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Atonement

By Matthew Yglesias on November 5, 2008 at 12:41 pm

"Atonement"

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Frank Foer speaks for many once and future McCain admirers:

As a one-time admirer of John McCain, I was grateful to see him at his patriotic, eloquent best tonight. It harkened back to his performance during the first half of the Bush administration, when he was one of the best spokesmen for a progressive agenda in Washington. During the past campaign, I wondered if his performance during those years was an aberration. Was he only driven to the left by his hatred for George W. Bush and his despicable performance in the 2000 primary? Or was he a decent man with humane instincts who had never thought about the world very hard—but had the capability for genuine outrage when confronted with injustice?

McCain made a devil’s deal when he decided to run for the presidency this cycle. He reconciled himself with George W. Bush’s party and the Karl Rove style of dirty politics. His flip-flops were some of the most absurd in recent history. My reading is that he clearly didn’t feel comfortable with this new persona. You could see it in his unease in interviews and his overall moodiness. My guess is that he’s going to spend the next few years atoning for his performance these past couple of months—and the fact that he’s about to become a piñata of the right will likely drive him further in that direction.

Since I was never a McCain fanboy, I never felt the sense of betrayal and anger than some did. But by the same token, I think there’s no atoning for this. McCain’s not a young man who can learn his lesson and do better next time. In 2000, he ran a high-toned campaign as long as it suited him, and then endorsed the Confederate Flag when he thought that’s what he had to do to win. When he lost, he “atoned.” Then in 2008, he went through the whole rotten cycle again. A man who violates the dictates of his honor whenever it’s convenient, and apologizes for doing so only after his opportunistic gambits fail, is not a man of honor at all.

Or think about it another way. If John McCain had never backed off the McCain-Lieberman climate change bill, and had never gone against his previous beliefs by embracing “drill baby drill” and coal demagoguery then it seems to me that the legislative prospects for some kind of serious cap and trade bill would, today, be considerably better than they are. And if we fail to take serious action in the near term, real and very dire consequences will befall the world — especially portions of the developing world where the resources to “adapt” don’t exists. The lives of millions of people hang in the balance over this, and I doubt the people of Bangladesh and the world’s island nations are going to care very much about McCain’s atonement-oriented words or his “humane instincts.” I hope he’ll flip-flop back to a decent position on these now, but nevertheless doing so now won’t have nearly the impact that having stuck to his guns when it counted could have.

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