Wash. Post's Cohen lauded McCain's "integrity," falsely suggested similar Iraq positions by McCain and Clinton

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote that Sen. John McCain "embodies a quality for which the country yearns: integrity," suggesting that this quality gives McCain greater "stature" than the presumptive 2008 Democratic presidential candidates. But in lauding McCain's "integrity" and ability to restore public faith in government, Cohen apparently ignored the senator's flip-flops, backtracks, and inconsistencies on a variety of issues.

In his September 19 column, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote that presumptive 2008 presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has greater "stature" than Democratic presidential hopefuls "because he embodies a quality for which the country yearns: integrity." Specifically, Cohen wrote that with McCain, "[t]he man and his message are one and the same" when it comes to restoring "the people's loss of faith in government," as exemplified by "fiscal idiocy of the sort represented by Sen. Ted Stevens' [R-AK] notorious 'bridge to nowhere.' " However, in lauding McCain's "integrity" and ability to restore public faith in government, Cohen apparently ignored the senator's flip-flops, backtracks, and inconsistencies on a variety of issues.

Cohen's column praising McCain's "integrity" fits in with the media's accepted characterization of McCain as "honest," "authentic," and a "straight-talker." As Media Matters for America noted, this reputation has endured despite McCain's reversal on the issue of tax cuts: After years of opposition to President Bush's 2003 tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, McCain voted to extend those tax cuts in February 2006. The reputation persists despite McCain's recent overtures to Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom he labeled an "agent[] of intolerance" during the 2000 presidential campaign, and Bob Jones University, whose policy against interracial dating (which was repealed in 2000) he called "stupid ... idiotic, and ... incredibly cruel." Cohen did mention McCain's overtures, acknowledging that McCain has made "disquieting moves to make nice with his former enemies on the religious right," although those actions have apparently not altered Cohen's assessment of McCain. Most recently, McCain has made inconsistent statements on the Bush administration's representations of the situation in Iraq. At an August 22 fundraiser for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), he criticized the Bush administration's optimistic assessments of the Iraq war as having "contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today." Three days later, however, McCain issued a press release praising Bush for his "honest" public statements regarding the war.

Beyond omitting any reference to McCain's inconsistent statements on President Bush and the Iraq war -- which Cohen characterized as an "issue[] of lesser importance" on par with McCain's courtship of Christian conservatives, despite polling that consistently shows Iraq to be among the most important issues facing the nation -- Cohen falsely suggested that McCain and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) have the same position on Iraq, writing: "To restore trust, many Democrats and independents might be willing to overlook disagreements with McCain on issues of lesser importance -- including, maybe, even his rah-rah support for the war in Iraq (after all, how different is he from Hillary Clinton in this regard?)." In fact, McCain and Clinton have taken very different positions on key aspects of the Iraq war. For example, McCain, on the August 20 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, restated his belief that more U.S. troops should be sent to Iraq:

DAVID GREGORY (guest host): But to do that, do you need more U.S. soldiers on the ground now?

McCAIN: I think so. I think so. We took troops from places like Ramadi, which are still not under control, to put them into Baghdad. We've had to send in additional troops as they are. All along, we have not had enough troops on the ground to control the situation. Many, many people knew that and it's -- we're paying a very heavy price for it. But I want to emphasize that we cannot lose this. It will cause chaos in Iraq and in the region, and it's -- I still believe that we, we must prevail.

Clinton, however, voted for an amendment proposed by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) calling for "the beginning of a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq" by the end of 2006.

From Cohen's September 19 Washington Post column:

For the moment, the spotlight is on McCain and Bush -- a delightful GOP squabble. But it is the Democrats who ought to be paying close attention. For while the Democrats are awash in potential presidential candidates, they have nobody who even remotely approaches McCain's stature. I say this not because I agree with McCain across the board -- not on abortion, for sure, and not on Iraq, and not with his bellicose statements regarding North Korea -- but because he embodies a quality for which the country yearns: integrity. He is a man of his word.

The conventional wisdom is that the Senate is the graveyard of presidential ambitions. In recent times only John F. Kennedy has gone directly from there to the White House, while countless others have gone grimly back to Capitol Hill, John Kerry being just the latest example. McCain, though, has so far figured out how to leverage his Senate seat without falling prey to the sort of institutional problems that have bedeviled others -- a clotted verbosity, for instance. McCain somehow still speaks English.

The prime issue facing this country is not the war in Iraq. It is the people's loss of faith in their own government. In that, Iraq has played an important part but so, too, have campaign spending and fiscal idiocy of the sort represented by Sen. Ted Stevens's notorious "bridge to nowhere." Those of us who have been with McCain when he speaks of restoring faith in government know the effect on his audience. The man and his message are one and the same.

To restore trust, many Democrats and independents might be willing to overlook disagreements with McCain on issues of lesser importance -- including, maybe, even his rah-rah support for the war in Iraq (after all, how different is he from Hillary Clinton in this regard?) and his disquieting move to make nice with his former enemies on the religious right. But if that is to be the case, McCain must remain true to the principles he has enunciated in his disagreement with Bush over the Geneva Conventions and similar matters. Compromise is not a dirty word, but abandonment of principle is a different matter entirely.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Richard Cohen
Stories/Interests
John McCain, Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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