Of course, people have legitimate reasons to be concerned about each candidate. Though the smears directed at Senator Obama have been decidedly more vitriolic, Senator McCain has had to deal with media distortions of his own. Here, three of the more prominently purveyed untruths are cleared up.
Distortion No. 1: McCain has flip-flopped on Iraq
While there have been accusations against McCain that he has cynically and dramatically changed positions on a number of issues, the most important charge thrown at the man is that he has reversed his philosophy on Iraq. All other charges of "flip-flopping" will be subsequently addressed, but the issue of an Iraq flip-flop is most pressing because it is most patently false. The notion of McCain "flip-flopping" on Iraq is a pervasive one, and by my counts, there are two variations of the charge: 1) he flip-flopped on the surge, supporting it to shore up his Bush-era conservative credentials and 2) he has flip-flopped on his 2004 statements about withdrawing by invitation.
Many people are not aware (or are aware, but choose to forget) that McCain was one of the first and leading proponents of the surge. Senator John Edwards even disparagingly accused the surge of being part of the "McCain Doctrine". Moreover, McCain's support for an increase in troops came long before even the inchoate stages of the surge's policy plans. For example, in 2005, returning from a trip to Iraq, McCain stated in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute that "securing ever increasing parts of Iraq and preventing the emergence of new terrorist safe havens will require more troops and money. It will take time, probably years, and mean more American casualties. Those are terrible prices to pay. But with the stakes so high, I believe we must choose the strategy with the best chance of success." He was also one of the first among Republicans to criticize Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the war and the "light footprint" strategy as being inadequate for the war's success.
Distortion No. 2: McCain is a moderate turned conservative
As is the case with most bi-partisan love affairs, fans across the aisle usually try to project what they want to see onto the person receiving the admiration. As Jeffrey Weisenberg, in a 2006 Slate article noted, "John McCain, whom everyone expects to run for president in 2008, is pandering to the Republican base in a way that is politically shrewd but disappointing to his non-conservative admirers." The problem with this prevalent characterization of McCain is that it again succumbs to the unfortunate reductionist techniques used by pundits and syndicated columnists in today's media. First, given how variegated conservatism is, it's nearly impossible to find a position McCain holds that isn't conservative in some way. But even if one takes the Reagan-era coalition of social conservatism, free market libertarianism, and foreign policy jingoism as a frame of reference, McCain proves that there's nothing moderate about him. For one, he as a NARAL-Pro Choice rating of zero from the years 1999 to 2007, enough to discredit any association with social progressivism. He has long been a staunch defender of free trade, supporting the Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2005 and presidential fast-track authority, among other pieces of legislation. Yes, McCain has had his apostasies from the party, voting against the Bush tax cuts and torture. But there is nothing written in conservatism that mandates one to be a supply-sider on economics and an authoritarian on national security.
Distortion No. 3: McCain means a third term of Bush
While McCain is every bit as conservative as the next Republican, he is markedly different from Bush. DNC chairman Howard Dean himself stated while listening to a McCain address that he "heard more of the same Republican policies that George Bush has brought us for the last eight years." But some similarities aside (after all, they are from the same party), a McCain presidency could actually be called the antithesis of the Bush administration. In contrast to the GOP-machine's K-street antics and reckless spending, McCain is famous for his bromides against fiscal waste. He has vowed to "veto every single pork barrel bill that comes across my desk, and make them famous (the authors of the bill)." And whereas Bush was unwilling to take on the agricultural lobby, McCain has openly stated that he is against agricultural subsidies for corn-based ethanol. Moreover, his record against the more authoritarian side of the Bush administration "" from Guantanamo Bay to suspension of the Cloture rule "" is by now familiar to most political observers.
There are fair reservations to be held about each candidate's record, but media scrutiny rarely provides analysis, instead the networks opt to use their most precious tool: repetition. The language of our times reflects this. When people complain that the media is giving one candidate a "pass"- on an issue, they really mean the media hasn't repeated it ad nauseam with little or no analysis.