BOGUS CONVENTIONAL WISDOM ABOUT McCAIN
There's a lot to criticize in the mash note Roger Cohen wrote to John McCain in today's New York Times; Steve Benen and Bob Somerby have noted some of the problems with the piece. I'd just like to point out one persistent bit of conventional wisdom regurgitated by Cohen that's just plain wrong -- and is dangerous:
McCain was politically dead six months ago, his campaign undone by his backing of President Bush's Iraq policy. His remarkable resurgence, which has put him in the lead among Republican candidates, according to recent polls, is one measure of the Iraq shift.
In response to that, I'll defer to what Glenn Greenwald wrote exactly six months and one day ago:
It is not support for the Iraq war which dooms a GOP presidential candidacy, but the opposite: any real questioning of the wisdom of the war or any agitating for withdrawal or opposition to Bush's commitment would immediately and single-handedly destroy the viability of a GOP candidacy. Ask Ron Paul, or Chuck Hagel, or even Sam Brownback, whose flagging campaign has triggered the wrath of the base despite his radical social conservatism as a result of his ongoing questioning of Bush's Iraq policy.
The war in Iraq remains popular with the GOP base. They want to stay and keep waging war. They would immediately turn against anyone who advocated withdrawal or even questioned the wisdom of staying. The Republican Party continues to be the Party of the Iraq War, and -- directly contrary to the conventional wisdom that is arising -- loyal support for the Iraq War is an absolute pre-requisite for winning the nomination.
In fact, the only praise McCain has received over the last several months from the GOP's base is due to his unwavering support for the war. McCain's candidacy is failing not because of excessive support for the Right's war in Iraq; that was the only thing keeping it afloat. Instead, it is due to his excessive deviation from the Right's mandated views -- on torture, on McCain-Feingold, and especially on immigration.
Exactly right -- McCain floundered even as Rudy Giuliani and other Republicans who were just as gung ho about the war as McCain seemed to thrive. "Excessive deviation from the Right's mandated views" is what brought McCain low -- especially, last spring and summer, his association with what the right calls "amnesty." It was, in fact, six months and three weeks ago that the immigration bill suffered its final defeat. McCain began to pick himself up off the mat only after that fight began to fade from memory -- and after GOP voters realized they were dissatisfied with all their other choices, and began to see him as the best of a bad lot.
What's dangerous about this bit of conventional wisdom is that it reinforces the new narrative: McCain as martyr. McCain was dealt a horrible hand when he was a POW, and he got shafted in the 2000 campaign -- but this year he's exaggerating the extent to which he's a target of negative campaigning, and people like Cohen are distorting reality by portraying him as a misunderstood prophet who suffered for being right about the surge. The surge still done what it was intended to do politically in Iraq, and McCain didn't suffer for supporting it -- but portraying him as a victim is one more way the press is setting him up as the admirable guy we all should elect in November.
UPDATE: And, as noted in the previous post, voters in the GOP primaries who've soured on the war are voting for McCain anyway.