Over at TNR, Jonathan Chait disputes the image of John McCain as a straight talker who tells people where he stands, regardless of whether his views are popular. In fact, on issues such as taxes, spending, and immigration, Chait argues, McCain has been quite unpredictable and idiosyncratic, flip flopping shamelessly, or taking stands out of cold political calculations.
The piece is worth reading, but I have a bone to pick with this point Chait makes about McCain’s support for the Iraq War:
The fact that the war was increasingly unpopular with the public at large, paradoxically, made it all the more effective for McCain. His hawkish stance signaled to conservatives his willingness to buck public opinion. And reporters, bizarrely, interpreted his position as more evidence of McCain’s probity–here was a man, gushed a string of campaign reports, willing to lose the presidency for the sake of his beliefs. In fact, the war was an issue where McCain’s beliefs aligned perfectly with his self-interest, since the constituency he needed to woo, conservative stalwarts, supported Bush.
The problem with Chait arguing that McCain’s position on Iraq wasn’t a political risk because it helped him among conservatives neglects the fact that by being so supportive of the surge, McCain was risking the erosion of his support among independents, who were central to his strategy for winning the nomination.
For a more positive perspective on McCain’s conservative fiscal record, check out Kevin Stach’s WSJ column.