John McCain spent part of last week visiting poor people. It's presumed he didn't fly in on his wife's corporate jet. And he had warm and fuzzy photo-ops with the common folk. Poor people. African-Americans. As reported by McClatchy, one well-staged setting was on board a ferry.:
Except that McCain, the longtime scourge of congressional "earmark" spending who's promised to veto every bill with earmarks if he's elected president, was aboard a ferry that's financed by a $2 million earmark in a 2005 spending bill.
McCain explained why that particular earmark was okay with him.
There were other jarring moments on McCain's weeklong "It's Time for Action" tour, which took him to rural Alabama; hard-bitten urban Youngstown, Ohio; bleak Appalachia; and the Katrina-ravaged Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
In Youngstown, McCain sounded like a populist, decrying an education system in which those who live in affluent areas have access to better schools than those who live in poor areas. Yet he defended the system of paying for schools through local taxes, which helps create that dichotomy because rich localities can afford better schools than poor ones can.
McCain also routinely decried "out-of-control federal spending," saying it's one of the biggest problems facing the country.
Yet in Youngstown, he said that the federal government likely would have to raise its investment in special education, given the increasing autism rates in the United States.
In Kentucky, he promoted federal subsidies to help rural areas link to the Internet. In New Orleans, he promoted expensive flood control measures and renovation of the Katrina-ravaged Ninth Ward. Critics pointed to the hypocrisy of decrying government spending while praising government projects.
McCain marketing guru Mark Salter said it just goes to show that McCain's a man of the people.
"It's the essence of his authenticity," Salter said. "He puts his country before other considerations, be they personal or political. Everything he did this week showed that. If it's of concern to Americans anywhere, it's of concern to him."
Authentic hypocrisy, then. The same authentic hypocrisy that has the Washington Post reporting:
On May 26, 2001, after then-Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) cast his vote against President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut, he trudged back to his office, convinced, he recalled, that he had been the lone Republican to oppose the largest tax cut in two decades.
But Chafee's staff told him that one other Republican, who had largely avoided the grueling efforts at compromise, had joined him in dissent. That senator, John McCain, was marching to his own beat, Chafee said, impervious to pressure from either side.
Now that he is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, however, McCain is marching straight down the party line. The economic package he has laid out embraces many of the tax policies he once decried: extending Bush's tax cuts he voted against, offering investment tax breaks he once believed would have little economic benefit and granting the long-held wishes of tax lobbyists he has often mocked.
McCain's concerns -- about budget deficits, unanticipated defense costs, an Iraq war that would be longer and more costly than advertised -- have proved eerily prescient, usually a plus for politicians who are quick to say they were right when others were wrong. Yet McCain appears determined to leave such predictions behind.
Because why tout the times you were right when they run counter to a new-found straight party line ideological purity? Because to be a good Republican, you must be ideological, not pragmatic.
"He's looking forward, not back," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's senior policy adviser.
Putting the country ahead of the personal, he's courageously pandering to his party's ideologues, flip-flopping on the most basic economic issues, criticizing government spending while praising the results of that spending, and otherwise doing whatever he needs to do to get himself elected. Because he's putting the country ahead of the personal. Because he's just that kind of guy.
But that McClatchy article suggests that it's working. The marketing part.
"I just like his character," said Doug Hammond, a mechanic from Lovely, Ky.
"I just can't say anything bad about him," said Irene McCoy, a Wal-Mart employee from Pikeville, Ky.
"I love that he took the time and came here to see about us," said Mary Lee Bendolph, a quilter from Gee's Bend. "That meant something."
It certainly did. It meant that he wants people's votes. And he'll do anything, or say anything, to get them.