I don't get it. McCain does present a few positions that are not as egregiously anti-progressive as Romney or Huckabee, but overall, he's: a fervently pro-war conservative, who has flipped on abortion, and on religion in government, and even on immigration.
McCain may be best known for the McCain-Feingold Act that Republicans hate, because it purports to be a campaign finance reform act. Notice how well it's working? Almost all the candidates are ignoring public funding and clawing in huge amounts of cash. That's because McCain-Feingold was toothless to begin with.
McCain was beaten silly by Bush, back in 2000, in the South Carolina primary, because he didn't support the overturn of Roe v Wade. Very principled of him! So, now he does support its overturn, or at least makes noises that allow people to think so: so much for "the straight talk express." And he's done a lot of other things to try to placate the religious right, so this time he won in South Carolina.
McCain's economic policy is right out of Bush's playbook: make Bush's highly regressive tax cuts permanent, thereby insuring the further acceleration of inequality of income and opportunity. While he supports the current "stimulus" package, he's mostly outspoken about business tax cuts, and I would bet that he's generally against measures like extending unemployment benefits; they would benefit the poor.
If McCain is elected, he will push for more tax cuts at the top income levels, more business tax cuts (now, touted as the second highest in the world in the current Republican line, as unlikely as that is), and forget about anyone else: trickle down will be everyone else gets.
But here's what I don't get. The vast majority of Americans don't believe "the surge" has made a real difference in Iraq, and almost all Democrats sign on to the idea that the US will have to get out of Iraq. The only difference is on how fast we do this. Clinton wobbles, by not setting a date certain. Obama argues that a date certain is necessary to put the Iraqis on notice: settle your differences now, before the US prop is removed.
But McCain is not for getting out of Iraq at all. In fact he's been famously quoted as saying we might be there "for 100 years." He's insisted he was for the surge from the beginning, and that the surge has made the difference, the corrective to the failed strategy pursued by Rumsfeld. (Reports from the ground, passed on by people like Dahr Jamail, make it clear that all the sweet talk of success is just that, buttressed by shady statistics). McCain also goes on to "straight talk" about the future wars we'll have to wage: "I'm sorry to tell you, my friends, but there are going to be more wars."
A friend, a "moderate" Democrat, has a tendency, due to his long ago days as a SAC bomber pilot, to give credence to most Pentagon information about the war. He argued that McCain would "never" send troops into an unnecessary war, because of his experience as a POW. That's McCain's credibility: his experience as a military man and as a POW "hero." I've already seen some glimmerings of the equivalent of a "swift boat" attack on him--something about betraying his fellow POW's in Hanoi--but, because he satisfies the media establishment, I doubt it will get far. Further, I hope Democrats do not stoop to that.
However, McCain's credibility on practically every issue has been compromised by his (apparently successful) attempt to re-invent himself as a loyal Republican who is also a "straight-talker." If Democrats sincerely want to win in November, McCain's lack of credibility as the "straight-talker" he claims to be, is one issue that will enable that.
Look for McCain to "moderate" his enthusiasm for the war if he wins the nomination, because polls among the general electorate are pretty overwhelmingly against continuing our presence in Iraq for "100 years." McCain will also attempt to moderate his other positions; he's no dummy. What Democrats need to do is to hold him to his positions.
If McCain tries to hold Obama to his, Obama stated last night that he'd willingly debate on "raising taxes," and on getting out of Iraq. I think he would win in a landslide.
Because credibility could be the defining issue, however, Clinton would have a much harder time against McCain; she has waffled and compromised on the Iraq war and on Iran, and she would be associated with her husband, who still arouses the ire of Republicans of all stripes. She is much more likely to mobilize a vote for McCain, especially by those like my friend, the former SAC pilot, who still, despite all odds, think McCain is credible.