McCain’s Straight Talk Express veers to the right

By Ed Gold

He may set a new record for political flip-flopping. As 2008 approaches, he has made some conspicuous adjustments on a variety of issues ranging from fiscal responsibility to right-wing extremists to Constitutional amendments.

He has moved from occasional maverick to traditional conservative to a Bush ally who is steadily moving rightward.

I’m talking about John McCain, who spends much of his time these days thinking about New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.

Once upon a time, McCain objected to massive tax cuts for the rich. But he has changed his mind on taxes and now supports capital-gains tax relief, reduced taxation on dividends and big cuts in the inheritance tax — all favored by the small percent at the top who don’t need tax relief.

He once called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, the leaders of rightwing Christian fundamentalism, “agents of intolerance.” Not anymore.

Falwell and Robertson may best be remembered for suggesting that 9/11 was God’s punishment for immorality in the U.S.A. caused by pagans, abortionists, gays and lesbians and the American Civil Liberties Union “who have tried to secularize America.”

But now McCain will be the commencement speaker at Falwell’s Liberty University and he tells “Meet the Press” that “the Christian right has a major role to play in the Republican Party” and that Falwell is no longer an agent of intolerance.

He further muddies the church-state issue by arguing that “the Ten Commandments would bring virtue to our schools,” and he favors “allowing, but not mandating, school prayer,” which would leave the issue in the hands of individual principals and school superintendents.

McCain has also changed course on the Constitutional amendment against gay marriage after opposing it two years ago. He also favors an amendment against flag burning. Yet, he opposes prohibiting job discrimination in sexual orientation cases.

On some issues, McCain has been consistently rightwing. NARAL, the pro-choice organization, gives him a favorable voting record of zero. McCain has reinforced that position by supporting the new law in South Dakota that makes abortion a crime in all instances, including incest and rape, except if the mother’s life is at stake. This is the smoking gun clearly aimed at shooting down the Roe v. Wade decision.

McCain has other consistencies. For example, the A.C.L.U. has examined his voting record on civil liberties and has also given him a zero. So it’s not surprising that he voted to loosen restrictions on cell phone wiretapping.

He does a little better with labor. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. finds him backing worker issues 15 percent of the time.

On foreign affairs, he remains a solid hawk. The unofficial McCain for president Web site raises money by offering for sale a range of patriotic items, including T-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers. He has been a consistently strong supporter of the Iraq invasion, calling it “necessary, achievable and noble.”

And he is hard line on Cuba as well, holding firm against diplomatic or trade relations.

He’s also a good friend of the gun lobby, opposing the Brady bill on handguns and the assault weapon ban. And opposing background checks on gun purchases at gun shows.

He is very tough on crime, notably calling for greater use of the death penalty. One group that rates senators on prison rehab programs gives him a 29 percent rating.

Placating Bush has been one of his main objectives as ’08 approaches. He supported Bush’s losing effort to privatize a portion of Social Security funds. He was one of the few senators who defended Bush on the Dubai port fiasco, insisting he had complete faith in the president on national security issues.

And he defends Karl Rove’s security clearance even if it turns out Rove spilled the beans about Valerie Plame’s C.I.A. connection.

McCain had developed a maverick reputation by opposing prisoner torture in the war against terror, backing campaign finance reform, warning about global warming and, early on, opposing some of Bush’s tax relief for the rich.

But as E.J. Dione points out in the Washington Post, McCain now finds it politically useful to “make nice to Bush,” and a liberal blog captures that transformation with a photo spread showing McCain and Bush in fond embrace on five different occasions.

“It’s time,” Dione suggests with some sadness, “to face the fact that McCain is a conservative Republican and stop hoping he’s something else.”

Jon Stewart was equally disappointed but put it in somewhat stronger terms: “Has Senator McCain’s Straight Talk Express been rerouted through b…s… town?”