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McCain Switches Sides in the Class War

September 5, 2010

In perhaps the greatest comic moment of the 2010 campaign to date, John McCain last month complained, "I know how popular it is for the Eastern press to paint me as having changed positions. That's not true." Of course, his flip-flops are now so numerous that he long ago earned nicknames like "Jukebox John" and "McCain 5.0."
But on no issue has McCain's reversal been more gymnastic - and pathetic - than on the Bush tax cuts. Nine years after he claimed he could not " in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us," McCain insisted Sunday that failure to make that giveaway for the wealthy permanent constituted "class warfare."
That declaration by the man who both always and never considered himself a maverick came on Fox News Sunday. Asked about Democratic opposition to Republican demands for another $700 billion, 10-year windfall for the top 2% of taxpayers, McCain told Chris Wallace that meant war:

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that because the Democrats are talking, and this is all reportedly at this point about framing it this way; let's end the tax cuts for the wealthy and use that $35 billion instead to have targeted tax cuts for small business that does most of the hiring and for lower income employees. Would you support that?
MCCAIN: Well let's get into the old class warfare again. Let's get the rich. Just extend the tax cuts then let's talk about the payroll tax holiday, which for small businesses is... which is something we have fought for a long period of time and pay for it out of the unused stimulus funds or cut other spending.

Sadly, for a fleeting moment beginning back in 2001, John McCain was on the other side in the class war.
The Bush tax cuts he once labeled unfair to the middle class and fiscally irresponsible should now be made permanent. As the laissez-faire fanatics at the Club for Growth detailed (and later scrubbed from their web site), McCain is proof that evolution is reversing when it comes to the Bush tax gambit. In June 2001, McCain proclaimed his opposition to Round 1 of President Bush's treasury-financed redistribution of wealth. As the Los Angeles Times documented in 2007:

McCain criticized the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.
"I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who need tax relief," he said in 2001. He called the tax cut "too tilted" to the rich, a charge he repeated in 2003.
Those comments, as well as McCain's votes, angered conservatives. The Club for Growth called it "class-warfare-laced opposition."

By late 2007, however, that message sounded more like Karl Marx than Ronald Reagan, so candidate John McCain needed a different rationale for GOP primary voters. Asked by the National Review's Rich Lowry on Fox News if he thought it had been a mistake to vote against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, McCain claimed in the name of fiscal discipline he would do it all again:

"No, because I had significant tax cuts, and there was restraint of spending included in my proposal. I saw no restraint in spending. We presided over the greatest increase in the size of government since the Great Society. Spending went completely out of control. It's still out of control. Wasteful earmark spending is a disgrace, and it caused us to alienate our Republican base."

Of course, the spending cuts never came from the Bush White House or the Republican Congress. But with a presidential bid in the offing, McCain decided the third time was a charm. As Tim Russert noted on January 6th, McCain not only voted for the budget busting tax cuts the third time around, but now believes they should be made permanent:

SEN. McCAIN: ...unless we cut spending then, then we are going to end up in a - the serious situation we're in today. I will cut spending. And I will continue to support making the tax cuts permanent, which I've voted already twice.
MR. RUSSERT: But you voted the third time for the tax cuts, but there weren't spending cuts.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. No, but I thought that we ought to keep the tax cuts permanent because if we had increased taxes, which that would have had the effect of, if I had voted in the other way...

In his book, The Big Con, Jonathan Chait summarized John McCain's conversion from supply-side apostate to tax-cutting zealot. In 2000, Jack Kemp proclaimed of McCain's 2001 opposition to the Bush tax cuts, "John McCain, who's a friend of mine, has done a - has made a huge mistake." By 2006, McCain had drunk the Koolade and signed on supply-side godfather Arthur Laffer to his economic team. By 2007, he mouthed the party line, "tax cuts, starting with Kennedy, as we all know, increase revenues."
As it turns out, John McCain wasn't content to join the new Republican alchemists who pretend they can turn bulls**t into gold when it comes to taxes. On Sunday, the born-again gilded class crusader also called for a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. Of course, that's a far cry from the 2008 McCain plan, one which would have produced red ink as far as the eye can see.
McCain's proposed budget-busting largesse to the wealthiest Americans would have made Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush blush. As ThinkProgress meticulously detailed in March 2008, McCain has "thrown budgetary caution to the wind:"

Our analysis suggests that the McCain plan shares five key characteristics of Bush policies. First, it is enormously expensive, costing more than $2 trillion over the next decade and essentially doubling the Bush tax cuts. Second, the McCain plan would predominantly benefit the most fortunate taxpayers, offering two new massive tax cuts for corporations and delivering 58 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. The Bush tax cuts provide 31 percent of their benefits to the top 1 percent of taxpayers.

Given McCain's Treasury-draining program, it's no wonder his chief economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin acknowledged, "I would like the next president not to talk about deficit reduction."
Of course, John McCain was for a lot of things before he was against them and visa versa. Immigration, overturning Roe v. Wade, detainee torture and even the religious right are just a few of the areas where John McCain's tortured turnabouts left him tied in knots. Foreshadowing his whining last month about the eastern press (a media establishment he famously hosted at his Sedona ranch in 2007), John McCain in October 2008 declared:

"You'll have to tell me what's changed. I love it when they say, 'Oh McCain has changed.' And I say, 'What have I changed on?' They can't name a single issue or they'll name an issue and it's false. I'm the same guy."

Sadly, no. Now, the one-time champion of the middle class is John McCain the $100 million man, just another foot-soldier for the only side that is fighting - and winning - the class war.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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