In her U.S. News & World Report column, Gloria Borger asserted that "[n]o one would accuse [Sen. John] McCain [R-AZ] of equivocating on anything." But McCain has done just that on a variety of issues, including tax cuts for the wealthy, abortion, teaching intelligent design to public school students, and the Confederate flag.
In her latest column, posted online on October 29 and that will appear in the November 6 edition of U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News contributing editor and CBS News national political correspondent Gloria Borger asserted that "[n]o one would accuse [Sen. John] McCain [R-AZ] of equivocating on anything." Writing about the prospect of Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) running for president in 2008, Borger contrasted him with McCain, asserting that Obama's "penchant for wishy-washy is well documented." Yet as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, despite an abundance of well-documented backtracks, flip-flops, and inconsistencies, the media continue to describe McCain with words such as "honest" and "authentic" and generally regard him as an unwavering purveyor of "straight talk." Some examples of McCain's hedging include:
Regarding President Bush's 2001 tax cut package, which overwhelmingly benefited the rich and contributed to the transformation of the budget surplus into a deficit, McCain said, "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who need tax relief," according to a February 27 article in The Washington Times. Yet in 2006, when Congress was considering extending Bush's 2003 capital gains tax cuts, which benefited mainly the richest Americans, McCain voted with his Senate Republican colleagues to keep them on the books. When asked during the April 2 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press why he changed his mind on Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, McCain replied: "I do not believe in tax increases. ... The tax cuts are now there, and voting to revoke them would have been to -- not to extend them would have meant a tax increase." Even tax-cutting advocates who cheered McCain's reversal could not help but call it what it was: "It's a big flip-flop," said conservative movement leader and president of Americans for Tax Reform Grover Norquist, "but I'm happy he flopped."
As the Associated Press reported on August 24, 1999, while on the campaign trail in New Hampshire that year, McCain proclaimed himself a pro-life candidate. However, he told reporters that "in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade." When his comments came under fire from pro-life groups, he wrote a letter to the National Right to Life Committee, stating: "I share our common goal of reducing the staggering number of abortions currently performed in this country and overturning the Roe vs. Wade decision."
When Republicans in South Dakota passed a ban on almost all abortions, providing an exception only to save the life of the woman, McCain was asked by the National Journal's The Hotline what he would have done had he been governor of the state. His office replied that McCain "would have signed the legislation, but would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." He gave no indication what steps he could take to change a law he already signed.
In 2000, McCain declared that the teaching of "intelligent design" was a matter for local school boards to decide, in contrast to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush's position that creationism should be taught in classrooms. As The New York Times reported on August 3, 2005, however, McCain expressed more openness to the idea of intelligent design that year, saying that "different schools of thought" about the origins of mankind should be presented to students. The later statement mirrored what President Bush had said just three weeks earlier, when he defended the teaching of intelligent design by saying, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."
When asked during the 2000 Republican presidential primaries about his thoughts on the Confederate flag, McCain gave the answer that many South Carolina conservatives wanted to hear: "Personally, I see the flag as a symbol of heritage." After the primaries, when the need to curry favor with conservatives had passed, McCain admitted during the October 15, 2002, broadcast of CBS' The Early Show that he believed in 2000 that "the Confederate flag should be taken down," but that, in an "act of political cowardice," he "didn't say so" because "everybody said, 'Oh, look out, you can't win in South Carolina if you say that.' "
From Borger's November 6 column in U.S. News & World Report:
The reasons for Obama's popular appeal may well be his political flaw: He's reasonable. He looks for solutions. There is no enemies list. All good. Yet, his penchant for wishy-washy is well documented. He splits hairs, is noncommittal and overly judicial. It's gotten him in hot water with Sen. John McCain, who could face off with Obama in 2008. No one would accuse McCain of equivocating on anything: When Obama backed out of a bipartisan, McCain-led group on lobbying reform-to run the Democratic version-McCain exploded. In writing, which almost never happens in the clubby Senate, the Arizonan blasted Obama for his "disingenuousness" and "self-interested partisan posturing."