Mike Scherer, career asshat, has a lengthy post up on TIME.com lamenting that the currently Republican averse political environment will prevent us from knowing what sort of decision Barack Obama would make when confronted with choosing his career or image. Scherer arrives at this conclusion by absolving McCain of any wrongdoing in stoking the Ayers bonfire because after all, John McCain has always been a politician.
For years, McCain was well-served by his ironic approach, his regular nods to the stupidity and dishonesty of the political debate. It was sincere to the extent that it furthered his ambition and confirmed his own sense of his ability to do good. At some point this year, however, I think he decided that he faced a choice. He could either stick with the old approach and lose, or he could switch to a new approach and have a real chance of winning. He chose the latter. This does not change who McCain is. Through both iterations, he was a politician in the classic sense: a fiercely ambitious man totally convinced of his own ability to do good.
Even if we disregard the idiocy of the statement, “It was sincere to the extent that it furthered his ambition and confirmed his own sense of his ability to do good,” this still wouldn’t be the whole story. That is, McCain’s transmogrification wasn’t isolated to political tactics, it also involved reversal on a number of high profile issues (to name a few: Guantanamo Bay, torture, tax cuts, his own immigration bill, energy policy, etc.).
Now, I’ll concede some validity to the argument that Obama’s “transcendent” politics have been much closer to politics as usual than initially billed, but Obama’s primary message has always been “change” and there’s simply no denying that an Obama presidency would mark a dramatic shift in policy.
The fact is that John McCain’s primary political appeal was that of a truth telling, ideologically independent, man of great personal honor and dedication to his country. Through continued deceit, an endless list of flip-flops, and his selection of the manifestly unqualified Sarah Palin as his Vice President, John McCain has undercut literally every facet of his political identity to a comical order. Meanwhile — and in defense of Michael Scherer, failure to draw distinctions of degree does appear to be a journalistic malady of a general persuasion — to suggest that Obama’s rejection of town-hall meetings and public financing is even remotely comparable to John McCain’s descent from Washington iconoclast to Karl Rove acolyte is well, just quite daft enough for Michael Scherer to do.