McCain Hands Obama a Weapon

After discussing the campaign finance cudgel McCain could use against Obama, I figure it’s worth mentioning the brickbat Obama could now use against McCain: torture.

McCain has been a regular critic of harsh interrogation techniques, insisting in a presidential debate on Nov. 28 that the Army Field Manual, which prohibits the use of force, should be the standard. But yesterday he voted against the Intelligence Authorization Bill that, among other things, would ban torture in CIA interrogations.

If Obama wanted to nail McCain for saying one thing and doing another, he would invoke this vote. McCain’s whole identity rests on his opposition to torture—it’s never too early to start putting holes in that armor.

In fairness, the bill was fixed to put McCain in a bind. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein snuck the anti-torture language into the bill last-minute in what looks like an attempt to drive a wedge between McCain and other Republicans. Plus, President Bush has promised to veto the bill anyway.  

Maybe McCain would have voted for it if he thought his vote would make a difference. But the vote was close—51-45—and he probably didn’t want to risk handing the Democrats a legislative victory. And anyway, a veto by Bush would mean that McCain had expended political capital for no reason.

But that doesn’t stop Obama from raking McCain over the proverbial coals. If McCain wants to chide Obama for declining to take public funds (a decision that is still a ways off) or for his “present” votes in the Illinois state Senate, Obama can always cite the day McCain voted against his own principles.