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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

 
Whoever We Want Him To Be

by digby

I've finally realized what "maverick" really means. It means someone who takes both sides of every issue but everyone thinks he really means it. (And it helps if the media portrays them as someone who only panders because he "has to" implying he will only carry out those promises the individual voter wants carries out.)

Back in 2000, McCain got himself into a little maverick "pickle" on abortion. It's a perfect example of how this works. Get a load of this mish-mash:

McCain struggles with sensitive abortion question
By Jonathan Karl/CNN

January 26, 2000

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Republican presidential candidate John McCain, when asked Wednesday what he would do if his 15-year-old daughter Meghan became pregnant and wanted an abortion, said it would be a "family decision."

"The final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel," McCain said, speaking of himself and his wife Cindy.

"I would discuss this issue with Cindy and Meghan, and this would be a private decision that we would share within our family and not with anyone else," McCain told reporters in New Hampshire on board his campaign bus nicknamed "The Straight Talk Express. "Obviously I would encourage her to bring, to know that baby would be brought up in a warm and loving family, but the final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel."

McCain describes himself as a "pro-life" candidate and says he favors a ban on abortion except in the case of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. But he has also angered anti-abortion advocates last year by saying that reversing Roe v. Wade now would force thousands of young women to have illegal and dangerous operations.

McCain grew irritated as reporters pressed him on the subject. Asked if that was the same answer an abortion-rights advocate would give, McCain said, "I don't think it is the pro-choice position to say that my daughter and my wife and I will discuss something that is a family matter that we have to decide."

Less than an hour later, his campaign issued a statement from McCain clarifying his position.

"What I intended to say is that this is a family decision. This family decision would be made by the family and not Meghan alone," McCain said in the statement.

The anti-abortion group Citizens for Life, the New Hampshire affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, did not find fault with McCain's comments, but indicated concern about his overall position on Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

"The statement about his daughter is a private family matter. It is somewhat ambiguous, but the larger problem is that Senator McCain does not support the repeal of Roe v. Wade," said Roger Stenson, a spokesman for the group.

But the anti-abortion group American Life League condemned both McCain's initial comments and his clarification.

"That is not a pro-life position," said American Life League spokesman Steve Sanborn. "Because that means that the final decision could be the murder of a pre-born human child who has a right to life."

In August, McCain said he favored repealing the decision but the ban shouldn't happen until "we stop this dangerous operation" through counseling, adoption and other alternatives.

He also has said he would choose a vice presidential nominee and nominees to the Supreme Court based on their overall qualifications, and would not require that they oppose abortion rights, which angered anti-abortion advocates.


That's what being a maverick is all about. Incoherence. No wonder the press loves him so.

Here's the problem. That little contretemps, along with his overall image as someone who doesn't particularly care for the religious right, has made quite a few people think he's pro-choice. (I don't know what he is, personally, but I don't think it matters. It's quite clear that he doesn't really give a damn about this issue and will, therefore, use it to throw some red meat to the base if he gets elected. He won't use up any maverick chits to stand up for the rights of women, that's for sure.)

As it turns out that is a fairly electorally expensive misunderstanding:

Once balanced information about Obama and McCain's respective positions on choice is introduced, Obama gains 6 points overall, with his lead in battleground states expanding from a net 2 points (47-45 percent) to a net 13 points (53-40 percent).

....Despite the fact that the national focus seems to be on the economy, among pro-choice Independent women, pro-choice Republican women, and liberal to moderate Republican women, the issue of abortion produces a larger advantage for Democrats than the economy, the war in Iraq, or health care. Moreover, among these three groups critiques on McCain's anti-choice position are the strongest attacks against him, trumping attacks on the economy, the war, and special interests.


It seems surprising that this issue should rate higher than the others among Independent and pro-choice Republican women, but if it's true, it should be taken seriously. There are a lot of ways to court swing voters in this country. You can crunch numbers in any number of different directions. (And a lot depends upon how the press decides to frame the electorate for us.) But it would be nice if we could court some swing voters who aren't actively hostile to our fundamental principles for once.

In the past few cycles we've seen the press make it all about a referendum on "values" and religion which they defined exactly as the Republicans wanted them to. The result was that Democratic politicians felt they had to pander to the right. We've seen this even in this campaign which isn't being waged on those terms. Unfortunately, it's the Republican who has successfully blurred the lines --- and he picks up six points because of it (13 in the battlegrounds...)

Considering the zeitgeist around "identity politics" (a pejorative term for which I wish we could find an alternative) this may be the election on which the Democrats should make a point to reach out to those swing voters who aren't socially conservative but who are concerned with things like the constitution, civil liberties, a woman's right to choose etc. They are a far better fit with the Democrats than social conservatives who are always going to have a deep and moral objection to gay and women's rights. (That's pretty much what defines a social conservative, after all.)

John McCain has had it both ways mostly because the boys on the straight talk express want him to be their buddy and so portray him through their own prism. He gets to be whatever he wants to be. But as I said, he may not be a social conservative but neither does he care about social issues at all. That's the meat he'll give these issues to the far right to stay in their good graces if he gets elected.

I hope Obama's team takes a good hard look at these numbers and decides to veer away from the usual blurring of lines on this issue and makes a play for those independent and Republican women instead. It's not only the right thing to do, it's good politics.


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