The Real McCain

Former John McCain superfan Jonathan Chait has had enough and pens a hilarious column arguing that his further hero has now gone “to the dark side.” I’m a little uncertain as to what’s changed Chait’s mind since he was arguing about a year ago that McCain’s rightward shift was fake and the “real” John McCain was the liberal one he discerned back in the day.

For my money, I regard it as unlikely that a US Senator experienced two ideological conversions during the 2000–2005 period. The best sense I can make of McCain is that outside of his fanatical commitment to militarism, he doesn’t have especially strong views on anything. One thing he’s never been is the kind of politician I would be enthusiastic about. In Chait’s original pro-McCain article, he wrote “After the Democratic Leadership Council’s Will Marshall met to court him, McCain remarked, ‘I was struck by how much we were in common.’” That I found plausible. The kind of Democrat who, like Will Marshall, loves militarism, doesn’t care about economic inequality or poverty, and regards “social issues” as primarily an electoral headache rather than causes worth fighting for probably did have a lot in common with McCain’s 2001–2003 era persona.

If I were the kind of conservative (as most soi disant conservatives these days seem to be) inclined to regard “neo-Reaganite” foreign policy as an important plank of conservatism, I think McCain would be my favorite of the three stooges, since his commitment to that seems quite firm and principled. McCain’s made it clear that he doesn’t like cultural conservatives but he’s almost invariably been willing to vote the way they want. His thinking about economics seems confused more than anything else, but he’d probaby veto anything Democrats wanted to do that involved spending money.