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Daily Howler: McCain lies because of his sense of honor, Jonathan Chait now proclaims
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HONOR SHILLING! McCain lies because of his sense of honor, Jonathan Chait now proclaims: // link // print // previous // next //

HONOR SHILLING: Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you will then see something like this. We saw it yesterday, offered as the top item on TNR’s web site:

The Lying Game
Why honor prevents John McCain from telling the truth
by Jonathan Chait

Say what? To judge from that teaser, Chait seemed to be saying that McCain has been lying his keister off because of his sense of honor, not in spite of it. And sure enough, that is Chait’s claim—to the extent he can be said to have one.

Men in Black had a great deal to teach us. When has it ever seemed so clear that these fellows don’t come from this earth?

As he starts, Chait spends several pages listing McCain’s many recent lies. Quite literally, Chait asserts that McCain’s degree of lying is without modern precedent. (“McCain's untruths, in their frequency and their audacity, defy any modern historical precedent.”) Chait is puzzled by this, of course, for the predictable reason:

CHAIT (10/8/08): How could McCain—a man widely regarded, not so long ago, as one of the country's most honor-bound politicians, and therefore an unusually honest one—have descended to this ignominious low?

McCain was “widely regarded” as being “unusually honest.” How then, the schoolboy wonders, could he be lying so much?

One possible answer doesn’t enter Chait’s head. It simply doesn’t occur to Chait that the reputation McCain enjoyed (among Chait’s colleagues, of course) may have been undeserved or mistaken. That would mean that Chait and his colleagues had been wrong in a basic assessment—and clearly, that isn’t allowed by the rules. Let’s face it: Getting these robots to relinquish a narrative is like pulling a pit bull from a large leg of lamb. Instead, we quickly reach Chait’s thesis: McCain has been lying his keister off because of his vast sense of honor:

CHAIT (fuller passage): How could McCain—a man widely regarded, not so long ago, as one of the country's most honor-bound politicians, and therefore an unusually honest one—have descended to this ignominious low? Part of the answer is that McCain is simply doing what works—and there is good reason to believe that his campaign's strategy of persistent dishonesty will pay dividends come November 4. But part of the explanation for all this recent dishonesty may lie, oddly enough, in McCain's legendary sense of honor.

As he proceeds, Chait persistently fails to consider the possibility that his original assessment of McCain was just wrong. Instead, we get crap of this nature:

CHAIT: Those of us who have admired McCain are not used to analyzing his actions in purely amoral terms. This is a man with a history of true heroism who takes honor seriously. What happened to him?

As is the way with such stewards of culture, Chait simply asserts that McCain “takes honor seriously.” The fact that he has been lying his ass off—in a way which has no modern precedent—can’t be allowed to call this original, controlling idea into question. Is it possible that “those of us who have admired McCain” simply judged his character wrong? Not in the world of the career liberal press, where a narrative can never be abandoned—where the judgment of the clan can never be said to be wrong:

CHAIT: Any attempt to determine McCain's true motives is necessarily pure speculation. It's possible that McCain has convinced himself to actually believe the lies he has been telling. But here's a more likely explanation: All this dishonesty can be understood not as a betrayal of McCain's sense of honor but, in an odd way, as a fulfillment of it.

Is there a dumber person on earth? If so, will he please raise his flipper?

(By the way: If McCain “actually believes” the things he says, by definition those statements aren’t “lies.”)

Let’s make sure we understand a few parts of our recent history:

Nine years ago, Chait’s press corps began a two-year war against the vilest person on earth. That man now holds the Nobel Peace Prize. To this day, Chait’s colleagues have refused to admit that their judgment of Gore was astoundingly wrong. Al Gore never said he invented the Internet! As people of their type will do, they’ve slowly reversed their iconic claims, without ever telling us why.

During that same period, Chait and his colleagues were staging a public love affair with the great Saint McCain. It was always clear that they were perhaps being played for fools by The Man They Loved—and now, McCain is lying his keister off, in ways which have no precedent. But so what? Even in the face of that new evidence, Chait refuses to rethink the original judgment. He refuses to imagine that he and his colleagues may have just judged this lover wrong.

