The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
Listening to John McCain's acceptance speech last night, I found myself asking the question that others have been asking me for the past year: Who is John McCain really?
Is he the McCain of 2000-2003, who blasted both wasteful government spending and the unaffordable Bush tax cuts? Or the McCain of 2008, who not only wants to extend President Bush's tax cuts but expand them without coming close to paying for this largess? Is he the supporter of limiting offshore oil drilling and requiring tradable credits for carbon-based fuels--which would sharply raise the price of oil and gasoline? Or is he the new darling of the "drill baby drill" crowd?
Is he the candidate of change that he claimed to be last night, or the candidate of the Bush status quo? Is he the maverick (a word we heard endlessly this week), or just another member of the GOP establishment who occasionally strays from orthodoxy on issues such as campaign finance reform?
His speech last night showed all of those conflicts and contradictions. He mentioned Barack Obama (at least three times) more often than George Bush (not at all). He said, "Change is coming" and even "We need to change the way government does almost everything."
Yet, his laundry list of campaign promises was as bland a recitation of GOP orthodoxy as one could possibly imagine. Every Republican candidate from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to Bob Dole to Bush pere and fils made the same promises. So did McCain's opponents in this year's primaries. If you focused on what he said he'd do, rather than who he is, it is hard to escape the idea that a McCain Administration would be an extension of the Bush years.
"I will keep taxes low and cut them when I can…I will open new markets….I will cut government spending…." He promised more nuclear power, market-based health care for the uninsured, and school choice.
After turning loose the GOP attack dogs on Wednesday, he even offered to reach out across the aisle for bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems. Sounded a bit like George Bush in 2000, who promised to change the tone in Washington. The only striking difference: McCain eschewed the tried-and-true culture wars of the past few decades.
In some ways, McCain is the mirror image of Obama who, despite his clarion cries for change, is running on a platform that is built largely on traditional Democratic dogma.
I cannot count the number of people who have said to me in the past months that they would happily vote for the McCain of 2000 but don't know what to make of the McCain of 2008. This week may have solidified McCain's support within the GOP base, but it didn't do much to convince swing voters that the real McCain is the man they so admired eight years ago.
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