Monday, February 19, 2007

A short ride on the Straight Talk Express

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'll admit it. Happily. I've been pretty hard on John McCain, criticizing him harshly for his views on, inter alia, Iraq, abortion, same-sex marriage, and so-called intelligent design.

Well, the old McCain -- the far more admirable one -- emerged today in South Carolina. Sort of. At a retirement community near Hilton Head, he had this to say about the war (and one of the prime architects thereof) of which he has been one of the more enthusiastic boosters: "We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously." Indeed: "I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history."

McCain is to be commended for pulling a 180 on Rumsfeld -- although I suspect his past words of support were largely insincere. And he is to be commended, too, for acknowledging openly that the Iraq War has been so badly mismanaged.

And yet, a few points for perspective:

-- McCain remains one of the war's leading proponents. He supports Bush's surge. To the extent that he disagrees with Bush, it's only because he thinks the surge isn't significant enough. While other Republican critics like Chuck Hagel have argued for an end to the war, McCain wants more war.

-- McCain criticized Rumsfeld, a wildly popular figure on the right but a widely despised figure otherwise, not Bush. He is still a bit of a maverick, but his outward loyalty to the president, a sign of partisanship, continues to trump his rebelliousness.

-- McCain made his remarks at a retirement community. It wasn't exactly a major policy speech at, say, West Point.

-- McCain continues to pander to the far right, the GOP's evangelical base, on other issues. He isn't about to jeopardize that delicate relationship.

All in all, the Straight Talk Express isn't what it used to be.

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