MCCAIN AND WAR. I loved this line from Michael Kinsley on John McCain: He "has a unique genius for telling the truth from his heart and making people believe that he is lying. And these people are his supporters! They admire him as a straight-talking truth�teller, and they forgive him for taking positions on big issues that they find repellent on the grounds that he doesn't really mean what he says." I do think, though, that Kinsley actually misses part of the dynamic here. He writes that lots of folks are eager to excuse McCain's misdeeds on the grounds that, "Oh, he has to say that to get the Republican nomination," where "'That' might refer to McCain's strong right-to-life stand on abortion, or his strong support for the war in Iraq, or his recent rapprochement with Jerry Falwell."

On abortion and Falwell, that's correct. But with regard to the war, I think it's wrong. Many Democrat-favoring journalists forgive McCain's views of foreign policy because they agree with McCain's views on foreign policy. McCainiacs have gotten a little cagey about this point since the constituency for their views has dwindled to about seventeen people, but if you look up the classic works of left-wing McCainism from the heady days of 2002, it was pretty clear. Here's Jon Chait making the case:

Yes, a couple Democrats--mostly old cranks like Robert Byrd and Hollings--have worried about an open-ended conflict; but others--such as Lieberman--have staked out terrain to Bush's right. The general mood among Democrats in Washington is to lay low on foreign affairs and to confront Bush in the domestic arena. Not only does this mean that McCain's hawkishness would pose little barrier to his nomination; it also presents him with an opportunity to determine what kind of Democratic foreign policy will emerge in the wake of the war on terror. And here McCain has a chance to shape the future of American politics--which, like all things historical, can be highly contingent. After all, if Franklin Roosevelt hadn't replaced Henry Wallace with Harry Truman as his vice president, the Democratic Party would not have built its policy of containment in the two decades after World War II. In the post-post Vietnam era now beginning, McCain could redefine the Democratic Party once again as the champion of Wilsonian interventionism.

McCain's uber-hawk views, in other words, are supposed to be a feature, not a bug. Similarly, Josh Green explained that "McCain's strength on national security could also be an advantage in Democratic primaries. Since September 11, even liberals have become more hawkish and desire a leader with command of the issue." And, of course, I certainly do desire a leader with command of the national security issue. Personally, I wouldn't define "command of the issue" as equivalent to "wants to invade lots of countries," but that's the view, and one that�s an integral element of the case for McCain, such as it is. The cultural conservatism is being glossed over, but the warmongering is embraced.

--Matthew Yglesias

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