Technology with attitude

“A centrist by conviction rather than by design”

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That’s what John B. Judis, writing in The New Republic, thinks John McCain is.

His political philosophy places him closer to Theodore Roosevelt than to his other idols, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan: more noblesse oblige than libertarian populism or business conservatism. He says he favors “a minimum of government regulation in our lives,” but what really matters is whether a policy or business practice is in the national interest. If it isn’t, he’ll use the power of the government to change it. Goldwater would not have voted for a bill tightening controls over the tobacco industry, and Reagan would have balked at curbing pollution. McCain has backed both. [ … ]

His commitment to bipartisanship is real–he worked with Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform, Ted Kennedy on immigration reform, and Joe Lieberman on global warming–as is his relish for battling his own party’s leaders. [ … ]

McCain has one other attribute that separates him from many of his peers in Washington: He is willing to change his mind. This may be his most admirable quality; yet it is also frequently overlooked, probably because it seems to contradict McCain’s reputation for stubbornness, even nastiness–a reputation his right-wing opponents are all too happy to speculate about. [ … ] Yet the most distinctive aspect of McCain’s temperament is not his anger; rather, it is his penchant for reconsidering both old enmities and old convictions.

Merely another journalist seduced? Is this the same McCain one of my commenters, and some Arizonans I know, call “tetched”? Who knows a pol better than his own constituents in his home state? Or does familiarity breed a sometimes unjust contempt? I have to admit, that Arizona opinion worries me. I vividly remember the people of Georgia warning us about Jimmy Carter, and did we listen?

But has any man ever had quite so contradictory a reputation? Hot or cold, love him or hate him seems to be the rule with McCain. At least he can’t be accused of that lukewarmness that is so many centrists’ damning faint praise.

Judis goes on to the point of his article: that McCain has changed his mind about American military power, becoming much more of an activist and interventionist than he used to be:

Nowhere has McCain’s willingness to question his own previous assumptions been more dramatic than on foreign policy. When he first arrived in Washington, he was essentially a realist, arguing that U.S. military power should only be used to protect vital national interests. Since the late ’90s, however, he has joined forces with neoconservatives to support a crusade aimed at overthrowing hostile and undemocratic regimes–by force, if necessary–and installing in their place democratic, pro-American governments. [ … ]

And therein lies my McCain dilemma–and, perhaps, yours. If, like me, you believe that the war in Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster, then you are likely disturbed by McCain’s early and continuing support for it–indeed, he advocates sending more troops to that strife-torn land . . .

Exactly what endears him to some of us centrists to Judis’s right — those who feel that a loss in Iraq, however courted by the Bush administration’s folly, is strategically and morally unaffordable.

So, I’m confused. Who is the real John McCain? Nutjob or warrior-statesman?