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Pander Bare

As someone who has, at times, succumbed to the cross-party appeal of Senator John McCain, I'm nonetheless astonished at the number of otherwise intelligent journalists who seem not to have noticed that he has radically reinvented himself since the heretical years of 2000-2003.

Take Nick Kristof, who in a column in Sunday's Times entitled "The World's Worst Panderer" argues that "Mr. McCain’s orneriness toward Republican primary voters makes him a lionheart in the political world." The first three bits of evidence for this thesis are as follows:

1) "Mr. McCain led the battle against Dick Cheney on torture, even though it cost him donations, votes and endorsements." Kristof considers this "Mr. McCain’s most heroic moment." Eight paragraphs later, though, he's forced to confess that last week McCain "retreated on his brave stand on torture by voting against a bill that would block the C.I.A. from using physical force in interrogations." Some hero.

2) Then on to immigration, where Kristof writes that "While other Republican candidates revved up the mobs by debating how high a limb is optimal for hanging illegal immigrants, [McCain] patiently explained that it’s a complex problem with unsatisfying solutions, including creation of a path to citizenship for illegals." It seems to have escaped Kristof's notice that here, too, McCain has caved to the right, announcing that he "got the message" from those very same revved-up mobs and declaring that if his own immigration bill came up for a vote in the Senate he "would not" vote for it.

3) Third, Kristof notes McCain's longtime denunciations of ethanol, before adding, "This year he claimed that he liked ethanol after all, but he was so manifestly insincere and incompetent in this pandering that the episode was less contemptible than amusing."

To recap: Three examples of supposed political bravery, all of them since recanted. And Kristof doesn't even mention McCain's many other dramatic ideological reversals, including the most transparently political of all, his flip-flop on the Bush tax cuts. If incompetence and insincerity are really all it takes to get a pass on pandering, why isn't Kristof writing a testimonial to the political courage of Mitt Romney?

--Christopher Orr