John McCain’s Olympic-Class Flip-Flopping

olympic-torch.gifby Tom Hall —

As we approach the start of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, it might be interesting to consider some of the political gymnastics going on here at home.

Of course, George Bush is heading up the Republican flip-flop team. But how to score his recent policy gymnastics is exposing wide differences, depending on the judges’ point of view.

Bush’s decision to ratify the Chinese government’s brutality against the people of Tibet has been scored high as a policy flip by judges who can remember when Republicans campaigned against “brutally repressive, totalitarian, commie regimes.” These judges think that Bush’s open embrace of the butchers of Tiananmen Square is on a par with Nixon’s decision to open diplomatic relations with the Chi-Coms back in 1971.

But Nixon’s move was a calculated manoeuver in a global power struggle with the Soviet Union. Bush is going to China simply in search of the public attention and press coverage which has abandoned him now that adults are campaigning for president. Nixon’s action caused a shift in the balance of power. He began a process which put China on the road to modernization and extraordinary (not all good) economic changes. He moved Russia toward negotiation and a reduction of confrontation, without Reagan’s tsunami of funding for Star-Wars contractors.

Does anyone imagine that there is any Republican active today who even understands, let alone believes in Nixon style diplomacy? Does anyone imagine that George Bush even understands what Nixon did?

China was brought into the United Nations in October 1971, over the strident, braying opposition of Nixon’s U.N. Ambassador, Bush-41. Is Bush-43’s embrace of the butchers of Beijing another of his petulant, adolescent efforts to show that, as in Iraq, he can out-do Daddy?

Where Nixon’s visit to China changed the balance of power in the world, Bush’s doesn’t even seem to have changed the balance in the Bush family.

Or maybe George felt a wave of empathy with the Chinese leaders after the Sichuan earthquake. News reports disclosed that thousands or tens of thousands of the dead were crushed by collapsing buildings that had been built to unsafe standards by builders who were given lucrative contracts by government leaders they had paid off.

Perhaps George feels Chinese leaders will understand how ‘unfair’ it is for Americans to complain about the many U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq wearing defective body armor or riding in unarmored Humvees, supplied on no-bid contracts by loyal party contributors. At least in China, George can enjoy the Chinese freedom from probing press and insensitive inquisitors. And freedom is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

So maybe George’s flippant decision to go to China isn’t a medal-caliber flip-flop. What about co-captain of the Republican political gymnastics team – John “the Mav” McCain?

Every athlete needs a nickname. “Maverick” carries the aura of the Wild West, James Garner good looks, rugged individualism, and independent thought. McCain wants to ride the “Mav” nickname to the White House. But does it match up with his political gymnastics?

It appears that McCain wants to offset the banality of George’s contribution by undertaking a more challenging and dramatic gymnastic display. His campaign has now developed a triple-reverse, with a twist. McCain’s stunt will be to perform a triple policy reversal. To get extra “degree-of-difficulty” points, each of the three policies reversals will be in the sensitive field of military affairs.

The first reverse is on education for servicemen. As a child and young adult, McCain never paid for education. As the son of an admiral, he enjoyed taxpayer schooling at every level, right through the Naval Academy. His (tax-funded) education in military history and his experience in the Vietnam War led him to support government programs to reward our fighting men and women with educational support once they left the service. He knew that the G.I. Bill paid huge dividends for our society by producing scientists, skilled businessmen, and even educators.

But now that his loyalty is to corporate decision-makers, McCain has rejected the concept of the G.I. Bill and of rewarding our troops for hard and dangerous work. In his first display, McCain executes a perfect flip from social policy which rewards sacrifice and benefits the nation to business policy which benefits corporate short term profits.

In his second military policy reversal, McCain flips on medical care for injured troops. McCain was seriously injured and then savagely treated in Vietnam. He spent months in treatment when he was released from captivity. He spent years getting medical and psychological rehab, all paid for by a grateful government.

But now McCain supports the Bush policy of cutting back on medical care for injured veterans. True, Faux News and other party voices claim that there are no “cuts,” but only “holding-the-line” on medical care budgets. But the numbers tell the real story. If the budget was put in place to treat 100,000 injured vets, but war policies increase the number to 200,000 injured, then there is only half as much money to treat each injured vet. That’s a cut and McCain supports it.

His third reversal deals with war contractor corruption. As a senator, claiming to speak for true military needs, McCain helped kill what he called boondoggle projects for wasteful, useless new military hardware. He railed against throwing money at defense contractors simply in the name of military spending.

But the Olympic scale policy gymnastics needed to scoop up corporate campaign support have led McCain to support the most egregious contractor corruption. Boeing Aircraft isn’t willing to compete for contracts on product quality. So, a couple of top Boeing executives have been sent to prison for bribing Pentagon officials to get aircraft contracts. What they did was inflate the charges for Boeing products, and then spread some of that money around to payoff procurement officials who greased the approval of the inflated contracts.

In the week after July 4th, while much of America was still reflecting on the heroics that built this nation, John McCain said the treatment Boeing got was “shameful”. Yes, John McCain now thinks that it’s “shameful” that our nation would prosecute, convict, and jail top executives for bribing Pentagon contract officials. The reversal from his past condemnation of fraud and corruption is breathtaking in its audacity and smoothness of execution.

Some Olympic judges might downgrade McCain’s gymnastic contortions, saying that his triple-reverse on military issues is no different from his abandonment of immigration reform or his earlier criticism of evangelical bigotry. But immigration reform and criticism of the religious right were easily abandoned positions originally taken for political expedience.

tom_hall_2.jpgMcCain’s father and grandfather were admirals. He went to the Naval Academy and belonged to a long history of military tradition and honor. So his abandonment of safety for troops in the field, and of medical care for the wounded, and of education benefits for those who serve are truly flips of epic, medal-worthy proportion. In his quest for the seat of power, he has utterly abandoned what he once stood for.

This is the mark of classic tragedy – ambition that undoes a man’s honor. MacBeth killed his king to gain the throne. McCain killed his own principles in the same quest. Surely these policy flips should be enough to earn McCain an Olympic medal in political gymnastics.

by Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a family law attorney. He is originally from Boston, where he grew up in the Cambridge Friends Meeting (Quakers), thinking that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people to participate in highly disciplined nonviolent demonstrations (real disciplined nonviolence is just plain maddening to police forces who count on demonstrators giving them reason to get ‘messy’ during public demonstrations). After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make himself a comfortable life. The Bush administration has shocked him back into social concerns. Tom can be reached at

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