A lot of wags have been chortling about "the McCain Moment," myself included, because it encapsulates so neatly much of what’s wrong with John McCain. But not everything.
We also need to deal with the McCain Of The Moment. The guy who said one thing six months ago and says nearly its opposite now. Who knows what he’ll say in another six months?
As disturbing as his obvious mental lapses might be, McCain’s bizarre policy flip-flops make Daffy Duck look positively stolid in comparison, especially because they have come in many cases in which he has made himself a national reputation. Things like torture and campaign finance ethics.
And this is especially the case with immigration. The co-author of the Kennedy-McCain Immigration Act — which, comparatively speaking, took a moderate approach to immigration reform — McCain is now saying that he wouldn’t even vote for it today, let alone co-author it:
In a March 24 New York Times online piece, reporter Adam Nagourney stated that aides to Sen. John McCain "are beginning to see a general election upside … to the problems that Mr. McCain’s support of immigration legislation caused him in the primaries." But Nagourney did not report that McCain in fact reacted to those perceived "problems" by abandoning his own comprehensive immigration reform proposal during his campaign for the Republican nomination, saying that he would no longer support it if it came up for a vote in the Senate. McCain now says 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. The Times itself reported on McCain’s reversal on immigration in a March 3 article by reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, which stated that McCain has "meandered over the years from position to position on some topics, particularly as he has tried to court the conservatives who have long distrusted him." The article noted in particular that McCain "moved from his original position on immigration" and "went so far at a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in January to say that if his original proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, he would not vote for it."
Media Matters further notes that McCain’s utter transience on the issue included "conceding" at one of the presidential debates that he would vote against the bill today (see the video above), when only three days earlier he had said he would sign it into law as president.
In fact, we were witness to this flip-flop on immigration as far back as last November:
John McCain spent months earlier this year arguing that the United States must combine border security efforts with a temporary worker program and an eventual path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.
Now, the Republican presidential candidate emphasizes securing the borders first. The rest, he says, is still needed but will have to come later.
"I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift," McCain told reporters Saturday after voters questioned him on his position during back-to-back appearances in this early voting state. "I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people’s priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders."
That’s right: John McCain was for humane, comprehensive immigration reform before he was against it.
When we begin talking about McCain’s positions on issues, we’re going to need to ask: Which McCain are you talking about? The one who was talking a few months or weeks ago? Or the one who’s running for president as a Republican? Or the one who plans to be president next year? Which McCain, which moment?
Unfortunately, I suspect that very few folks in the media will be explaining the difference to us.