Time's Scherer ignored McCain flip-flops on immigration and taxes, did not note his "remarkably vague" plan for Iraq

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Time's Michael Scherer wrote that Sen. John McCain has "a set of issues that appeal to the political center," including immigration and President Bush's tax cuts, but did not note that McCain has reversed his position on immigration and his rationale for opposing the tax cuts. Scherer also asserted without explanation that the Democratic presidential candidates have been "remarkably vague" about "what to do next" concerning the war in Iraq, but did not mention that McCain has been vague about how long he believes U.S. forces should remain in Iraq, the number of troops that will be stationed in Iraq for the next 10 or 20 years, and whether the United States will have permanent bases there and a security agreement like it does with Japan and South Korea.

In an article for the March 3 issue of Time magazine, correspondent Michael Scherer wrote that Sen. John McCain "plans to bring new cards to the table -- his unconventional campaign style combined with a set of issues that appeal to the political center," including immigration and President Bush's tax cuts, but did not note that McCain has reversed his position on immigration and changed his rationale for opposing the tax cuts. Scherer also asserted without explanation that the Democratic presidential candidates have been "remarkably vague" about "what to do next" concerning the war in Iraq, but did not mention that McCain has been vague about his plans for Iraq, including how long he believes U.S. forces should remain in the country, the number of troops that will be stationed in Iraq for the next 10 or 20 years, whether the United States will have permanent bases there, and whether it should have a security agreement with Iraq like it does with Japan and South Korea.

Scherer also reported that the "liberal advocacy group Media Matters has been releasing broadsides against any journalist who dares describe the sometimes maverick McCain as a maverick." Indeed, Media Matters for America has criticized numerous media outlets and figures for characterizing McCain as a "maverick" without noting his inconsistencies on several issues -- including immigration and tax cuts.

After asserting that McCain has "a set of issues that appeal to the political center," Scherer noted that McCain "initially voted against the Bush tax cuts, which he now supports, saying at the time that they 'mostly benefit the wealthy.' " Indeed, McCain said in a floor statement during the May 2001 Senate debate on the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) conference committee report that he would not be supporting the bill because he could not "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 most need tax relief." But Scherer did not note that McCain has repeatedly asserted on the campaign trail that he originally voted against the Bush tax cuts not because they benefited the wealthy but because they were not paired with spending cuts. McCain did not mention the absence of offsetting spending cuts in his 2001 floor statement, but did say that he supported an earlier version of the bill "that provided more tax relief to middle income Americans."

As another example of McCain's "set of issues that appeal to the political center," Scherer reported that "[d]espite a full-blown rebellion in the Republican grass roots, he remains committed to providing a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants in the U.S." However, Scherer did not mention that McCain has reversed his position on immigration, now arguing that "we've got to secure the borders first" -- a position at odds with his prior assertion that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform without being rendered ineffective. As The Washington Post noted in a February 20 article, "What McCain is saying has changed. Whereas once he firmly said that no immigration legislation could work unless it twinned tougher border enforcement with a guest-worker program and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, he now maintains that sealing the border must come first."

Additionally, during CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate, McCain asserted that he "would not" support his own comprehensive immigration proposal that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants if it came to a vote on the Senate floor:

JANET HOOK (Los Angeles Times staff writer): Senator McCain, let me just take the issue to you, because you obviously have been very involved in it. During this campaign, you, like your rivals, have been putting the first priority, heaviest emphasis on border security. But your original immigration proposal back in 2006 was much broader and included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already here.

What I'm wondering is -- and you seem to be downplaying that part. At this point, if your original proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, would you vote for it?

McCAIN: It won't. It won't. That's why we went through the debate --

HOOK: I know, but what if it did?

McCAIN: No, I would not, because we know what the situation is today. The people want the borders secured first. And so to say that that would come to the floor of the Senate -- it won't. We went through various amendments which prevented that ever -- that proposal.

Discussing McCain's position on the Iraq war, Scherer reported that "McCain ... is determined to focus the debate on what to do next, about which the Democratic candidates have remained remarkably vague beyond saying they want to promptly begin a drawdown in forces." Scherer did not explain his contention that the Democratic candidates "have remained remarkably vague" about "what to do next" in Iraq, nor did he mention that McCain has been vague about numerous aspects of the future role of the United States in Iraq. As the blog Think Progress noted on January 4, during a January 3 town meeting in New Hampshire, McCain suggested he would be willing to maintain a U.S. military presence in Iraq comparable to that in South Korea and Japan for the next 100 years:

Q: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.