Men in Black had much to teach us. Does anyone think these puzzling poodles are actually flesh of this earth?

This man is not a journalist: This past week, we reread Chait’s long profile of McCain from January 2000. (Click here, prepare to cringe. Embarrassingly, the piece was headlined, “This Man Is Not a Republican.”) Chait had observed many changes, or apparent changes, in McCain’s political stances; in the process, he convinced himself that The Man They Loved was on an “intellectual odyssey.” Today, of course, McCain has re-adopted almost all the positions he seemed to have dumped at that time. Was it possible that McCain was just playing politics? Was it possible that he just didn’t understand the logic of some of his policy switches? Back in those days, journalists were required, by Hard Pundit Law, to interpret McCain in uplifting ways. Two months earlier, Richard Cohen had played the same card. “Intellectual journey,” he’d said. His headline: “No One Like McCain.”

Special report: An affair to remember!

BE SURE TO READ EACH INSTALLMENT: The press corps conducted a long love affair. Read each thrilling installment:

PART 1: The Man They Loved dispensed straight talk—except, of course, when he didn’t. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/22/08.

PART 2: The Man They Loved was often clueless—about his own proposals. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/23/08.

INTERLUDE: Reporters discussed their illicit affair—right out in the open. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/08.

Today, they complain about his vile ways. But readers, nothing has changed:

PART 3—NOTHING HAS CHANGED: To state the obvious, editors should have pulled the plug on the press corps’ affair with The Man They Loved. Their reporters were riding around on The Man They Loved’s bus—and they were widely discussing their torrid affair, right out in the open. What was happening on that bus—the one they called “The Straight Talk Express?” “Everyone roars. The bus rocks,” Roger Simon wrote in U.S. News (September 1999). “You laugh and laugh,” wrote Richard Cohen, in a February 2000 column. It got worse: “A Happy Warrior is plying the roads of New Hampshire in a big white bus that rings with laughter,” the Post’s David von Drehle wrote in January 2000, as voting in New Hampshire loomed. Meanwhile, reporters described the inane conversations they conducted with The Man They Loved. The favorite tree of The Man They Loved was the cottonwood, they were reporting.

Obviously, editors should have stopped this affair—this gross affront to the national interest. But uh-oh! You see, the editors loved The Man They Loved too; they too thirsted for the thrill of riding around on his bus. “The rolling bull session has become the must-see show of the presidential campaign,” Von Drehle wrote in the Post. “In recent days, senior brass from the Wall Street Journal, ABC News and the New York Times have all scored tickets for the primo seat: an easy chair beside McCain.” Senior brass also laughed with The Man They Loved—even as creepy-crawler “reporters” invented new claims about Candidate Gore. They were savaging Gore—and in love with McCain. These were among the biggest journalistic breakdowns in modern times—and they transpired simultaneously.

What was it like when they rode with The Man? “You’re bound to fall in love,” William Greider wrote in Rolling Stone (October 1999), “and even feel a little protective.” How protective did they feel? A string of reporters announced that they took The Man They Loved “off the record” when he made his assorted weird comments. Obviously, editors should have stopped the nonsense, right there and then, before the lunacy went any farther. But they too crowded their way on the bus. They too had thrown your interests aside. They too wanted to share the joys of life near The Man They Loved.

One or two journalists had the good sense to complain about what was occurring. On C-Span, the late Lars-Erik Nelson (New York Daily News) said he probably wouldn’t ride around on the bus. “I like McCain, and I think what he’s doing is really in a way excellent,” he said. But Nelson said he had misgivings about the press corps’ deportment. Reporters had become “kind of a sounding-board and a chorus and a laugh track for his jokes,” Nelson said. “He shouldn’t be able to try out his lines with us or try out his jokes or make friends—that’s not what we’re there for.” The press were becoming “sort of the cheerleaders” on the bus, Nelson said. “I think that’s wrong. I think we ought to keep our distance.”

