stuck in 2000 -- view of John McCain?
Despite an avalanche of evidence showing that McCain the Maverick has long ago been replaced by McCain the Pandering Pawn of the Party's Right Wing, the press refuses to believe its own eyes.
The latest demonstration of the enormous lag time between the presentation of a new reality and the media's willingness to update the conventional wisdom comes via those bastions of the traditional media, The New Yorker and the New York Times.
The latest New Yorker features a loving 7,000+ word profile of McCain by Ryan Lizza that portrays him as a moderate who has "the rare opportunity to reinvent what it means to be a Republican."
Let's see, McCain has bowed to the party's lunatic fringe on tax cuts, immigration, the intolerance of religious bigots, and torture... so exactly how is he reinventing what it means to be a Republican? By shortening the amount of time it takes before a candidate is hijacked by the Right, perhaps?
Don't forget, George W. Bush, circa 1999, was presented as something of a maverick -- a Republican who espoused "compassionate conservatism," got along with Democrats in Texas, was going to win over Latinos, end his party's longstanding hostility toward minorities, and govern from the center.
"My friends, this is going to be a different kind of convention for a different kind of Republican," said 2000 RNC chairman Jim Nicholson at that year's convention. "Gov. Bush has shown time and time again that he is a different kind of Republican," echoed Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan on the campaign trail.
That different kind of Republican evaporated the moment W's hand hit the Bible on inauguration day. McCain hasn't waited that long. He's already offered his proof of fidelity to the Right.
But Lizza doesn't want to buy it. Even as he lists all the examples of McCain's "brazen pandering," he insists that McCain is "principled" and "has a record of sticking to a position even when it puts his political future at risk." Other than all the times he's shifted his position in order to advance his political future, I suppose.
The media are so reluctant to give up their entrenched view of McCain that "principled" and "pandering" are no longer seen as mutually exclusive terms. Indeed, that was the animating premise of Nicholas Kristof's head-scratching column in Sunday's New York Times: that McCain has become the world's most principled panderer.
"Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste," writes Kristof. In Kristof's through-the-looking-glass world, it's apparently a higher order of pandering if you start with deeply held core convictions that you trash in the name of political expediency while feeling really bad about it.
Sure, she's a whore, but she wears an abstinence promise ring and feels totally guilty when she stuffs the money in her bra, so she's not like all the other whores.
In the New Yorker piece, Newt Gingrich, in full stand up comedy mode, claims that McCain's looming nomination "is the victory of the moderate wing" of the GOP -- of which he now counts himself a member! -- and that with McCain, "for the first time since Eisenhower, you have someone who has clearly not accommodated the conservative wing winning the nomination. That is a remarkable achievement."
It says everything you need to know about how strong the Right's stranglehold on the Republican Party has become that Newt Gingrich, the original barbarian at the GOP gate leading the 1994 right wing revolution, is now considered a voice of moderation. And that capitulating on torture and tax cuts and immigration and intolerance and out-Bushing Bush on Iraq can be seen as "not accommodating" the right. Memo to Newt: making that claim while maintaining a straight face is the true "remarkable achievement."
Despite the disastrous failures of the Right on everything from Iraq to the economy to health care to the environment to global warming to civil liberties to national security, the lunatics running the Republican asylum are stronger than ever.
That's why Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter have felt so comfortable taking on the role of rhetorical dominatrixes, forcing McCain to bow down and lick their boots, and why McCain -- "with distaste," of course -- has so thoroughly obliged. Even after all-but-locking-up the nomination, he still felt compelled to jettison his most deeply held belief and vote against the torture ban.
"Please, mistress -- may I have another?"