Principle

Following up on my question to Joe Klein below, there are plenty of John McCains. And Obama’s got to figure out how to respond to this ‘my opponent is the terrorist candidate’ stuff. But that’s his problem. And it’ll be a test of him to see how he responds because there will always be McCain types in the political arena and being able to stand up to them and put them in their place is a test of political canniness and stamina. But the key here is McCain himself.

The truth is that the guy doesn’t actually have any real convictions — or to put it more precisely, no real consistent convictions. That’s evidenced in part by the kind of campaign the guy’s running now. And at least a few of his press admirers are starting to sense that. But where you really see it most clearly is in the policy agenda he embraces.

Genuine political and ideological transformations are pretty rare in contemporary American politics. Two in a row in less than a decade is close to unprecedented. McCain went from conservative Republican, to embracing many core Democratic policy positions and actively discussing a possible party switch, to cycling back and re-embracing the same policies.

What’s gotten the most attention is McCain’s position on taxes — the same Bush tax cuts that he said earlier in the decade “offend[ed] his conscience”, he now says must be made permanent and added on to by another round of tax cuts on the Bush model. This can be reduced down to cheap charges of ‘flip-flopping’ or expediency. But it actually goes a lot deeper than that. McCain is absolutely gung-ho and certain that he’s right about whatever his position and ‘principles’ are at the given moment. But they change repeatedly.

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