Maverick to Candidate: Evolution of the New John McCain

John McCain, meet John McCain.

It is one of the most astonishing transformations of a political figure in recent history -- GOP presidential candidate John McCain is abandoning old positions and adopting new ones with both an impressive tactical nimbleness and a blithe disregard for his long legislative and political record. Imagine Ronald Reagan suddenly adopting a soak-the-rich stance or Bill Clinton becoming a protectionist, and you've got some idea of the campaign conversion of John McCain.

The old McCain was a champion of financial deregulation, playing a key role in the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that strictly limited what banks, investment banks and mortgage lenders could and could not do.

John McCain

The Arizona senator enthusiastically supported the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which further dismantled the old regulatory structure. And he backed the 2000 move by his former colleague -- and key economic adviser -- former Sen. Phil Gram to prohibit federal agencies from regulating the financial derivative markets, which went completely haywire and are now in total crisis, dragging the world's financial system into chaos.

But that was then. This is now. And the new McCain is now promising voters a re-regulatory frenzy. He's not very specific -- though he does pledge to limit somehow the compensation of corporate CEOs, an idea he's backed in the past -- but he sure is vehement.

McCain addressed voters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today, telling them, "The regulators were asleep, my friends. They were not working for you. The primary regulator of Wall Street is the Security and Exchange Commission, we call the SEC, kept in place trading rules that let speculators and hedge funds turn our markets into a casino."

McCain also pledged today to fire the SEC commissioner, even though under federal law, the president does not have the authority to fire him because he is the head of an independent agency.

The McCain campaign told ABC News today that while the president does not have the formal power to fire the chairman of the SEC, the president could pressure SEC chair Chris Cox for his resignation.

Economic, Environmental Evolution

The old McCain was a traditional fiscal conservative, seeking to rein in federal spending and cautious on the budgetary impact of big tax cuts. The old McCain denounced President Bush's tax cuts in 2001, saying they were skewed to benefit the wealthiest Americans.

That was then. This is now. The new John McCain now wants to extend the Bush tax cuts, and add to them. He ignores the predictions of the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office that the extension of the Bush tax cuts (and adjusting the alternative minimum tax, as McCain supports) would have a direct cost of $3.7 trillion over the next 10 years (fiscal year 2009 through 2018), according to Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office estimates.

The math is merciless; these cuts would add billions to the already ballooning federal deficit. And while McCain still rails against spending, his campaign promises -- on health care, military spending and other areas -- don't add up (neither do Barack Obama's, of course).

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