Overlooking shifts and flip-flops, Des Moines Register endorsed McCain for "st[icking] to his beliefs" on tax cuts and immigration

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

The Des Moines Register's endorsement of Sen. John McCain praised him for "taking stands based on principle, not party dogma," citing his positions on immigration reform and President Bush's tax cuts, among others. However, as noted in several reports, McCain has shifted his position on immigration reform and actually reversed his position on the tax cuts.

In a December 15 endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his party's presidential nomination, the Des Moines Register editorial board praised McCain for "taking stands based on principle, not party dogma" and asserted that "[t]ime after time, McCain has stuck to his beliefs in the face of opposition from other elected leaders and the public." As examples, the Register cited McCain's positions on immigration reform and President Bush's tax cuts, among others. However, as several reports have noted, McCain has shifted his position on immigration reform and actually reversed his position on the tax cuts.

The Register wrote:

Time after time, McCain has stuck to his beliefs in the face of opposition from other elected leaders and the public. He has criticized crop and ethanol subsidies during two presidential campaigns in Iowa. He bucked his party and president by opposing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. A year ago, in the face of growing criticism, he staunchly supported President Bush's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq.

In this campaign, he continues to support comprehensive immigration reform -- while watching his poll standings plunge. Some other Republican candidates refuse to acknowledge that climate change is a serious threat caused by human activity. McCain has worked on the issue for seven years and sponsored bills to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

As Media Matters for America noted, a February 27, 2006, Washington Times article reported that McCain said of Bush's 2001 tax-cut package, "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who need tax relief." In 2003, he voted against legislation to accelerate tax reductions enacted in the 2001 bill and to cut dividends and capital-gains taxes. Yet in 2006, McCain voted for the bill extending the 2003 tax cuts. When asked during the April 2, 2006, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press why he changed his mind on Bush's tax cuts, McCain replied: "I do not believe in tax increases. ... The tax cuts are now there, and voting to revoke them would have been to -- not to extend them would have meant a tax increase." Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, reportedly said at the time: "It's a big flip-flop, but I'm happy that he's flopped."

Furthermore, contrary to the Register's suggestion that McCain's position on comprehensive immigration reform is an example of how McCain has "stuck to his beliefs," McCain has shifted his stance, now calling for border security first before the creation of a guest-worker program or a path to citizenship.

A November 4 Associated Press article (retrieved from the Nexis news database) noted that McCain told reporters that he "understand[s] why you would call it a, quote, shift":

John McCain spent months earlier this year arguing that the United States must combine border security efforts with a temporary worker program and an eventual path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.

Now, the Republican presidential candidate emphasizes securing the borders first. The rest, he says, is still needed but will have to come later.

"I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift," McCain told reporters Saturday after voters questioned him on his position during back-to-back appearances in this early voting state. "I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders."

The shift in approach is likely to draw criticism from McCain's GOP opponents. Immigration has been a flash point in the race, with rivals Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson all seizing on it.

McCain, who has led on the issue in the Senate with Democrat Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, got a wake-up call of sorts in June when Congress again failed to enact a broad immigration proposal that he championed and that split the country.

The measure also exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party, and McCain's high-profile support for it hurt him politically. During debate on the issue as spring turned into summer, the Arizona senator saw his poll numbers in some early primary states slip and his fundraising wane.

Early in the year, McCain told Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina voters the country must take a comprehensive approach strengthening the borders as well as creating a temporary worker program and providing millions of illegal immigrants the opportunity to earn citizenship if they meet certain criteria.

Over the past few months, he has stressed border security first and said border-state governors should certify their borders are secure before making other needed immigration changes.

McCain said he listened to what the public was saying when the legislation failed and responded accordingly.

"I said, OK. We'll secure the borders, but after we secure the borders, we'll have a temporary worker program, we'll have to address the 12 million people here illegally, and I think the best way is the proposal that we had," McCain said.

"It's not a switch in position. I support the same solution. But we've got to secure the borders first," he added.

