McCain has been able to get away with showing up just in time to shoot the politically wounded for years now.
He made sure to denounce attacks on Sen. John Kerry’s war record in the 2004 presidential election after those attacks had done most of their political damage, but pundits still cite that denunciation as evidence of McCain’s charming “maverick” tendencies. His criticism of the war effort has, for the most part, come after the fact, not before, when it could have had some effect. McCain may say now, as he did last August, that “it grieves me so much that we have not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.”
But as the war began, McCain was agreeing publicly with Vice President Dick Cheney that U.S. troops would be greeted with joy by Iraqis. “There’s no doubt in my mind,” McCain told his slavish admirer Chris Matthews, “that we will prevail and there’s no doubt in my mind, once these people are gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators.”
But the most damning evidence of McCain’s opportunistic hypocrisy has come on an issue on which many colleagues looked to him for guidance: torture. A victim of cruel treatment while held prisoner by the North Vietnamese almost four decades ago, McCain famously pushed through a law in 2005 that prohibited inhumane treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, over the Bush administration’s objections.
But when Bush amended that law himself in a “signing statement,” abrogating responsibility for deciding how and when torture would be used after all, what did we hear from McCain? Only silence. He did not speak up about the president’s essential override of the will of Congress until running for president this past February.