Military culture, pragmatism shape McCain
John McCain's military experience and Senate record show a presidential candidate who values integrity and getting things done.
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As the presidential campaign has progressed, the list of issues where McCain has veered from his maverick position has grown, providing ammunition for Democrats who say he's no straight-talker. In February, he sided with the president when he opposed a bill that would have required the Central Intelligence Agency to follow the Army Field Manual's rules for interrogating prisoners, which prohibit torture. Human rights advocates say McCain betrayed his usual outspoken opposition to torture, but the senator argues that he voted no because he believes interrogators' options should be kept open – a stand that blurs his usually bright line against torture.Skip to next paragraph
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A recent study by the Arizona Republic newspaper found that, since 1999, in cases where McCain cast the deciding Senate vote, he almost always sided with his party. But after 21 years in the Senate, McCain is best known for teaming up with Democrats on high-profile issues that anger conservatives. On campaign finance, he and Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin began working together 13 years ago and, in 2002, produced the most significant reform in a generation, banning unlimited donations to the parties and limiting issue ads.
On immigration, he has teamed up with liberal icon Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts during the past few years and proposed legislation that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and a new guest worker program. McCain's unorthodox position nearly sank his presidential hopes, and since last summer, he has generally stuck to the party line, emphasizing border security first.
On climate change, McCain has worked with independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, but has failed to pass legislation. On the campaign trail, McCain has made climate change one of his top issues – a clear pitch to the political center and a swipe at Bush, who opposes mandatory limits – but in the larger arena of environmental issues, McCain's voting record is mixed.
In fact, on any given day, on many issues, it can be difficult to predict how McCain will vote.
"McCain is more conservative than most people think," says William Dixon, a political scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. But, he adds, "I honestly don't think McCain has an ideology that is coherent.... He has a grab bag of issue positions that he adopts because, in many cases, he thinks it's the right thing to do, but in others, it's a question of what will advance [his] interests at the moment."
Not that there's anything wrong with that, Mr. Dixon notes. Advancing one's interests is standard behavior among politicians. But McCain is aiming higher, trying to maintain the image of the maverick truth-teller he has carved out for himself. In a way, he has put himself on a pedestal, almost inviting the press and his political adversaries to show the ways in which he is just another politician. And, in a twist that has political observers salivating, McCain's likely opponent in November, Obama, faces the same challenge.
McCain has caught flak for how he has used his wealthy wife's corporate jet for campaign travel. Some critics have also taken issue with his claims of integrity, given his acknowledged infidelity while still married to his first wife.