Thursday, February 14, 2008

McCain's rightward march

Since I'm tied up today with other deadlines, I'll confine myself to this little item that surfaced last evening:

McCain (R-AZ), Nay.

I found that on the list of senators who voted against passage of an anti-torture provision that seeks to bar the CIA from engaging in the practice of waterboarding. The sponsors of the provision - which is part of a bill that passed by a 51-45 vote, not nearly enough to sustain President Bush's inevitable veto - insist that the intelligence community should follow the interrogation rules that are spelled out in the U. S. Army Field Manual. Those rules prohibit waterboarding.

So, by dint of his vote yesterday, presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain is for waterboarding...but wait a minute...isn't he supposed to be against waterboarding?

Back in 2005, he said that waterboarding was "very exquisite torture," and should be outlawed. Last October, he told The New York Times: "All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today...It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture."

And in a Republican debate last November, he stated: "I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not 24 and Jack Bauer. Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and yet effective. And I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The army general there said that techniques under the Army Field Manual are working and working effectively, and he didn’t think they need to do anything else. My friends, this is what America is all about."

So what gives? Why is he now for waterboarding after he was against it? Why is he now against hewing to the Army Field Manual after he was for it?

You guessed right, pun intended.

His first priority at the moment is to pamper his right flank and persuade the wary Republican base that, contrary to the "maverick" label routinely affixed to him by his media admirers, he can pander just like any other opportunistic pol, and to heck with such trifles as consistency and principles.

(McCain explained himself yesterday by trying to split hairs in the Bill Clinton tradition. Regarding his nay vote, he said: "I think that waterboarding is torture and illegal, but I will not restrict the CIA to only the Army field manual." I guess the first phrase is intended for moderate voters, and the second phrase for conservative voters.)

The problem is that, by flip-flopping so blatantly, he undercuts his image as a man of conviction (to the delight of Democrats who fear his appeal) - without even mollifying his conservative critics, some of whom seem to believe that today's pandering can never erase yesterday's heresies. He could be saddled with this dilemma well into autumn.