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Thursday, February 04, 2010

A Man of Few Principles

John McCainRepealing "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) is a big problem, because it's hugely controversial and Americans are completely divided on the issue... Right?

Wrong. In June, a Gallup poll on the issue showed that majorities in every demographic thought that gays serving openly in the military was a good idea. Among Democrats it was 86% in favor, Independents scored 67%, and Republicans went 58%. 64% of men over all were in favor, along with 73% of women. People in the east; 77%. The midwest; 76%. The west; 71%. The south; 57%. By age group, by church attendance -- all the same. Majorities in every, single demographic. In all, 69% support allowing gays to serve openly in the military. That's a rise of 6 points since 2004, with the largest gain -- 12 points -- being among self-described conservatives. The second largest leap for a demographic during that period was 11 points, among weekly churchgoers.

In other words, if this were put up for a vote, repealing DADT would win in a landslide. Among voters, this isn't a huge raging controversy.

However, it's not voters who'll decide. It's Washington. And if there's one thing that people in all demographics can agree on -- other than repealing DADT --  it's that institutional Washington is mostly populated by people who are either stupid, incompetent, or insane.

Which of course brings us to the 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Elected as a member of the House of Representatives in 1981, he went on to win his Senate seat in 1986. With 29 years under his belt, John Sidney McCain III is pretty damned institutional. And it shows.

Christopher Beam, Slate:

In late 2006, John McCain told a live audience that he supported "don't ask, don't tell," the policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexuality a secret. "But the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it, because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to."

That day came on Tuesday, and McCain did not budge -- just one reason a full repeal of the DADT policy may be further off than you think.

Beam argues that repealing DADT is years away -- an argument I'm not sure I agree with. But he captures McCain's foolishness completely. After Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen testified before the Senate that the policy was something he was "troubled by" and that
it was his personal belief that it should be changed, McCain took the low road.

"I'm deeply disappointed in your statement," McCain told Mullen. He said that congress had dealt with the issue in 1993. They reached a compromise between "the desires of a minority and the interests of a volunteer force."

"I'm eager to hear from our distinguished witnesses what has changed," he said. You mean other than public opinion, the calendar, the expulsion from the military of Arab-language translators at a time when we're supposed to be fighting Islamic extremism, the opinions of top military brass, and going on ten years of experience showing your little "compromise" wasn't a very good idea? Other than all that, John?


Nothing has changed. It just turns out you were wrong back then. It happens. In fact, it happens a lot in DC. You've been around long enough to know this John, so why does this come as a big revelation to you?

Oddly, McCain's defense of this idiotic policy has always been that he's just listening to military leadership -- that is, until now that this leadership disagrees with him. In the same June that Gallup's study came out, McCain cited Colin Powell as his reason for standing by DADT:

My opinion is shaped by the view of the leaders of the military. The reason why I supported the policy to start with is because General Colin Powell, who was then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the one that strongly recommended we adopt this policy in the Clinton administration. I have not heard General Powell or any of the other military leaders reverse their position, just like when on other issues, that people are expert and knowledgeable of, I rely on their opinion. But this is unique. These military leaders are responsible for the very lives of the men and women under their command, and that’s why I am especially guided, to a large degree, by their views.

Yeah, turns out that Colin Powell has reversed his position. Will McCain, recognizing that the people he's so disappointed in "are responsible for the very lives of the men and women under their command," change his tune and be "guided, to a large degree, by their views?"

What do you think?

The truth is that McCain stopped being the "maverick" he and Sarah Palin claimed he was a long time ago. At this moment in time -- and for a long time prior -- McCain has become the typical "finger in the wind" type, carefully choosing his positions to line up with the positions of those who can help him most. The man whose motto was "Country first" puts John McCain first at every opportunity, canceling out any arguments he'd made previously and selling out positions he's held in the past.

"I thought that after 2008 we wouldn't get more chances to see McCain betraying all the principles and positions he claims to stand for," writes Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall. "But the primary challenge in Arizona seems to be providing many more opportunities."

And Marshall's right -- this is what it's all about. McCain is in a tough primary race against a teabagger nutjob named J.D. Hayworth. Hayworth is a one-time congress critter who's gone on to become a talk radio fool. So McCain is trying match him, crazy for crazy.

Since he's the incumbent, McCain has the backing of his party. But these days, that doesn't count for much. This means that McCain has to win over the people who'd vote for Hayworth. So, when he told us that he'd let the policy be "shaped by the view of the leaders of the military," it was because he didn't see this coming. Now he'll let the policy be shaped by the crackpots who'd vote for his opponent. He's willing to sell out his earlier position, so long as it's he himself who casts the vote against it.

Country first? Not on your life. It's McCain first all the way.


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