McCain's Shifting Target

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Sen. John McCain knows about delivering ordnance on target: after all, the Arizona Republican piloted a Navy A-4 over North Vietnam (and was shot down and imprisoned for his efforts). That’s what has got Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid upset about McCain’s ever-changing coordinates when it comes what he wants to happen before he’ll vote to lift the Pentagon’s ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military.

McCain in Afghanistan last month / DoD photo

His position has drifted off-target since he conceded he was ready for the move in 2006. “The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it,” he told an audience at Iowa State University four years ago.

But when Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs said in February it was time to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” McCain slapped his jet into reverse. “At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” he said.

McCain has elaborated in recent days, first as a statistician and then as an economist. “I am troubled by the fact that this report only represents the input of 28 percent of the force who received the questionnaire,” he said last Thursday of the Pentagon survey that found 70 percent of troops don’t care if gays are allowed to serve openly. “That is only 6 percent of the force at large.” On Friday, McCain blamed the nation’s flagging economy for his opposition. “I will not agree to have this bill go forward, and neither will, I believe, that 41 of my colleagues will either, because our economy is in the tank.”

Reid is perplexed. “I have no idea what he’s talking about,” the Nevadan said Saturday, “and no one else does either.”