McCAIN: Maybe 100.

Q: Is that -- is that --

McCAIN: How long -- we've been in South Korea -- we've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That'd be fine with me, as long as Americans --

Q: So that's your policy?

McCAIN: -- as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, then it's fine with me. I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training, recruiting, and equipping, and motivating people every single day.

On the January 6 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, after airing footage of McCain's exchange at the town meeting, host Tim Russert asked McCain, "What kind of troop levels [in Iraq] for the next 10, 20 years?" McCain replied, "I -- you know, that's very hard to say." When Russert asked if McCain would support "permanent bases" in Iraq, McCain replied: "[I]f that seems to be necessary, in some respects. It depends on the threat." On the February 16 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, when host Larry King asked McCain about remaining in Iraq for 100 years and whether the United States would have to "stay the course ... like Japan, like Korea, like Germany," McCain said: "Of course not. ... Not unless that there is an arrangement between the Iraqi government and the American government -- the same way there is an arrangement between the Kuwaiti government and the American government. If those countries want to have some kind of relationship, the same way we have with the South Koreans. But if they don't want to and we don't feel a need to do so, obviously it is keyed -- this whole thing is keyed to Americans being able to withdraw and come home with honor, not in defeat. Not in defeat -- with honor."

From the March 3 Time article, headlined "Changing the Script":

In recent days, McCain met with his advisers at his ranch, near Sedona, Ariz., to plot a strategy that will keep alive what the campaign sees as its magic: the face-to-face charm that reinvigorated the 71-year-old candidate after his campaign imploded last summer. It is a strategy calling for more bus tours and large group discussions with voters. It also calls for a concerted effort to court voters outside the Republican base -- a Barack Obama-like gambit that is already seeping into McCain's public rhetoric.

"I will not confine myself to the comfort of speaking only to those who agree with me," he said after winning the Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia primaries. "I will make my case to all the people." Nearly a week later, he was even more direct about his aims: "We'll be competing everywhere, including the state of California."

Here McCain was telegraphing a message about the kind of candidate he wants to be. Not just any Republican can play in California. President George W. Bush failed miserably there in 2000 and 2004; so did Bob Dole in 1996 and Bush's father in 1992. But they were mostly dealing from the old Republican deck, fashioned most recently by Bush strategist Karl Rove -- jazz up the base, hammer the opposition.

McCain plans to bring new cards to the table -- his unconventional campaign style combined with a set of issues that appeal to the political center. He wants to regulate greenhouse gases. He opposes drilling for oil in the Arctic, voted to fund stem-cell research and has a history of fighting against the corrosive influence of money in politics. He initially voted against the Bush tax cuts, which he now supports, saying at the time that they "mostly benefit the wealthy." To this day, he does not favor an absolute repeal of the estate tax. Despite a full-blown rebellion in the Republican grass roots, he remains committed to providing a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants in the U.S.

"We always thought that if he could survive a primary, he would be a phenomenal general-election candidate," says John Weaver, McCain's onetime political strategist, who broke with the campaign last summer. "The Democrats will be on the defensive if John runs the kind of campaign that I know he wants to run."

The Democratic Party and its allies, of course, see the danger that lies ahead. Despite an enormous enthusiasm advantage that Democrats have enjoyed for a year, national head-to-head polls show Obama with only a single-digit lead over McCain; McCain and Clinton are tied. More important, McCain retains a favorable rating, according to USA Today/Gallup, that stands a full 13 points ahead of the Republican Party. Those close to him see a real shot at picking up longtime blue states on the West Coast (Oregon and Washington), the Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin) and New England (Maine and Connecticut).

So the Democratic Party has begun flooding reporters with "myth buster" e-mails arguing that McCain is "pandering to the right wing," "walking in lockstep with President Bush" and "embracing the ideology he once denounced." At the same time, the liberal advocacy group Media Matters has been releasing broadsides against any journalist who dares describe the sometimes maverick McCain as a maverick.

At the heart of the coming debate with Democrats is the war in Iraq, for which McCain is the nation's most public proponent outside the White House. Democrats, including Clinton and Obama, hope to focus the debate on the past, on the mistakes that have been made and the cost in blood and treasure, which most Americans disapprove of. McCain, on the other hand, is determined to focus the debate on what to do next, about which the Democratic candidates have remained remarkably vague beyond saying they want to promptly begin a drawdown in forces. "I believe I can convince the American people that after nearly four years of mishandling of the war, that we're now doing the right thing and we're succeeding," McCain told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

Network/Outlet
Time Magazine
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.