Dispatches from the Creation Wars

McCain Rewrites TARP History

John McCain, as close to a changeling as one can find in politics, is stuck trying to project himself as a real conservative again now that he’s got a challenger from the right in his Senate reelection bid. His whole career has been a series of shifts between moderate and reasonable reformer, on the one hand, and hardcore conservative ideologue on the other — depending on which face is politically expedient at the moment.

He was particularly having difficulty in the 2008 campaign, where he tried to be both simultaneously, which is why his campaign was stuck floundering and trying on radically different policies every week to see what might stick and give him some momentum. The most famous moment, of course, was when he “suspended” his campaign to go back to DC and get the TARP bill done.

His challenger in the Senate race, JD Hayworth, is blasting McCain for supporting TARP. So now he has to find a way to explain why he supported TARP but didn’t really support TARP. Here’s his attempt at doing so:

In response to criticism from opponents seeking to defeat him in the Aug. 24 Republican primary, the four-term senator says he was misled by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. McCain said the pair assured him that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program would focus on what was seen as the cause of the financial crisis, the housing meltdown.

“Obviously, that didn’t happen,” McCain said in a meeting Thursday with The Republic’s Editorial Board, recounting his decision-making during the critical initial days of the fiscal crisis. “They decided to stabilize the Wall Street institutions, bail out (insurance giant) AIG, bail out Chrysler, bail out General Motors. . . . What they figured was that if they stabilized Wall Street – I guess it was trickle-down economics – that therefore Main Street would be fine.”

But the AIG bailout was not part of TARP. The AIG bailout took place before TARP was passed. That happened September 15, 2008. And it was, of course, done by the Bush administration. It was a week later, on September 24, that McCain infamously suspended his campaign and more than a week after that suspension that TARP was passed.

But true to political form, after claiming that TARP did all the things he didn’t support instead of what he thought it was going to do that he did support, he still can’t bring himself to say that TARP didn’t work:

But McCain stopped short of calling the TARP a mistake.

“Something had to be done because the world’s financial system was on the verge of collapse,” he said. “Any economist, liberal or conservative, would agree with that. The action they took, I don’t agree with.”

Ah what tangled webs we weave when first we try to make two contradictory claims simultaneously.