It's tough to be John McCain. When a New York Times article weighed the ethical implications of his coziness with a former lobbyist, McCain took it hard. After all, he prides himself on having a strong sense of morals, and such high demands on oneself can be excruciating.
Then again, it's easy to be John McCain. Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine and author of McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, stood behind a podium in the Los Angeles Central Library last Thursday to remind the audience of a couple hundred people (most of whom were Democrats) that when it comes to the media, McCain has had the good life.
Last week, a flood of articles reported that John McCain announced a withdrawal of troops from Iraq by 2013 if he were elected president. Following his Ohio speech, the New York Times headline read "McCain Sees Troops Coming Home by 2013". The Washington Post said "McCain: Iraq War Can Be Won by 2013," and The British Guardian wrote, "McCain unveils plan for US troop withdrawal from Iraq."
But Welch, whose ideology most closely aligns with Libertarians though he does not marry himself to any political party, remarked that the wording of McCain's plan in those articles was misleading. Welch said that having the troops out by 2013 was just a vision McCain shared of his fantasy by the end of his first term and nowhere near an actual prediction or plan of how to implement any real strategy. Meanwhile, Welch said, no one reported on McCain wanting to lead a NATO mission into Sudan, nor did anyone pay much attention to McCain saying he wants to be more belligerent towards China.
Welch said that the press has long regarded John McCain as someone who means well, even if his stance on issues is at odds with that of the editorial board of the news outlet. Welch called McCain the single biggest beneficiary of positive media coverage from the Republican Party in the last twenty years: "No matter how much he flips, no matter how he flops, he's on our team," Welch said of some media outlets' sentiment toward McCain. The feeling of even liberal journalists in the '90s, according to Welch, was that this war hero looks upon the press kindly, probably an impression aided by the fact that McCain famously called the press his "base."
His real base, as Welch pointed out, are independents and conservatives who have recently gotten angry with Bush. The conservative base of the Republican Party remains skeptical, because he is not one of them. But his ease with the media and image of wholesomeness takes him far.
"He needs to keep people believing that his heart is in the right place," Welch said. In his book, Welch describes McCain's original goals in taking public office as wanting to put Vietnam behind us as a nation, but nowadays seems to be one of the politicians most ready to go to war. He was supportive of the bombing of Kosovo in 1999 and called for a policy of "Rogue State Rollback," where he believed the U.S. ought to back insurgents in any place ruled by authoritarian dictatorship. Welch traced this penchant for war to McCain's family history, since his father and grandfather were both in the navy: "McCains have been fighting wars since 2000 B.C. or something - that's what they do." As for his fight for the presidency, if Welch and other outspoken journalists' concerns are valid, perhaps just being McCain will be enough to overshadow any sort of atrocities.