Tuesday, February 20, 2007

FINGERS IN THE WIND

By William Fisher

We all know why our public servants are held in such low esteem: earmarks, bribery, corruption, obfuscation, et cetera.

But there is another practice just as cynical, just as toxic, and just as widespread.

It’s called pandering. And it’s not only practiced – but widely accepted as “professional politics” – by office-seekers and their campaign staffs -- and apparently by voters.

Pandering is particularly useful in primary contests as a means of telling the voters exactly what the latest polling tells you they want to hear. Never mind what a candidate said last week or last year. Never mind principles. Never mind that when the campaign is over, we won’t have the foggiest idea of what a candidate actually believes.

Obama is moving to the left. Hillary is triangulating. Giuliani and Romney are moving to the right on social issues. McCain is moving to the center. And so forth.

On Wolf Blitzer’s CNN “Strategy Session,” guests like conservative Bay Buchanan and liberal Donna Brazile accept these left and right movements as what candidates are supposed to do. Ditto for Chris Matthews “Hardball” with political pillars like onetime presidential wanabee Pat Buchanan and master strategist Bob Shrum.

So it’s not like voters don’t know about these sudden shifts. But, more often than not, they apparently prefer to believe not that the candidate is pandering, but that he or she has experienced some miraculous epiphany.

The most recent epiphany belongs to Senator John McCain, whose “Straight Talk Express” ran off the rails this week, as he wiggled his way from moderate right to hard right to please Falwell evangelicals and conservative primary voters in South Carolina.

In 1999, McCain said overturning Roe v. Wade would be dangerous for women and he would not support it, even in “the long term.” He told the San Francisco Chronicle:

I’d love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.

But that was then and now is primary season for presidential hopefuls.

This week, McCain was interviewed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulis and expressed his unequivocal support for overturning Roe v. Wade.

Here’s part of the transcript:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask one question about abortion...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 the 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 return to the states. And I don’t believe the Supreme Court should be legislating in the way that they did on Roe v. Wade.

The straight talk senator did another one-eighty on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

When Rumsfeld resigned in November, McCain said, “"While Secretary Rumsfeld and I have had our differences, he deserves Americans' respect and gratitude for his many years of public service."

But in speaking to a conservative South Carolina audience on Monday, McCain scrupulously wiggled out of laying any blame at the feet of President Bush by saying, “The war in Iraq had been mismanaged for years and…Rumsfeld will be remembered as one of the worst in history.”

He added, “We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously." Never mind whom the Secretary of Defense works for!

The saddest part of this tale is that many voters will believe the flip-flops of candidates like John McCain.

We should never expect consistency from human beings – we are blessed with brains to be able to rethink issues and change our minds. But not to rewrite history.

It has to be just a tad suspect that an oncoming primary can result in so many epiphanies.