Boston Globe's Canellos claimed McCain has a "nonideological voting record" -- but not according to McCain

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The Boston Globe's Peter S. Canellos reported that Sen. John McCain's "opposition to Bush on a range of issues, combined with his nonideological voting record, gives him an image of moderation." In fact, McCain himself has stated, "My record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative," and has said that he will "offer Americans ... a clearly conservative approach to governing." Furthermore, academic studies of McCain's voting record have ranked him among the most conservative members of the Senate.

In a March 25 Boston Globe article, Globe Washington bureau chief Peter S. Canellos reported that Sen. John McCain's "opposition to [President] Bush on a range of issues, combined with his nonideological voting record, gives him an image of moderation." In fact, contrary to Canellos' claim that McCain has a "nonideological voting record," in a February 7 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, McCain stated, "My record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative." He also said in the speech: "If I am so fortunate as to be the Republican nominee for president, I will offer Americans, in what will be a very challenging and spirited contest, a clearly conservative approach to governing." Furthermore, studies of McCain's voting record have ranked him among the most conservative members of the Senate during the current and the two previous Congresses.

Canellos did not provide further evidence of McCain's "opposition to Bush on a range of issues." Indeed, Canellos noted that "McCain was a strong backer of President Bush's decision to go to war." In Bush's March 5 endorsement of him, McCain said of Bush, "All I can say is that on the fundamentals and the principles of our Republican Party and most of the specifics of our shared conservative philosophy, President Bush and I are in agreement." Several media outlets have reported on McCain's opposition to Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, without noting that McCain has reversed his position and now supports making the tax cuts permanent.

The studies, by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis, ranked McCain the Senate's eighth-most conservative member during the 110th Congress, the second-most conservative senator during the 109th Congress, and the fourth-most conservative senator in the 108th Congress. The studies were based on the Poole-Rosenthal ratings system, developed by Poole and political science professor Howard Rosenthal and known as NOMINATE, which has become widely used among political scientists. The system uses every non-unanimous vote cast by every legislator to determine his or her relative ideology. Notwithstanding his record and his self-characterization as a "conservative," Media Matters for America has identified numerous references in the media to McCain as a "moderate."

In addition, Canellos reported: "These are good days for John McCain. He's been visiting overseas hot spots while his Democratic opponents have been creating hot spots of their own." Quoting pollster Karlyn Bowman of the "conservative-leaning" American Enterprise Institute, Canellos wrote: " 'It's biography' that's driving McCain's Iraq support more than his positions, she said. 'McCain has a lot of experience in this area.' " But at no point did Canellos note that during his recent trip, McCain repeatedly claimed during a March 18 press conference in Amman, Jordan, that Iran is training Al Qaeda -- a claim McCain later admitted was false. Washington Post reporters Cameron W. Barr and Michael D. Shear wrote that the claim "threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists."

From McCain's February 7 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

I am proud to be a conservative, and I make that claim because I share with you that most basic of conservative principles: that liberty is a right conferred by our Creator, not by governments, and that the proper object of justice and the rule of law in our country is not to aggregate power to the state but to protect the liberty and property of its citizens. And like you, I understand, as Edmund Burke observed, that "whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither ... is safe."

While I have long worked to help grow a public majority of support for Republican candidates and principles, I have also always believed, like you, in the wisdom of Ronald Reagan, who warned in an address to this conference in 1975, that "a political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency or simply to swell its numbers."

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. I was still a naval officer then, but his words inspired and helped form my own political views, just as Ronald Reagan's defense of America's cause in Vietnam and his evident concern for American prisoners of war in that conflict inspired and were a great comfort to those of us who, in my friend Jerry Denton's words, had the honor of serving "our country under difficult circumstances." I am proud, very proud, to have come to public office as a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution. And if a few of my positions have raised your concern that I have forgotten my political heritage, I want to assure you that I have not, and I am as proud of that association today as I was then. My record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative. I believe today, as I believed twenty-five years ago, in small government; fiscal discipline; low taxes; a strong defense, judges who enforce, and not make, our laws; the social values that are the true source of our strength; and, generally, the steadfast defense of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which I have defended my entire career as God-given to the born and unborn.

Those are my beliefs, and you need not examine only my past votes and speeches to assure yourselves that they are my genuine convictions.

[...]

All I ask of any American, conservative, moderate, independent, or enlightened Democrat, is to judge my record as a whole, and accept that I am not in the habit of making promises to my country that I do not intend to keep. I hope I have proven that in my life even to my critics. Then vote for or against me based on that record, my qualifications for the office, and the direction where I plainly state I intend to lead our country. If I am so fortunate as to be the Republican nominee for President, I will offer Americans, in what will be a very challenging and spirited contest, a clearly conservative approach to governing. I will make my case to voters, no matter what state they reside in, in the same way. I will not obscure my positions from voters who I fear might not share them. I will stand on my convictions, my conservative convictions, and trust in the good sense of the voters, and in my confidence that conservative principles still appeal to a majority of Americans, Republicans, Independents and Reagan Democrats.

From the March 25 Globe article:

These are good days for John McCain. He's been visiting overseas hot spots while his Democratic opponents have been creating hot spots of their own. And it is therefore unsurprising to see McCain inching ahead of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in some polls.

Still, people in both Democratic campaigns remain confident that McCain will become vulnerable once the Democrats begin campaigning against him. This is especially true, they feel, on the Iraq war. Democrats are deeply confident that voters will continue to side with the Democrats' plans for a phased withdrawal of troops over the Republicans' - and McCain's - more open-ended commitment.

But as the fifth anniversary of the war passed last week, the challenges for the Democrats loomed larger and support for McCain seemed more durable.

Recent national polls have shown voters choosing McCain by large margins over Clinton and Obama as the candidate most capable of handling the war. A recent Gallup poll showed McCain favored on Iraq over Clinton and Obama by identical 54-to-40 margins. A Los Angeles Times poll had McCain over Clinton on the war by 51 to 35, and Obama by 47 to34.

Democrats view those numbers with suspicion, noting that McCain's views on Iraq are more hawkish than the public realizes, since they haven't been much in the news. And pollster Karlyn Bowman of the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute tends to agree.

"It's biography" that's driving McCain's Iraq support more than his positions, she said. "McCain has a lot of experience in this area."

[...]

But while the public is holding Bush accountable, not much blame is rubbing off on McCain. That could change, especially when Democrats note that McCain is still very hawkish on Iraq, recently suggesting that US troops could stay in Iraq for 100 years if necessary.

The public, however, clearly does not consider McCain an extremist. His opposition to Bush on a range of issues, combined with his nonideological voting record, gives him an image of moderation. His strong stance against torture and his frequent acknowledgement of the pain of war makes him seem judicious.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
Boston Globe
Person
Peter S. Canellos
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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