When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) angrily disagrees with President Obama, it’s about as common as the sunrise. But when McCain reject his own views from a few years ago, something more important is happening.
Yesterday, for example, McCain issued a joint press statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), offering a rather predictable condemnation.
“We agree with President Obama that he is writing new chapters in American foreign policy. Unfortunately, today’s chapter, like the others before it, is one of America and the values we stand for in retreat and decline. It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world. Is it any wonder that under President Obama’s watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized?”
To be sure, the rhetoric is stale and tiresome. Almost all of this, practically word for word, has been a staple of McCain press releases for six years. The point is hardly subtle: when it comes to foreign policy and international affairs, whatever President Obama supports, John McCain opposes, whether it makes sense or not.
That’s not the interesting part. Rather, what McCain neglected to mention yesterday is the fact that he used to support the very changes the Obama White House announced yesterday.
In May 2008, the Arizona Republican was his party’s presidential nominee, and he traveled to Miami to endorse the same U.S. policy towards Cuba that’s been in place since 1960. The Wall Street Journal ran this report at the time, noting the degree to which McCain had “evolved” on the issue.
Sen. McCain’s stance on Cuba appears to have evolved since the 2000 presidential primaries, when he faced Mr. Bush, then the Texas governor. At the time, Mr. Bush played to the Cuban-American exile community and Mr. McCain acted the moderate, recalling his role in normalizing relations between the U.S. and Vietnam and saying the U.S. could lay out a similar road map with the regime.
What’s more, as long-time readers may recall, the Miami Herald reported in 1999 that McCain was the only Republican presidential candidate that cycle who believed “there could be room for negotiation on the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.”
A year later, McCain told CNN, “I’m not in favor of sticking my finger in the eye of Fidel Castro. In fact, I would favor a road map towards normalization of relations such as we presented to the Vietnamese and led to a normalization of relations between our two countries.”
Going back further, to 1994, McCain opposed cutting off remittances because it punished people “whose misfortune it is to live in tyranny.”
In other words, what McCain used to believe is largely the opposite of what McCain said yesterday. One can only speculate as to why the senator shifted – perhaps McCain reflexively opposes everything Obama supports, maybe he’s moved much further to the right in recent years, perhaps it’s a little of both – but the previous versions of the senator probably would have been quite impressed with the president’s announcement yesterday.