During the December 12 Republican presidential debate in Johnston, Iowa, moderator and Des Moines Register editor Carolyn Washburn referred to McCain's so-called "maverick" status, asking McCain: "Senator McCain, your reputation as a maverick has put you at odds with your own party leadership from time to time. Give us an example of a time you wished you had compromised to get something done instead of holding firm on your ideals." McCain responded: "I cannot think of a time, and I hope that I could never think of a time, because I came to Washington because I had a set of principles and ideals." As Media Matters noted, Washburn's question echoed media figures' frequent description of McCain as a "maverick," despite the various instances in which McCain has fallen in line with the Bush administration or the Republican Party establishment on issues large and small.

Other coverage of endorsements of McCain continued to advance the notion that McCain is a "maverick." On the December 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough assessed the endorsements McCain received from the Register and The Boston Globe, asserting that "both of those papers said in their endorsements, 'Eh, you know, we don't really support all of his positions.' Which, of course, they would say that about every Republican." In response, co-host Mika Brzezinski stated: "But the fact that he sticks to his guns, I think, is what people really like about him." Scarborough echoed Brzezinski's comment, repeating: "Yeah, but the fact that he sticks to his guns." In addition, as Media Matters noted, during the December 17 edition of MSNBC Live, anchor Tamron Hall said of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): "[H]e's been called, certainly, a maverick, but can he now be called the new comeback kid?" Hall then returned to the "maverick" label, asserting that "McCain now has the support from another maverick in his bid for president," referring to Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) endorsement of McCain.

From the December 15 Des Moines Register editorial, headlined "Republican endorsement editorial: Why McCain":

The one-time playboy emerged from prison a changed, more serious man. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 and the Senate in 1986, he has built an unconventional political career by taking stands based on principle, not party dogma, and frequently pursuing bipartisanship.

His first term was touched by scandal when the Senate rebuked him for meeting with savings-and-loan regulators on behalf of campaign donor Charles Keating Jr., who was later imprisoned. That ordeal steered him into championing government transparency and battling alongside Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold for the campaign-finance-reform bill that bears their names.

Time after time, McCain has stuck to his beliefs in the face of opposition from other elected leaders and the public. He has criticized crop and ethanol subsidies during two presidential campaigns in Iowa. He bucked his party and president by opposing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. A year ago, in the face of growing criticism, he staunchly supported President Bush's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq.

In this campaign, he continues to support comprehensive immigration reform -- while watching his poll standings plunge. Some other Republican candidates refuse to acknowledge that climate change is a serious threat caused by human activity. McCain has worked on the issue for seven years and sponsored bills to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

McCain would enter the White House with deep knowledge of national-security and foreign-policy issues. He knows war, something we believe would make him reluctant to start one. He's also a fierce defender of civil liberties. As a survivor of torture, he has stood resolutely against it. He pledges to start rebuilding America's image abroad by closing the Guantanamo prison and beginning judicial proceedings for detainees.

McCain has his flaws, too, of course. He can be hot-tempered, a trait that's not helpful in conducting diplomacy. At 71, his age is a concern. The editorial board disagrees with him on a host of issues, especially his opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage. McCain foresees a "long, hard and difficult" deployment of troops in Iraq. The Register's board has called for withdrawal as soon as it's safely possible.

But with McCain, Americans would know what they're getting. He doesn't parse words. And on tough calls, he usually lands on the side of goodness -- of compassion for illegal immigrants, of concern for the environment for future generations.

From the December 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

SCARBOROUGH: And Pat Buchanan said, in effect, The Des Moines Register took a pass on the --

WILLIE GEIST (contributor): Yes.

SCARBOROUGH: -- Republican side because he said that he couldn't win. But it's very interesting that John McCain got the endorsement from The Des Moines Register, got the endorsement from The Boston Globe, but both of those papers said in their endorsements, "Eh, you know, we don't really support all of his positions." Which, of course, they would say that about every Republican.

BRZEZINSKI: But the fact he sticks to his guns --

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, but the fact that he sticks to his guns --

BRZEZINSKI: -- I think is what people really like about him.

Posted In
Economy, Taxes, Elections, Immigration, Immigration Reform
Network/Outlet
Des Moines Register
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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