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McCain Flip Flops


  • McCain opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but supports a ballot measure that would do just that in his home state of Arizona.


  • McCain criticized TV preacher Jerry Falwell—and others like him—as “an agent of intolerance” in 2002, but has since decided to cozy up to the man who said Americans “deserved” the 9/11 attacks. Last spring McCain gave the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University.(Indeed, McCain has now hired Falwell’s debate coach.)


  • McCain used to oppose Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy, but he reversed course in February.


  • In 2000, McCain accused Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly of being corrupt, spending “dirty money” to help finance Bush’s presidential campaign. McCain not only filed a complaint against the Wylys for allegedly violating campaign finance law, he also lashed out at them publicly. In April, McCain reached out to the Wylys for support.


  • McCain supported a major campaign-finance reform measure that bore his name. In June, he abandoned his own legislation.


  • McCain used to think that Grover Norquist was a crook and a corrupt shill for dictators. Then McCain got serious about running for president and began to reconcile with Norquist.


  • McCain took a firm line in opposition to torture, and then caved to White House demands.


  • McCain gave up on his signature policy issue, campaign-finance reform, and won’t back the same provision he sponsored just a couple of years ago.


  • McCain was against presidential candidates campaigning at Bob Jones University before he was for it.


  • McCain was anti-ethanol. Now he’s pro-ethanol.


  • McCain was both for and against state promotion of the Confederate flag. At first he said, "As we all know, it's a symbol of racism and slavery." Then John Weaver and whisper in his ear, McCain took to reading aloud from a piece of paper with a statement that began, "As to how I view the flag, I understand both sides."



  • When it comes to the rough-and-tumble of practical politics, as opposed to battles over political principle, McCain's apparent compromises are just as striking. Six years ago, McCain was livid when Sam and Charles Wyly, a pair of Texas businessmen friendly with the Bush campaign, spent $2.5 million on a nominally independent advertising effort attacking McCain. He called them "Wyly coyotes," and implored an audience in Boston to "tell them to keep their dirty money in the state of Texas." This time, McCain accepted money from the Wylys. The Wylys gave McCain's Straight Talk America political-action committee at least $20,000, and together with other family members and friends they chaired a Dallas fund-raiser for the pac. (The Wyly money was later returned because the brothers have become the subject of a federal investigation.)


  • McCain was unsparing in his criticism of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who slimed his friend and fellow Vietnam veteran John Kerry. Kerry felt close enough to McCain at the time to make multiple and serious inquiries about McCain's interest in running for vice president on a national-unity ticket (and McCain basked in the courtship, even if he knew nothing could ever come of it). So the alacrity with which McCain joined in demanding an apology from Kerry—whose "botched joke" last fall about George Bush's intellect came out as a slur against American troops in Iraq—was surprising, if not unseemly. Once upon a time, the two friends would have talked about the issue privately, and McCain might well have given Kerry his frank advice. As of mid-November, they had not spoken since McCain's statement condemning Kerry's "insensitive, ill-considered, and uninformed remarks"—which McCain once again read from a piece of paper, by the way. When I asked McCain if he thought Kerry was really trying to insult the troops, he answered only indirectly, and with some annoyance: "I accepted it when he said, 'I botched a joke,' O.K.?"


  • That was then, when memories of the Bush camp's gruesome, dishonest attacks on McCain were still fresh. When I asked McCain how a rapprochement with Bush could ever have been achieved, he began by saying, "For 10 days I wallowed," then made it clear that the best balm was his realization that the campaign had raised his stature. "We came out of the campaign, even though losing, enhanced nationally, with a lot of opportunities in the Senate legislatively, with more influence, and eventually, if necessary, to be able to go at it again." Whatever the psychic or political specifics, the ultimate result was the celebrated McCain-Bush campaign hug of 2004, in which McCain found himself enveloped in a back-wrapping embrace and upside-the-head smooch. Since that moment McCain has borrowed from the Bush political playbook, aiming to make himself the prohibitive front-runner for the 2008 primaries, and happily snapping up former Bush aides and supporters from key states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, including Terry Nelson, an Iowan and political director of the 2004 Bush campaign. Nelson, now a private consultant in Washington, approved the most widely condemned negative ad of the 2006 midterms, produced by a quasi-independent group financed by the Republican National Committee and aimed at the black Democratic Senate candidate in Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr. In the ad, a sultry white actress says she had once met Mr. Ford at a "Playboy party," then cradles her outstretched thumb and little finger to her ear and coos, "Harold, call me." After the ad sparked an uproar it was taken off the air. Given the racially charged campaign of innuendo deployed against McCain by Bush supporters six years ago, and McCain's outrage at such tactics, the McCain camp's failure to condemn Nelson or the ad struck many as surprising. All John Weaver managed to say at the time was "We're pleased the ad has been pulled down." Nelson is set to manage McCain's '08 campaign.
  • McCain accepted a messy compromise in the form of a Bush-backed bill, the Military Commissions Act, that would prevent foreign terrorist suspects held by the military from challenging their imprisonment through habeas corpus petitions in federal courts.


McCain on the need for Flip-Flops

  • "By the time I was asked the question for the fourth or fifth time, I could have delivered the response from memory. But I persisted with the theatrics of unfolding the paper and reading it as if I were making a hostage statement. I wanted to telegraph to reporters that I really didn't mean to suggest I supported flying the flag, but political imperatives required a little evasiveness on my part. I wanted them to think me still an honest man, who simply had to cut a corner a little here and there so that I could go on to be an honest president."
    • John McCain, In Worth the Fighting For, his second memoir

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