"McCain refuses to pander." That's the insistent headline from today's Washington Times. It's a weird enough way to capture an article that largely discusses the McCain campaign's continued attempt to get Mike Huckabee to drop out of the race, but then, it's not like there's enough supporting material to build an story around that thesis, anyway.
The entire premise was met with a rip-snort of derision from ThinkProgress this morning, who note how McCain has pandered his way through the past few weeks on a number of key issues, such as economic stimulus, Bush's tax cuts, and the embrace of Karl Rove - the man whose base politicking chased McCain from the 2000 race. As we pointed out yesterday, the sage old champion of government reform shared the Potomac Primary stage with Fred Malek, a man who tirelessly worked as an influence peddler for the Nixon administration.
But McCain's pandering goes well beyond mere issues and it's been rampant well before he started to surmount the Republican field. The 2008 Straight Talk Express left the depot in 2007 with a vastly different map from the race McCain lost two cycles ago. Back then, McCain attracted independents and garnered a lot of moderate appeal by taking some principled stands. He refused to demonize gays or break bread with Bob Jones, and he famously labeled some key figures of the religious right as "agents of intolerance."
A lot has changed since then! The latest version of McCain is a candidate whose flipped and flopped like a hooked trout on issues such as gay marriage and the confederate flag. When he found himself cash strapped, money from the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth - who McCain once assailed as "dishonest and dishonorable" - kept his campaign afloat. And the Arizona Senator has done a complete about face on the religious right, even stooping to deliver the commencement address at the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. How did Falwell endear himself to McCain since being labelled an "agent of intolerance?"
Falwell certainly hasn't changed much since 2000. He described the 9/11 attacks as God's punishment for "pagans, abortionists, feminists, the gays and lesbians and others who were attempting to secularise America... you helped this happen". In 2002 he called the Prophet Mo-hamed a "terrorist", and just last month he re-asserted his view that Jews could not go to heaven unless they became Christians.
It pains me to say it, but it appears that the man who stuck to what we'll loosely describe as "his principles" was Falwell. This new John McCain, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be able to part with the vote of a single bigot. That "Straight Talk Express" you remember from years ago is off somewhere in the weeds, and it's been there a while. This video from Brave New Films drives the point home. It's from January of 2007, but, unlike McCain, it seems to be aging well.