DAVID IGNATIUS: MCCAIN'S...

DAVID IGNATIUS: MCCAIN'S A MAVERICK BECAUSE I LIKE HIM. A quick point to add to Matt's deft skewering of David Ignatius's column on John McCain. What's amazing is that Ignatius is saying the jury's out on whether McCain will prove in the future to be adequately capable of flip-flopping -- yet in the same column, Ignatius also lists two instances where McCain already flip-flopped. Ignatius writes: "Some people...have a knack for making easy compromises on the road to election, but McCain isn't one of them."

Yet earlier Ignatius had already pointed to two of McCain's "easy compromises": his recent sucking up to Jerry Falwell and his vote to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent "despite his own past warnings about the country's fiscal mess." But these, well, they don't really count because...McCain apparently didn't enjoy doing this. This begs a question. How many times does McCain have to flip-flop or betray stated principles before columnists like Ignatius will stop saying that McCain is averse to future expediency and start pointing out that he actually is being expedient in real time? We'll find out the answer to that question eventually -- or maybe we won't -- but for now, one thing is clear. Columnists like Ignatius are all too happy to conflate a candidate's demeanor with his ideology and substantive record -- and often in a way that works for Republicans and against Dems. Just as Howard Dean, who was in some key ways a centrist, was deemed "radical" partly because of his fiery manner, so is McCain somehow labeled a "moderate" and "maverick" because the press enjoys his regular-guy schtick.

Of course, the straight-talker himself -- now that he needs to tack right for the 2008 primaries -- flatly told Ignatius that his record is "that of a conservative Republican...not a moderate Republican." Despite this, Ignatius marvels, McCain is "beloved by moderates." How can this be? Easy: Because pundits like Ignatius look the other way when McCain tacks to the right, and loudly trumpet his virtues on the occasional "moderate" thing he does. In other words, they let McCain be all things to all people -- and because they like him, they refuse to call it expediency.

--Greg Sargent

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