Overlooking reversals, Chicago Trib.'s Page wrote that McCain "wander[ed] away from right-wing positions" on immigration, tax cuts

››› ››› BRIAN FREDERICK

Chicago Tribune editorial board member and syndicated columnist Clarence Page wrote that John McCain "shifted his emphasis on immigration reform to border protection after his earlier emphasis on providing a path to citizenship for illegal workers failed to get through Congress. In other words, he was not flip-flopping on his core beliefs, but he was willing to listen to critics." However, McCain's current stance on immigration represents a reversal of his prior position -- not simply a "shift[] in emphasis": McCain had previously argued that border security could not be disaggregated from other provisions in legislation on comprehensive immigration reform.

In a February 10 column headlined "Get used to it: McCain will do things his way," Chicago Tribune editorial board member and syndicated columnist Clarence Page wrote that "[Republican presidential candidate John] McCain aggravates conservative stalwarts by wandering away from right-wing positions on issues like immigration reform, global warming, campaign-finance rules and President Bush's tax cuts." Page further wrote that McCain "shifted his emphasis on immigration reform to border protection after his earlier emphasis on providing a path to citizenship for illegal workers failed to get through Congress. In other words, he was not flip-flopping on his core beliefs, but he was willing to listen to critics." However, McCain's current stance on immigration represents a reversal of his prior position -- not simply a "shift[] in emphasis," as Page asserted. Indeed, McCain had previously argued that border security could not be disaggregated from other provisions in legislation on comprehensive immigration reform. Page also ignored that McCain has reversed his position on Bush's tax cuts.

Despite McCain's reversals on these issues, Page went on to write: "In the end, McCain appears to be winning by doing things his way and rewriting the conventional rules of his party's politics."

Contrary to Page's characterization of McCain as having "shifted his emphasis on immigration reform," McCain's current support for implementing border security first contradicts his earlier statements. Indeed, in a March 30, 2006, Senate floor statement, McCain said: "While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms." He added: "[A]s long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful." Arguing that "[o]ur reforms need to reflect that reality," McCain said, "We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries -- to the extent they are needed -- to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled."

Additionally, McCain has made inconsistent statements in recent weeks about whether he would support his own immigration bill. During CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate, McCain asserted that he "would not" support his own comprehensive immigration proposal if it came to a vote on the Senate floor, despite having stated on the January 27 edition of Meet the Press that he would sign that very legislation into law if he were elected president and Congress passed it. (McCain added on Meet the Press that the bill "isn't going to come.")

Like Page, a number of other media outlets and media figures have characterized McCain as having changed his "approach" or "emphasis" on immigration reform.

Regarding McCain's record on tax cuts, in May 2001, McCain voted against the final version of Bush's initial $1.35 trillion tax-cut package. In a floor statement explaining his opposition, McCain said that while he supported an earlier version of the bill "that provided more tax relief to middle income Americans," he could not "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 most need tax relief." In 2003, McCain voted against legislation to accelerate the tax reductions enacted in the 2001 bill and to cut dividends and capital-gains taxes. In 2006, however, he 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 had changed his position, 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." McCain has repeatedly claimed during his presidential campaign that he initially opposed the tax cuts because they were not accompanied with offsetting spending cuts, even though he made no mention of spending cuts in his 2001 floor statement.

A press release on McCain's campaign website asserts, "John McCain will make the Bush income and investment tax cuts permanent, keeping income tax rates at their current level."

From Page's February 10 column:

McCain aggravates conservative stalwarts by wandering away from right-wing positions on issues like immigration reform, global warming, campaign-finance rules and President Bush's tax cuts. Although he still gets ratings of 85 percent or better on most core issues from right-wing ratings organizations, if I may paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, he can also be an uppity individual who deigns to think for himself.

[...]

McCain's speech was well-tailored. He apologized for missing last year's convention. He recalled how "I attended my first CPAC conference as the invited guest of Ronald Reagan, not long after I had returned from overseas, when I heard him deliver his 'shining city upon a hill' speech." He acknowledged his disagreements with conservatives in the past, but also how he shifted his emphasis on immigration reform to border protection after his earlier emphasis on providing a path to citizenship for illegal workers failed to get through Congress. In other words, he was not flip-flopping on his core beliefs, but he was willing to listen to critics.

In the end, McCain appears to be winning by doing things his way and rewriting the conventional rules of his party's politics.

From McCain's March 30, 2006, floor statement:

McCAIN: The Border Security provisions under the Leader's bill and the Judiciary Committee's bill provide sound proposals to promote strong enforcement and should be part of any final bill. However, I do not believe the Senate should or will pass an "enforcement only" bill. Our experiences with our current immigration system have proven that outdated or unrealistic laws will never be fully enforceable, regardless of every conceivable border security improvement we make. Despite an increase of border patrol agents from 3,600 to 10,000, despite quintupling the Border Patrol budget, and despite the employment of new technologies and tactics -- all to enforce current immigration laws -- illegal immigration drastically increased during the 1990s.

While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms. We have seen time and again that as long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful.

Our reforms need to reflect that reality, and help us separate economic immigrants from security risks. We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries -- to the extent they are needed -- to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.

Network/Outlet
Chicago Tribune
Person
Clarence Page
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.