The Spectacle Blog

In Late-Breaking News, McCain Is a Politician

By on 10.8.10 | 8:21AM

Todd Purdum has published a lengthy article in Vanity Fair arguing that not only is John McCain now untrustworthy, bitter, erratic, and angry, but that he always has been. This is the price McCain pays for running for president -- now he gets special attention as a senator. And being a senator involves a certain amount of flip-flopping and politicking.

I don't think that Purdum brings too much new evidence for the case that McCain is more loathsome than the average D.C. player. But one of his passages was thought-provoking:

At one point last summer, J. D. Hayworth said the country was better off with Obama as president than it would have been with an unreliably conservative McCain. McCain took great umbrage, but it's an interesting thought experiment to imagine what the first two years of a McCain-Palin partnership in the White House might have produced. There would probably have been no stimulus bill, and the country's economic condition would be no better (and probably worse). General Motors and Chrysler would have been allowed to go bankrupt rather than helped to emerge into a state of healthiness, as they may well be doing. There would have been no significant new regulation of the financial industry. The Bush tax cuts for those Americans with the highest incomes-something McCain had opposed before reversing himself-would have been extended. There would have been only modest health-insurance reform, at best-McCain's proposals were Republican boilerplate and meant for use in the campaign, never a serious program. Perhaps there would have been greater progress on immigration, though McCain had already abandoned that issue, and it's easier to imagine his taking the more nativist stance he has since adopted. There would be no Supreme Court justices Kagan and Sotomayor, but there would likely be two more conservative justices, and the days of Roe v. Wade would be numbered.

Would we be in a worse situation now if McCain had been elected? Let's take these one by one.

There would probably have been no stimulus bill -- madness. Of course there would have been a stimulus bill, maybe even a bigger one than Obama passed. It would have consisted of tax cuts, not spending, but Republicans have shown themselves willing to pass stimulus bills. Has Purdum forgotten this already?

General Motors and Chrysler would have been allowed to go bankrupt rather than helped to emerge into a state of healthiness, as they may well be doing -- It is jumping the gun a bit to use GM and Chrysler's level of health as the premise that the auto bailouts worked. Redirecting TARP toward GM and Chrysler, and the associated trampling of the rule of law with respect to GM's bondholders, was one of the worst abuses of power during the financial crisis.

There would have been no significant new regulation of the financial industry -- that might be preferable to the status quo, in which Congress passed new financial regulations that only strengthened the relationship between banks and the government.

The Bush tax cuts for those Americans with the highest incomes-something McCain had opposed before reversing himself-would have been extended -- good.

There would have been only modest health-insurance reform, at best-McCain's proposals were Republican boilerplate and meant for use in the campaign, never a serious program -- does Purdum have any idea what he's talking about? McCain's proposal included a lot of good ideas, most importantly getting rid of the tax exemption for employer-provided health insurance (EPHI). Candidate Obama demogogued that part of McCain's plan as an unprecedented tax hike, even though separating health insurance from employment would probably be the single best reform measure possible. Meanwhile, Obama ran on a plan that would forbid insurers to reject sick applicants, a policy called guaranteed issue. Yet his plan did not include the individual mandate that is part of the new health care law. Guaranteed issue without an individual mandate cannot work -- people would just wait until they got sick to buy insurance. That Obama ran on the one without the other demonstrated that his plan was meant for use in the campaign, never a serious program. And his cynical exploitation of McCain's EPHI tax showed just how unserious he was.

Perhaps there would have been greater progress on immigration, though McCain had already abandoned that issue, and it's easier to imagine his taking the more nativist stance he has since adopted -- OK, this one's a toss-up.

There would be no Supreme Court justices Kagan and Sotomayor, but there would likely be two more conservative justices, and the days of Roe v. Wade would be numbered -- if only.

I've never run throught this thought experiment before. But on the basis of these points, the McCain presidency sure is looking good.

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