Do I Contradict Myself? Very Well Then I Contradict Myself.

Do I Contradict Myself? Very Well Then I Contradict Myself.

Here’s a peculiar piece from the NYT:

“At the presidential debate in Nashville last Tuesday, Senator John McCain made his case for fiscally conservative, smaller government, calling for an “across the board” spending freeze and denouncing what he described as Senator Barack Obama’s “government will do this and government will do that” approach to health care.

But Mr. McCain’s big proposal that night was to spend $300 billion in taxpayer money to buy bad mortgages from banks and refinance them, a plan conservatives quickly condemned as an expensive effort to nationalize the mortgage industry.

The juxtaposition of a hands-off approach to governing with an embrace of intervention — though intervention at a moment of national crisis — was hardly unusual for Mr. McCain. Throughout his run for the presidency, he has often proposed policies that appear to be incompatible with one another, if not contradictory.

His foreign policy, for example, calls for ostracizing Russia for its undemocratic ways by expelling it from the Group of 8 industrialized powers, a hard-line position that he took long before Russia’s war with Georgia this summer. But Mr. McCain also calls for fostering closer ties with Russia to negotiate a new nuclear disarmament agreement.

Mr. McCain’s economic policy centers on extending President Bush’s deficit-swelling tax cuts and on cutting even more corporate taxes. But at the same time, Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, has vowed to balance the federal budget by the end of his term, a pledge he has reiterated even with the fiscal crisis threatening to throw the budget even deeper into the red. (…)

Supporters of Mr. McCain cite his varying positions as evidence of his call-it-like-you-see-it independence from dogma and maintain that it shows the kind of pragmatism and flexibility that has allowed him to reach across the aisle in the Senate to forge compromises on thorny issues like campaign finance reform and immigration.

But Mr. McCain’s detractors see his contradictory proposals as a cynical effort to be all things to all people and as evidence that policy proposals often seem to take a back seat in his campaign to less tangible things like biography and character.”

The Times makes this all sound very Whitmanesque:

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

But it’s nothing of the kind. It has nothing to do with independence from dogma, pragmatism, or flexibility. That might be a good description if McCain were proposing to be a fiscal hawk in one area while increasing spending in another. But he’s not. In the last debate, he said: “We obviously have to stop this spending spree that’s going on in Washington.” And then, a few lines later, he proposed spending $300 billion to buy up bad mortgages. And he’s still promising to balance the budget by the end of his first term, while enacting massive tax cuts. Likewise, he is not proposing to kick one country out of the G8 while trying to foster closer ties with another. He is proposing that we adopt both those policies towards Russia.

If I decide to be kind to one person and cruel to another, or to save money on some things but spend in another, that might (or might not) be evidence of pragmatism. But if I decide to be both kind and cruel to the same person, or to spend and save the same money, that’s not pragmatism or “call-it-like-you-see-it independence from dogma”. It’s just incoherence.

Likewise with McCain’s policy positions: there is no such thing as a policy that gratuitously insults Russia while fostering closer ties with it, or that stops the spending spree in Washington and balances the budget while enacting huge new tax cuts and spending programs. To think there is is not a sign of refreshing independence. It’s just confusion.

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