Nelson said that—but few others did; they preferred to join the laugh track. And uh-oh! One of the jokes The Man was “trying out” was that dishonest joke about Gore. Today, journalists are very deeply upset by all the lies from The Man They Loved. But back in the day, they simply adored it when The Man They Loved told his lies. On CNN, Candy Crowley played tape of a “staple” in his wonderful “repertoire:”

CROWLEY (1/27/00): The outstanding question for whoever becomes the GOP nominee is whether the sins and omissions of the president will be visited upon a vice-president, who also doesn't mention his boss's name much. He doesn't have to. There's always the impeachment day videotape.

GORE (videotape): The man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents.

CROWLEY: And here is a staple in John McCain's campaign finance reform repertoire.

MCCAIN (videotape): I don't know why anybody wouldn't want to make illegal what Al Gore did, to go a Buddhist monastery and ask those monks and nuns to renounce their vows of poverty and give thousands of dollars, so they could spiritually commune with him. By the way, he said he didn't know where he was. Perhaps the odor of incense and all those folks in saffron robes might have given him a clue.

Surely, the journalists must have known what perfect bull-sh*t that was. By that time, it had been clear for years that Gore didn’t “ask those monks and nuns,” or anyone else at the Hsi Lai temple, to “give him thousands of dollars”—or any money at all, for that matter. Nor had Gore ever said anything that dimly resembled the comical statement The Man They Loved kept recounting. (“He said he didn’t know where he was.”) But so what? These were the jokes of The Man They Loved—and when he told these wonderful jokes, they always got a good laugh from the rubes, who The Man They Loved was deceiving. So The Man They Loved kept telling his jokes—and the journalists kept casting themselves as his big dumb stupid laugh track.

Beyond that, they loved it when he played it rough—when he displayed the rough approach they find so appalling today. In the Post, Edward Walsh quoted one constant refrain:

WALSH (2/5/00): As he keeps the pressure on Bush, McCain is also beginning to pay more attention to Vice President Gore, the most likely Democratic nominee. "I can beat Al Gore like a drum," he said here today. "I eagerly look forward to the combat. The old fighter pilot in me is coming out."

Asked aboard his bus if his no-negative-campaigning pledge extended to the general election if he wins the GOP nomination, McCain paused before answering. "Yes," he finally said, "but if Gore is the nominee it's going to get very, very rough.”

By now, his “no-negative-campaigning pledge” had long been pure bunk (see below), but the press corps kept pretending. In this case, The Man They Loved kept misrepresenting what had occurred at the Buddhist temple—and he kept saying that he was going to “beat Al Gore like a drum.” But so what? It was Gore who was going to play it rough, he told the people who loved him. “Smile, relax, attack. That's his MO,” McCain went on to say, speaking of Gore (as he himself smiled, relaxed and attacked). “If I'm the nominee, we're going to have to be fully prepared. There's going to be blood all over the place.”

The old fighter pilot was getting wound up. This only excited the boys and girls who were locked in their sick love affair.

Today, many journalists are deeply appalled by the gentleman’s rough and tough ways—and by his constant lies, of course, which they find deeply surprising. But they loved it when he played the game so rough in his remarks about Gore. You have to chuckle, looking back, when you see the way they framed his remarks. Peter Marks, in the New York Times, was perhaps most comical:

MARKS (2/18/00): In an upbeat commercial that the McCain forces began broadcasting today, the senator is described as "a Republican like Ronald Reagan who can win," and reserves its [sic] combativeness for the Democrats. "I'm going to beat Al Gore like a drum," Mr. McCain declares.

Truly, you just have to laugh at their puppy-dog ways. I'm going to beat Al Gore like a drum, McCain declared in his “upbeat” commercial! (Full text below.)

Today, they’re troubled by the way The Man They Loved plays the game. But back then, they loved his tough talk and his lies—including his lies about Bush.

Was The Man They Loved telling lies about Bush? In fairness, it’s hard to be sure:

The Man They Loved told them some lies: In fairness, The Man They Loved rarely understood his own policy stands—so it’s always possible that he didn’t understand Bush’s proposals either. But in early January 2000, The Man They Loved began running ads and making claims which were, at best, grossly misleading. (These claims concerned Bush’s proposals for Social Security. Links below.) On January 5, the Bush campaign formally complained—and the press corps began playing dumb. For weeks, they stumbled and fumbled all about, pretending that they didn’t quite understand what Bush was complaining about. This led to the nonsense in South Carolina, where The Man They Loved did tell them lies.

Quick rundown:

When The Man They Loved reached South Carolina, the Bush campaign was running an ad complaining about his misstatements. Needless to say, this affront to his unparalleled decency made The Man They Loved very mad. In response, he began to run an ad which said that Bush "twists the truth like Clinton.” Uh-oh! That comparison made many Republicans mad, and the battle of insults began to cut against The Man They Loved. And so, he did what he typically does—he took dramatic, rash action. With great high-minded fanfare, he announced he was pulling his negative ads—that he would run them no more. On February 12, Howard Kurtz described the high theatrics: “After an internal debate, McCain yesterday made a great show of announcing that he is withdrawing his negative ads in favor of a new spot that recalls how he ‘stood up to his communist captors’ in Vietnam.” In fairness, The Man They Loved didn’t cancel any debates this time—but he “made a great show” of pulling those ads. And, as always, we were back to thrilling tales of his days in Vietnam.

But by now, The Man They Loved was getting angry—and a raft of bungles and misstatements followed. At a debate with Bush and Alan Keyes, he denied that his campaign had been distributing an attack pamphlet—then admitted, immediately after the debate, that his statement was false. Two days later, he admitted the campaign was still distributing the flier, in violation of his pledges—but he came up with an inane explanation for why this was all A-OK. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/22/00. Prepared to be embarrassed.) Soon, he was running anonymous robo-calls in the state of Michigan, attacking Bush as anti-Catholic; when asked if he was behind the calls, he flatly lied, right in the corps’ face. (For a partial treatment, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/25/00 and 3/3/00. His campaign admitted that it had made the calls the morning after the Michigan primary. McCain just kept dissembling.) And of course, he had been staging his immature dramatics about the Confederate flag all through the Palmetto State primary. He flipped and flopped about on the issue, dramatically reading remarks at one point as if his advisers had somehow forced him to do so. McCain was 63 years old at the time that he staged these childish antics.

Two months later, he staged the heroic event in which he returned to South Carolina, then admitted that he had lied about the flag. This just proves how honest he is, The People Who Loved Him now said.

Today, many journalists are shocked—just shocked—to see the lies of The Man They Loved; to see how hard he plays the game; to observe his odd, impulsive conduct; to see his stumbling, fumbling attempts to explain his own policy stands. His policy bungles are sometimes called “senior moments,” although he has always been this way. The lying and negativity are treated as new, although they were always there also. What our pseudo-journalists can’t admit is the most obvious fact in the world: Eight years ago, they were in love with The Man They Loved, and their inexcusable love affair blinded them to his real conduct. Yes, The Man They Loved got crudely attacked in South Carolina, something they’ve never stopped weeping about. But he had been misstating and dissembling his way through the campaign for a good many weeks by that time; he had misstated and lied about both Bush and Gore, and he repeatedly lied to the press corps in South Carolina. But so what? Readers, he was The Man They Loved. And love affairs make people blind.

Today, the affair is over; they complain, with hot anger, about his vile ways. But little has changed in the years that have passed, which leaves us with an obvious question: Why in the world—why on earth—did they stage this affair in the first place?

TOMORROW—PART 4: Why did they stage the long affair which McCain may yet ride to the White House?

Visit our incomparable archives: McCain misrepresented Bush’s position on Social Security for months. At best, his representations were grossly misleading; at worst, they were simply untrue. This led to the ad war in South Carolina. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/00, with links to earlier reports.

Too funny: Here’s the full text of the “upbeat” ad over which Peter Marks gushed:

ANNOUNCER: John McCain. The character to do what's right.

MCCAIN: I'm going to give the government back to you, and I promise you that.

ANNOUNCER: The courage to fight for it. A Republican like Ronald Reagan who can win.

MCCAIN: I'm going to beat Al Gore like a drum. You will always hear the truth from me, no matter what.
ANNOUNCER This Saturday, vote John McCain for president.

“I'm going to beat Al Gore like a drum!” Within the culture of this press corps, it didn’t get much more “upbeat” than that!