Buying Into McCain's Message: "I'm different from Bush, (if you ignore the past seven years.)"

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET

McCain gave a foreign policy speech and then, right on cue, David Brooks and David Broder wrote identical op-ed columns to announce the slate had been wiped clean. To drive the point home, Brooks appeared on The NewsHour and Meet the Press and repeated himself. Further down the MSM food chain, a columnist for Cox Newspapers wrote the same thing, as did editorial boards in local newspapers. And in case you missed it, McCain's message was echoed in the opening paragraph of a Newsweek profile:

"'We need to listen,' John McCain was saying, 'to the views ... of our democratic allies' Then, though the words weren't in the script, the Arizona senator repeated himself, as if in self-admonishment: 'We need to listen.' A lot of meaning was packed into that twice-said line, which was a key theme of McCain's first major foreign-policy speech since becoming the GOP's nominee-apparent. McCain was telling America, and the whole world: if I'm elected there will be, at long last, a return to what Jefferson called 'a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.' There will be no more ill-justified lurches into war, no more unilateralism, no more George W. Bush."

" more ill-justified lurches into war, no more unilateralism, no more George W. Bush," is a pretty shameful whitewash of McCain's record for the past seven years. At least in public, McCain was more strident than Bush in his rabid advocacy of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in his preemptive rejection of the Iraq Study Group's analysis and recommendations in 2006. Listen to others? Read his February 2003 speech, and see how he dismisses the WMD inspections, our allies' concerns, and diplomacy pursued through the U.N. Security Council. Even today, there is zero evidence that McCain's stance on dealing with Iran or Russia or Afghanistan is in any way materially different from Bush's.

We know what McCain says about Iraq, "We're succeeding. I don't care what anybody says. I've seen the facts on the ground." Exactly how is that different from the bullying swagger of George Bush?

If voters think McCain is like George W. Bush, McCain loses in November; if voters are fooled into thinking that he's different, McCain's chances may be pretty good. All the polls show the same partisan divisions which have calcified over the past 18 months. Democrats and Independents are pretty much on the same page; Republicans are on a different planet. The Gallup Poll numbers from last January are typical. They show Bush's approval among Democrats at 7%. Among Independents it was 20%; whereas Bush's approval among Republicans was 76%. Among Democrats and Republicans, those percentages were virtually unchanged from a year earlier, in January 2007. Among Independents, Bush's approval rating in January 2007 was 29%.

Hence, McCain's friends in the media, especially the neocon apologists, are working on his career reinvention.