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THERE HE WENT AGAIN! Senator Straight-Talk has flipped once again. How will the press corps proceed? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2006

THERE HE WENT AGAIN: Senator Straight-Talk seems to have flipped on the subject of abortion—again! In truth, we’re not sure if his latest flip really occurred on Sunday’s This Week, as some liberal sites have suggested. When George Stephanopoulos questioned McCain on the subject, he seemed to know what the great solon’s answer would be. For the record, here’s the exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS (11/19/06): Let me ask one question about abortion, then I want to turn to Iraq. You’re for a constitutional amendment banning abortion with some exceptions for life and rape and incest.

MCCAIN: Rape, incest and the life of the mother, yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So is President Bush, yet that hasn't advanced in the six years he's been in office. What are you going to do to advance a constitutional amendment that President Bush hasn't done?

MCCAIN: I don't think a constitutional amendment is probably going to take place. But I do believe that it's very likely, or possible, that a Supreme Court should—could overturn Roe v Wade, which would then return these decisions to the states, which I support.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you'd be for that?

MCCAIN: Yes, because I'm a federalist. Just as I believe that the issue of gay marriage should be decided by the states. So do I believe that we would be better off by having Roe v Wade returned to the states. And I don't believe the Supreme Court should be legislating in the way that they did on Roe v Wade.
McCain supports a constitutional amendment—and hopes the Court will overturn Roe. But his position didn’t surprise Stephanopoulos—and just this fall, the straight-talking solon had supported South Dakota’s proposed ban on all abortions. But this current position is a clear flip from stands McCain took during Campaign 2000—when, to be fair, he managed to take all possible stands on this subject (link below). For the record, here’s Tim Grieve’s run-down of McCain’s positions on abortion in 1998, 2000 and now. In this post, Think Progress cites a McCain stance from 1999.

Yes, McCain has taken almost every conceivable stand on this subject. The question: How will the press corps regard his continued shape-shifting? Will McCain retain his reputation as the straightest-talking of all known men? Or will the corps add this to the list of his flips—and let it affect their pro-McCain scripts?

As we’ve noted, we think the ground has shifted a bit under the feet of McCain; some press members have begun to mention his endless reversals and flips (see below). But as we watch the mainstream press corps try to process McCain’s latest flip, we might want to recall the way this same cohort hounded and harried Candidate Gore on this same issue. In fact, Gore had always been pro-choice; when he served in the House, he’d opposed federal funding of abortion, but he had always supported a woman’s right to choose. No matter! The press corps beat the bushes hard, trying to prove that Gore had flipped, or that he’d misstated his own past positions. Taking their various scripts from Saint Bradley, they tortured the simplest elements of abortion logic to “prove” that Gore had flipped (link below).

So here’s our question: What standards will the corps now bring to its examination of McCain? For years, they’ve declared that he’s our greatest straight-talker, while beating the bushes in efforts to “prove” that Big Dems are troubling flip-floppers. On abortion, Gore had actually been quite consistent; McCain has been “all over the lot” (see below). But that didn’t affect their scripts back then; the question, of course, is what happens now.

“What can we do about the media issue?” Christy Harden Smith asked in this recent post. Here is one part of our answer: When we critique the media, let’s adopt frameworks that take us back through the misconduct of the past fifteen years. We need to describe what they’ve done to our guys in the past—not just what they’re doing right now.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: McCain was “all over the lot” during Campaign 2000. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/24/00.

During Campaign 2000, Saint Bradley kept saying that Gore had flipped on abortion—and the mainstream press was reciting his copy. The Boston Globe’s coverage was especially gruesome (for example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/4/00). For a later examination of these issues, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/24/00. For a follow-up, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/00. Scroll down to “Good question.”

COULD PROVIDE AN EXCUSE: “Tell me something I don’t know,” Chris Matthews said on The Chris Matthews Show. And Kathleen Parker—she’s from South Carolina—told him a harrowing tale:
MATTHEWS (11/19/06): Welcome back. Kathleen, tell me something I don't know.

PARKER: The nasty push polling in 2000 that was so brutal against McCain is going to be much, much worse in the next round.

MATTHEWS: Against McCain?

PARKER: Much worse.

MATTHEWS: Did you know he has a black child?

PARKER: I'm—it's much, much—it's going to be raunchier and meaner and nastier than that, and I'm not going to say what it is because I hope it's going to go away.

MATTHEWS: How do you know this?

PARKER: I just know.
“I just know,” Parker said—and most likely, she does. Her statement struck us as very bad news. Many pundits will be looking for ways to maintain their preferred Hero Tales RE McCain. It’s getting harder to maintain these scripts because of the senator’s endless reversals. This type of nasty persecution could give them a way to proceed.

ALTERED STATES: Jonathan Alter has always been the straightest shooter among pundits of his class. And uh-oh! Last night, on Countdown, he actually let McCain’s behavior alter traditional scripts:
OLBERMANN (11/20/06): With Rudy Giuliani obviously at his left, Senator McCain seeming intent on fitting into the groove occupied by his former competitor for the party nominations, George W. Bush. Is that a fair assumption at this point?

ALTER: Yes, I think it is. He’s moving to the right. That`s his game plan for sewing up the nomination. But, you know, Keith, we have to figure out what to rename his campaign bus from 2000. It was called the Straight Talk Express. You remember that?

OLBERMANN: Yes.

ALTER: We can’t call it the Gay Talk Express, we can’t call it the Crooked Talk Express. You know, so I don`t know what we should call it. Maybe the Convenient Talk Express, because he`s clearly tacking this way and that in order to reposition himself.

We know that he’s really a moderate on abortion. I remember, I was on the Straight Talk Express in 2000 one day when he was asked by a Boston Globe reporter what he would do if his daughter got pregnant. And he said it would be her decision whether to have an abortion or not. And by the next stop, there was a feeding frenzy, and he had to back off and say, yes, yes, he really is against abortion, and so forth. But we know what his real position is, and it’s, in this age of transparency, where everything is out there, it’s fascinating to watch him reposition himself.

“We know what his real position is?” We’re not sure why Alter said that. (In Campaign 2000, McCain didn’t seem to have a “real position” on a wide range of domestic issues.) But Alter, who is reality-based, has clearly adjusted his view of McCain. Our question: Will others follow suit? Remember: There’s nothing our Big Pundit Class loves more than sticking to memorized scripts.