Kristof Offers Case Study of Fine Art of Pure Baloney

To write the consummate column of pure baloney it helps to start with a promising lead sentence:

Even for those of us who shudder at many of John McCain’s positions, there is something refreshing about a man who wins so many votes despite a major political shortcoming: he is abysmal at pandering.

By which he means that McCain does not convincingly fling the bull.

Then you build your case, underscoring it with at least one self-reference, and if possible, a mild ethnic stereotype:

It’s a pleasure to see candidates who don’t just throw red meat to the crowds but try to offer vegetarian options.

Consider torture. There was nary a vote in the Republican primary to be gained by opposing the waterboarding of swarthy Muslim men accused of terrorism. But Mr. McCain led the battle against Dick Cheney on torture, even though it cost him donations, votes and endorsements.

Even more than his time as a prisoner in Hanoi, that marked Mr. McCain’s most heroic moment. He risked his political career to protect Muslim terror suspects who constitute the most despised and voiceless people in America.

It helps to have created a mild case of cognitive dissonance in the alert reader, who may be muttering “Yeah but, yeah, but, did Kristof even read the papers this week?” Leave that tension active for seven or eight paragraphs. Then acknowledge that indeed, the newspapers have been read:

It is true that Mr. McCain sometimes weaves and bobs. With the arrival of the primaries, he has moved to the right on social issues and pretended to be more conservative than he is. On Wednesday, for example, he retreated on his brave stand on torture by voting against a bill that would block the C.I.A. from using physical force in interrogations.

[ “Weaves and bobs?” “Using physical force?” Huh??]

On, then, to the big finish:

In short, Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste. That’s preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates… and he is a rare politician with the courage not just to follow the crowd but also to lead it. It is refreshing to see that courage rewarded by voters.

This is some kind of twist if you ask me. McCain weaves and bobs panders this week, alright, with a vote that stomps and spits upon his own excruciating time as a POW in Viet Nam.

Kristof wastes no time in reframing McCain’s vote, perversely using it to lionize him. He does this by using Wednesday’s vote, along with a few other lapses (painful to repeat; read them yourself), to round out and humanize this otherwise stellar man.

This column is a keeper. For analysis — by political communication students for years to come.

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