Saturday, May 20, 2006


Joe Klein Ignores His Own Past Writings on John McCain

I know, I know, the last thing you want to hear is more criticism of Joe Klein. But this is a good one. As I've said before, top pundits like Klein are constructing an Official Narrative around John McCain which roughly runs as follows: Whenever McCain panders or ducks politically-difficult questions, it simply doesn't count, because, well, he's likeable, and besides, deep down McCain doesn't enjoy being political or pandering, and only does it because he has to, so we can all agree to ignore it.

Over at The Daily Howler, Bob Somerby has unearthed a wonderful example of this. He offers the following quote from Klein's new book, Politics Lost, about McCain during the 2000 Presidential campaign:
This was a candidate without fear, speaking in the plainest possible language. I never saw him duck a question, and his best responses had a startling clarity. Asked about health-care reform, for example, he said: “The problem is the Democrats are in the pocket of the trial lawyers and we Republicans are in the pocket of the insurance companies. And so there is gridlock, and there will continue to be, until we get the special-interest influence out of politics.” (Emphasis added.)

Guess what? Back when Klein was observing McCain in real time, he wasn't anywhere near as charitable. In a profile he wrote in 2000 for The New Yorker, Klein had the following to say about McCain's approach to health care:
Health care isn’t easy, but McCain is running for president. He had just released, with no small fanfare, a “plan,” but it was almost laughably sketchy—with no real answers for the forty-four million people without health insurance, many of whom work at low-wage jobs. (Even the accompanying fact sheet was filled with errors.) (Emphasis added.)

Now we're told in retrospect that McCain "never" ducked a question and answered all them with "startling clarity." At the time, though, Klein thought McCain was "laughably sketchy" on health care and didn't offer any "real answers." What changed? I think the answer is that in those six years, Klein evolved from a reporter to a pundit. And the pundits are constructing an official McCain narrative -- McCain as apolitical hero -- that has no room for actual facts, in this case including ones that were once observed by none other than the pundit himself.

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