August 15, 2008

In late June, the McCain campaign was aggressively pushing the line that John McCain has taken political risks by working with Dems on important issues. Pressed for a recent example to bolster the claim, a campaign spokesperson said, “It’s fairly significant that Senator McCain worked on the immigration reform legislation while he was pursing the nomination of his party,” adding that he “reached across the aisle despite a heated primary campaign.”

And this week, as the McCain campaign began to push the line that Barack Obama doesn’t put “country first,” the same team relied on the same example. Newsweek’s Howard Fineman reported:

I asked McCain’s closest advisor and friend, Mark Salter, for an example of a time when Obama did not “put the country first.” His answer: the Senate maneuvering of immigration legislation.

In his view, Obama did big labor’s bidding by helping to kill the chances for a grand compromise on immigration reform.

“His campaign came before his country,” Salter told me in an e-mail.

In other words, if you weren’t for McCain’s deal, you didn’t put the country first.

Fineman’s right to find Salter’s argument foolish, but the argument is actually even worse than Fineman suggests: McCain wasn’t for McCain’s deal, which suggests McCain didn’t put country first, either.

To follow Salter’s logic, “putting country first” means supporting the compromise immigration package. As it happens, Obama did support the legislation, but disagreed with McCain on a vote on a specific amendment, which apparently means Obama doesn’t really love America. Or something. It’s hard to tell with these guys.

But let’s not lose sight of what McCain did here. To his credit, McCain took a risk working with Dems on a comprehensive immigration reform measure during the Republican primaries. His efforts failed — McCain couldn’t get his bill through the Senate, and his poll numbers tanked when GOP voters learned of his efforts.

But what happened next? McCain said, over and over again, that he disapproves of his own legislation. He conceded in a nationally televised debate that he wouldn’t even vote for his own bill. McCain has reiterated his opposition to the compromise he personally struck throughout the presidential campaign.

So what on earth is the McCain campaign talking about? If Obama failed to “put the country first” on immigration, doesn’t this mean McCain has completely given up on “putting the country first”?

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