The President's Incredible Vanishing Convictions

This week's New Yorker has a fawning profile on McCain, one of those looong cover stories underscoring his deep commitment to honesty, noble way, rugged good looks, and long-lived mother (I'm not kidding). Strangely enough, it also had something very interesting. When McCain ran in 2000, he received Gary Bauer's endorsement. Bauer, of course, is the hardcore Christian who ran for the Republican nomination, and his word carries weight. Now why did McCain get it, rather than committed evangelical George W. Bush?

Apparently Bauer asked both candidates to pledge that their Supreme Court nominees would be pro-life. McCain agreed. Bush said he refused to have a litmus test. Bauer backs up this account, as do friends of McCain.

Huh?

I'd be inclined to dismiss the tale except for the simple fact that McCain did indeed receive Bauer's endorsement, while Robertson and Falwell, modern-day Mammons that they are, went with Bush because of McCain's ardent support of campaign finance reform. This joins a surprisingly large body of accounts attesting to Bush's private courage: the tapes where he repeatedly refused to "kick gays around", the friends who remember his tolerance and distaste for homophobic language in college, and so forth.

So why doesn't Bush exhibit any of this courage publicly? In private, he's willing to disappoint buddies and reject allies on principle. Turn on the cameras, however, and he backs the FMA, appoints a stunningly large variety of crazy, anti-choice judges, and generally demagogues his way forward. Has Bush, indeed, nominated a single pro-choice judge? Even one? And was his pre-election admission that he supports civil rights and disagrees with the party platform a McCain-like attempt to atone for past opportunism?

It's all very weird.

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