Flip-Flopping John McCain Is No Political Profile in Courage

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And yet, occasionally during the meeting, McCain lauds the America of Lady Liberty.

"Every group of immigrants that has come to this country has grasped the bottom rung," he states at one point, "the least attractive jobs and the hardest work, and then they have moved up the ladder. That's what America's all about."

McCain's current immigration stance is a far cry from the McCain of 2010. Locked in a death-match GOP primary with anti-immigrant talk-show host J.D. Hayworth, he embraced nativist rhetoric, Arizona Senate Bill 1070, and Fox News pinup boy Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

In 2010, immigration reform would have to wait until the border was secure, 'til the building of the "danged fence," as he famously stated in an oft-run campaign ad.

His sprint to the far right worked. McCain outflanked Hayworth, besting him 57 percent to 32 percent.

McCain had been for immigration reform in 2005, 2006, and 2007. During the 2008 presidential primary, he backtracked: Border security became his goal. After that, he would discuss immigration reform. Maybe.

In 2010, he doubled down on nativism, becoming, for the moment, a Tea Party wannabe.

Now he's done yet another 180, praising the tired, poor, huddled masses — to a degree, of course.

As a result, McCain and the Gang of Eight have won plaudits from reformers on the left and from the establishment press, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, the latter hailing the gang's efforts as part of a new "Immigration Spring" in America.

And McCain's new BFF, President Barack Obama, seems content to let him quarterback legislation on a problem Obama has promised to solve since his 2008 campaign (against McCain).

But as with numerous other issues, our senior senator's current position on immigration is steeped in self-serving hypocrisy, the hallmark of his career. A Machiavellian warrior, McCain's spent his entire time in public life as a political gyroscope, twisting whichever ways necessary to assure electoral victory, media praise, and, now, a legislative legacy worthy of a "maverick."

John McCain hates it when he's confronted about his inconsistencies on immigration — or, it seems, on any other subject.

At the town hall in the senior citizen mecca of Sun Lakes, McCain takes it on the chin for his new immigration bill — and on his break with the McCain of 2010.

Attendees suggest cutting off illegal immigrants' "welfare" (even though the undocumented cannot get welfare) and offer that "guns" are the only thing that stops migrants from crossing the border.

One particularly memorable exchange hit home.

"You said, 'Build the dang fence,'" an angry man yells at McCain, referencing the infamous 2010 commercial with Paul Babeu. "Where's the fence?!"

"In case you missed it, I showed you," McCain replies, pointing to a diagram behind him.

"That's not a fence!" the man shoots back.

"That's not a fence?" asks McCain, who moves to sarcasm. "It's a banana. We're putting up a banana with about $600 million worth of appropriations."

McCain appeals to the crowd's compassion and common sense, reminding members that America is a "Judeo-Christian nation."

"There are 11 million people living here illegally," McCain states. "We're not going to get enough buses to deport them."

True, but that's not the song McCain sang in 2010, the one that got him elected to his fifth senatorial term.

At the time, McCain was all about his 10-point border-security plan, which he co-authored with Jon Kyl, Arizona's junior U.S. senator at the time.

In it, the issue of illegal immigrants already in the United States wasn't addressed. Rather, the plan called for 3,000 National Guard troops on the border, 3,000 more Customs and Border Patrol Agents, the addition of drones and other military technology, the expansion of Operation Streamline (which hits border-crossers with criminal penalties), and the completion of 700 miles of border fence.

Anti-immigrant hardliner Babeu gave the plan his imprimatur. In that notorious campaign ad, Babeu walks alongside McCain on the border near Nogales, Arizona, telling the grizzled politician, "Senator, you're one of us."

This, following McCain's "complete the danged fence" line.

Statistically, crime was down in Arizona, even on the border. But McCain, Babeu, and other anti-immigration opportunists gave the impression that Arizona was awash in criminality because of undocumented migrants.

"Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder," McCain says at the beginning of the ad.

"We're outmanned," Babeu responds. "With all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona."

Ironically, less than two years later, Babeu's attempt at a run for U.S. Congress was kneecapped by a scandal wherein the sheriff's contentious homosexual affair with a Mexican national was brought to light by New Times' Monica Alonzo (see "Babeu Revealed," Special Reports).

Seems Babeu's ex-lover was in the country on an expired visa, and Babeu had employed him to work on some of the sheriff's campaign websites.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons