This week, Americans were introduced to Wrong-Way McCain. To be sure, it's the same John McCain ("McSame") who would continue the policies of George W. Bush that 80% of Americans believe have put the country on the wrong track. It's also the same "Jukebox John" who has changed his tune 61 times on issues foreign and domestic, including a dizzying 10 times in two weeks back in June. But as he showed repeatedly over the past several days, Wrong-Way McCain is also the Republican presidential nominee who simply can't keep his stories straight.
Whether the result of crass political opportunism, transparent deceit or just plain confusion, on at least 7 occasions this week alone, Wrong Way McCain couldn't remember what he stood for, if anything at all.
"I’m committed to making sure that there’s equal pay for equal work. That there is equal opportunity in every aspect of our society. And that is my record and you can count on it." (video here)
Unfortunately, as with his bogus claims regarding Hurricane Katrina, McCain's record shows just the reverse. In April, Mr. Straight Talk not only skipped the vote on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but announced he would have opposed the bill because it "opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems." The solution for American women, McCain argued then, isn't to fight pay discrimination, but "education and training."
Football Follies. For years, John McCain has told the tale of duping his Vietnamese captors by giving them the names of the Green Bay Packers instead of other pilots in his squadron. As recently as 2005, McCain confirmed for CNN that the account in his memoir Faith of My Fathers and the A&E biopic based on it was accurate.
But on Friday, McCain offered a made-to-order biographical facelift for a Pittsburgh audience. With Pennsylvania and its 21 electoral votes in play (compared to just 10 in Wisconsin, home of the Packers), McCain's story suddenly honored the hometown team. As he told KDKA-TV (video here):
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"When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the physical pressures that were on me, I named the starting lineup -- defensive line -- of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron-mates!"
For its part, the McCain campaign rejected suggestions of a Pittsburgh Pander, instead claiming the episode was an "honest mistake" and that "if bloggers want to make fun of John McCain because he forgot which team he used under torture, that is their right."
Phil Gramm and America's "Mental Recession." Earlier in the week, McCain's "Jobs for America" economy road show went off the rails when his chief adviser and UBS vice chairman Phil Gramm declared the economic downturn a "mental recession" and America a "nation of whiners." But while a defensive McCain insisted at a press conference Thursday, "I strongly disagree," on two different occasions earlier this year McCain, too, deemed the recession "psychological."
In June, McCain declared that his born-again support for offshore drilling would have a "psychological impact that I think is beneficial." And back in April, Sigmund McCain told Fox News host Neil Cavuto that his gas tax holiday placebo was just what the doctor ordered for Americans' fragile psyches, if not their pocketbooks (video here):
"I'm very concerned about it, Neil. And obviously the way it's been going up is just terrible. But I think psychologically - and a lot of our problems today, as you know, are psychological - the confidence, trust, the uncertainty about our economic future, ability to keep our own home. This might give them a little psychological boost. Let's have some straight talk, it's not a huge amount of money."
On Thursday, McCain told reporters that Phil Gramm "does not speak for me - I speak for me." That same day, as the Washington Post reported, Phil Gramm was in New York, "where he was meeting with the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board on McCain's economic policies."
First Term Balanced Budget Pledge. McCain's economic woes this week extended to on-again, off-again, on-again promise to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term. After first making the pledge in February to end the red ink by 2013, by April McCain had backed off, claiming "economic conditions are reversed." That same month, his adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin was targeting 2017, while claiming, "I would like the next president not to talk about deficit reduction."
Alas, on Monday, the commitment that "John McCain will balance the budget by the end of his first term" magically reappeared in his "Jobs for America" document, if not in the abridged statement signed by 300 economists. Luckily (or unluckily) for McCain, no one believes his fuzzy math, anyway. As the New York Times said Sunday of the self-proclaimed "foot soldier" in the Reagan Revolution, "there he goes again."
Insurance Coverage for Contraception. In much the same way McCain fudged his record on equal pay to hoodwink women voters, his surrogate-gone-wild Carly Fiorina on Monday tried to sell a bill of goods when it came to Mr. Straight Talk's opposition to requiring insurance companies which cover Viagra to also pay for birth control.
When a reporter the next day asked his position on the issue, McCain bumbled and stumbled before ultimately claiming he didn't know what it was:
When McCain was asked for his position on the issue, he said - with a nervous laugh - "I certainly do not want to discuss that issue."
The reporter pressed. "But apparently you’ve voted against -"
"I don’t know what I voted," McCain said.
The reporter explained that McCain voted against a bill in 2003 that would have required health insurance companies to cover prescription birth control. "Is that still your position?" she persisted.
During the awkward exchange, with several lengthy pauses, McCain said he had no immediate knowledge of the vote. "I've cast thousands of votes in the Senate," McCain said, then continued: "I will respond to - it's a, it's a…"
(As it turns out, this was hardly McCain's first bout of squeamishness - or amnesia - when it comes to the issues of contraception, abstinence and AIDS.)
Teaching Intelligent Design. As Steve Benen noted last week, McCain's discomfort and confusion regarding evolution and intelligent design is the stuff of legend. "In 2005," Benen wrote, "McCain endorsed intelligent design creationism, a year later he said the opposite, and a few months after that, he was both for and against creationism at the same time."
In an interview with the New York Times on Sunday, John McCain again punted on the issue:
Q: How do you feel about teaching evolution in schools?
Mr. McCain: I think, first of all, it’s up to the school boards. That’s why we have local control over education. So my personal view is that children should be exposed to as much as they possibly can so that they can make their decisions and be the best informed. But I really believe that school boards are elected in order to make a lot of those decisions, and I respect their decisions unless they are unconstitutional in some way or, you know.
Q: If you were on a school board, how would you vote?
Mr. McCain: I don’t know, Adam. I’d have to see the proposal, I’d have to see where it lies in the curriculum, I’d have to - I can’t. I’m not running for school board.
Support from Veterans Groups. No area hits closer to home for John McCain then his treatment of - and support from - veterans groups. Having already received credit from President Bush for backing the new GI Bill he opposed, McCain this week mistakenly claimed he enjoyed the backing of all veterans' organizations.
"I’ve received every award from every major veteran’s organization in America. I received every organization in America their awards...The reason why I have a perfect voting record from organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and all the other veterans service organizations is because of my support of them."
Of course, as ThinkProgress detailed, McCain's record is far from perfect and his support from unanimous among veterans' organizations:
He received a grade of D from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and a 20 percent vote rating from the Disabled Veterans of America; Vietnam Veterans of America noted McCain had “voted against us” in 15 "key votes."
As for the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars - with whom McCain claims to have a “perfect voting record” - both groups vigorously supported Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) GI Bill that McCain tirelessly opposed.
And so it goes. After a disastrous week in which he also called Social Security "an absolute disgrace" and joked about killing Iranians not by bombing them but by using cigarettes of mass destruction, Wrong-Way McCain doesn't know whether he's coming or going. And yet some in the American media can still be trusted to conclude that a week which should have ended his presidential hopes was "won" by John McCain.