We’re here to honor Dana Milbank at the Washington Post and Jacob Weisberg at Slate for their contributions to the ruin of the press; Milbank for a heroic bit of Caspar Weinberger revisionism, and Weisberg for planting a big, sloppy wet one on John McCain’s cheeks. And I don’t mean the ones on his face.
Milbank first, writing on the occasion of former Reagan secretary of defense Casper “Cap” Weinberger’s funeral: “[Weinberger eulogists Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld]were, in a sense, remembering a simpler time, before the binary logic of mutually assured destruction gave way to the messy nuances of asymmetrical warfare. When Weinberger ruled the Pentagon, there was an easily defined enemy, and the free world held the United States in high esteem … The two words that sullied Weinberger’s career — “Iran-contra” — got only an oblique mention by Powell, who spoke of “the one moment of his despair.” ”
The “one moment of his despair” was, of course, the moment Weinberger was indicted in connection with Iran-Contra, an affair that arose from the Reagan administration’s embrace of asymmetric warfare as practiced by the dope-smuggling terrorists known as the Contras. Weinberger was the highest-ranking Reagan official to acknowledge participating in the scheme to sell weapons to Iran and divert the profits to the Contras (and just about the only one who didn’t find a job in the current Bush administration). He was indicted for lying to the independent counsel investigating the affair, and pardoned by Bush père before his trial began.
In addition to Iran-Contra, the Reagan-era US sponsored the most spectacularly successful example of asymmetric warfare in modern history, albeit one with some unfortunate unforeseen consequences: the guerilla campaign against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. (For an excellent read on our first adventure in Afghanistan, see Charlie Wilson’s War.) And of course America’s Cold War history is riddled with other examples. Asymmetric warfare in all its various applications was the tactic of choice throughout the period, not just for us but for the Soviet Union as well.
Maybe Milbank is too young to remember how excruciatingly hot we made the Cold War for the people in whose countries we fought it, but he could have looked it up.
Weisberg, in his column on John McCain’s principled pandering to the religious right, meets and exceeds the standard set by Milbank. His position is that McCain, despite a pandering agenda that includes the jaw-dropping decision to break bread with Jerry Falwell, the man McCain once equated to Louis Farrakhan, remains the iron-principled maverick we all know and love. Here’s a sample:
Most liberal commentators take McCain’s love fest with the neo-Calvinists at face value, arguing that he’s finally revealing his true colors. A few months ago, The Nation ran a cover story titled “The Real McCain,” which contended that the Arizona senator is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. To the American Prospect, McCain is Barry Goldwater’s true heir. A couple of weeks ago in the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote, “The bottom line is that Mr. McCain isn’t a moderate; he’s a man of the hard right.”
But the literal-minded left has McCain all wrong. He’s trying to win over enough of his party’s conservative base to win, for sure. But this is a stratagem—the only one, in fact, that gives him a shot at surviving a Republican presidential primary. Discount his repositioning a bit, and McCain looks like the same unconventional character who emerged during the Clinton years: a social progressive, a fiscal conservative, and a military hawk. Should he triumph in the primaries, we can expect this more appealing John McCain to come roaring back. [Links are Wesiberg's, emphasis mine]
Let’s rephrase the bolded section a bit: “Setting aside that McCain has shed his integrity like a snake in a too-small skin, he’s the same principled maverick of old. Gawd, I love him …”
As further evidence that McCain is one hell of a man, Weisberg invokes the McCain stance on abortion:
Democrats alarmed by crossover affection for McCain usually begin by complaining about his down-the-line anti-abortion voting record. But McCain’s smoke signals spell out something different—an unsuccessful attempt to back away from a mandatory position he no longer believes in, if he ever really did. In August 1999, McCain said, “I’d love to see a point where Roe v. Wade is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.” This wasn’t a fluke comment—McCain said the same thing more than once. But his trial balloon was quickly shot down by the theo-cons, prompting him to abandon the experiment. The same thing happened again following McCain’s suggestion that the nutty Republican platform plank on the topic be rewritten, and again after he made the comment that if his daughter—who was 15 at the time—became pregnant, it would be up to her to decide whether to have an abortion. Despite his professions of fidelity, the pro-life lobby knows better than to trust him. Pro-choicers should similarly recognize that McCain is a hostage, not a hostage-taker, on this issue. [Links are Weisberg's]
What Weisberg describes is a man who consistently flirts with principle before sacrificing it on the altar of expediency. You see how this works? It doesn’t matter what McCain does, how he votes or who he sucks up to, but what his smoke signals say he would do if he had his druthers, which as a US Senator, he of course doesn’t. He’s not an unprincipled politician willing to do anything for one last shot at the big time, he’s a hostage.
Weisberg reserves his most sick-making judgement for the end: “If you need to label him, he’s a Teddy Roosevelt progressive—militant, crusading, reformist, and hostile to concentrated power. The Bull Moose has temporarily turned into a performing elephant. But the Moose will be back—around March 2008, if everything goes according to plan.”
“If you need to label him,” because of course he’s beyond labeling; he’s McCain. Sweet Jesus, Jake: wipe your chin.
The short version of this nauseating elegy? “For now, my hero is pandering to the yokels. But as soon as the primaries are over, he’ll lose those cretins and start pandering to his real base: journalists! Lawd, lawd, get me that seat on the Straight Talk Express …” We can expect two more years of this crap, and worse, if McCain runs.