John McCain Goes Medieval

March 4th, 2008

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In ancient medicine, doctors used leeches to drain “excess” blood and “balance the humors” of the human body. (The leech actually gets its name from the word for doctor in Old English: læce). These doctors had basically one approach to medicine: if the patient was ill, drain blood. If things were really bad, drain MORE blood.

That, in short, is the modern conservative’s approach to the economy.

No matter what the condition – the booming markets and record surpluses of the Bill Clinton years or the recession and spiraling deficits under Bush – conservatives offer the same prescription: more tax cuts. As these cuts – the leeches of the modern economy – drain lifeblood from the government and the economy, some conservatives cheer. Grover Norquist, the conservatives’ chief læcer, would love to keep slapping on leeches until the federal government bleeds to death. Many of his counterparts in the conservative movement agree.

Now even John McCain is sounding less like a somewhat responsible maverick and more, well, medieval. No surprise there – his campaign’s top economic adviser is none other than Phil Gramm, a fiscal medievalist if ever there was one. His signature tax cut was called Gramm-Leech-Bile for crying out loud.

Ok, it was Leach-Bliley, but you get the point.

Anyway, in an interview last week with the Wall Street Journal, McCain reiterated his new-found love for George W. Bush’s enormous leech application in 2001 and softened only slightly his new pledge never to raise taxes in office.

This was the same John McCain who railed against the $1.35 trillion Bush tax cuts when they passed in 2001.Before joining Lincoln Chafee as the sole Republican no votes, McCain said on the Senate floor: “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 most need tax relief.” McCain also voted against Bush’s 2003 tax cuts because they were too tilted toward the rich.

Well, a good conscience is a fleeting thing when one is pandering to the right. Now, as the New York Times recently noted, McCain talks constantly of making those same cuts permanent, rather than letting expire (as they should) in 2010.

This new admiration for metaphorical economic blood-letting goes hand-in-hand with another McCain pander, this one even more directly medieval: his approval of torture. Last month, McCain urged Bush to veto the Intelligence Authorization bill, which includes a ban on the use of torture by the CIA. The bill would prohibit the use of the same techniques currently barred by the Army Field Manual.

This was a world-historic flip-flop. McCain, of course, was against torture (both as a torturee in Vietnam and as a US Senator) before he was for it (as a pandering presidential candidate). Now he apparently believes that that water-boarding is just fine as long as the Army doesn’t do it. His explanation, as the Boston Globe recorded, was about as clear as black bile humor: “What we need is not to tie the CIA to the Army Field Manual, but rather to have a good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible in the CIA program.”

John McCain has always had a hard time balancing the humors. But as he tacks farther and farther to the right in an attempt to shore up his base, he’s abandoning what is left of his modern views and is looking more and more like a medieval doctor with a jar full of thirsty blood-suckers.