Thursday, May 25, 2006

Some Thoughts on John McCain

If you had asked me two months ago, I would have given you very good odds that John McCain would be the next President of the United States. The evidence supporting my belief at that point was: (1) McCain's support for Bush, whom he is rumored to dislike deeply, during the last election cycle was no doubt bought for the price of using the Bush machine in the next election. This would help him in the race for the Republican nomination that he would have won in a fair fight last time, but for the dirty tricks of Karl Rove, (2) There are so many Democrats who are on record kissing his boots, that no credible campaign could be run against him. Commercials just showing all of the glowing references to McCain by Dems would make any real condemnation of his positions rhetorically useless, and (3) the press LOVES this man and will run nothing but love stories about him. If you thought they were fluffy on Bush, they will be downright slobbery about McCain and this will cause Reagan Democrats to cross the aisle and give him a landslide.

But I'm not so sure after this last couple of weeks. And I'm glad. I don't think that John McCain would make a very good President. I don't think he has the brains or the temperament. But most of all, I don't think he has the character.

The Jean Rohe incident is just the latest. McCain sent his goon squad after Ms. Rohe, who was a speaker before McCain at the New School's commencement ceremony. She changed her remarks and criticized not only McCain's politics, but the fact that he was about to give exactly the same comments he gave days earlier at the closing ceremonies for Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Instead of graciously accepting the criticism and remarking on how it is a strength of our nation to be able to openly express differences and other pointless, but freedom-promoting platitudes, McCain's speech writer Mark Salter was dispatched to assert that Ms. Rohe's comments were "an act of vanity and nothing more" that "made her look like an idiot." And that was the nice part...

This display of a complete lack of class from McCain is part of a pattern, a pattern that provides good reason to believe that he should not be President of the Unites States, a fact that I believe (or at least hope) that swing Dems are starting to wake up to.

The attack on Ms. Rohe was not McCain's first shot at a young woman. At least this one was against a mature, well-educated college graduate who could defend herself and not an adolescent. Remember that at a Senate fund-raiser McCain told the audience this knee-slapper:

You know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly?
Because her father is Janet Reno.

There's class, for you, boy. Disagree with someone's politics, go in front of a bunch of conservatives and call his wife a lesbian and his teenage daughter ugly. And what did Mr. Integrity do when he got caught? Have his press people lie and say it never happened. Then when that falsehood could no longer be maintained, issue an insincere boilerplate political apology.

People make mistakes. Sure. But the fact is that McCain heard this joke, thought is was funny enough to remember and thought that it would be a good idea to tell it at a public event. If he was at a cocktail party and told it to some friends, that would be one thing; but this was a large fundraiser WITH PRESS COVERAGE. The man knew there were reporters there and still thought it was a good idea to call an innocent little girl ugly in a place where the comment very well may be repeated around the globe. We have seen over the last several years what happens when the government is headed by someone who does not have even the most basic diplomatic skills. People can die. This was a slip, yes, but any decent human being would know that it is not appropriate to stand up in a room full of people and reporters and attack a little girl. Any human being with a shread of decency would never have even entertained, much less gone through with such a thing. Character counts and this is a clear window in John McCain's character.

Then, of course, there was the South Carolina primary. Remember that this was high noon. McCain had shocked Bush in Iowa and New Hampshire and was, for all in tents and porpoises, for all the marbles. The Bushies were pushpolling and spreading the rumor that McCain not only had a bastard child, but, gasp, with a black woman. So McCain decided that he need to court the bigot vote and came out with this classic.
"I hate the gooks, and I will hate them for as long as I live . . . and you can quote me."
He proudly insulted Asians and explicitly tried to make sure that his use of the slur would get reported in the press in order to suck up to some of them Carolinian hate-mongers.

Did McCain not really mean to slur Asians as a group and instead express anger at his former captors, as he claims? Maybe. Let's be charitable and accept the explanation. But the fact is that in both of these cases, we see McCain being either (a) willing to say horrible things in order to appease hateful conservatives, or (b) expressing thoughts really in his head and heart because he is a hateful conservative. Either way, I don't like it. Something like (a) gave us George Wallace who after running as a moderate in the primary for Alabama and losing in part for criticizing the Ku Klux Klan, famously declared "I'll never be outniggered again." Clearly, McCain did not intend to be "outgooked" in South Carolina by Rove's dirty tricks and felt absolutely no compunction about rolling around in the slime himself.

We've seen McCain, the supposed maverick and independent, be perfectly willing to bow down before the reactionary right. We've seen him be tastelessless, base, and uncaring. His appearance at Falwell's Liberty University and his disgusting handling of Rohe's comments ought to make very clear that this is not a person who ought to hold the most powerful office in America.

And then, of course, there are his political views. Let's be clear, McCain is not a maverick. He's a mainline conservative. Certainly a bit more moderate than the extreme conservatives in control of the party, but he is not an independent. I'm thrilled that he championed some very corner of what needs to be done in terms of campaign finance reform, but if you look at his voting record, he is a straight line Republican, not some bi-partisan trail blazer.

But you would never know that to read the papers or watch the tele. When I see the way this man is covered, the way the narrative about him is perpetuated, it reminds me of the 2000-year-old man schtick that Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks used to do. At one point the interviewer asks the 2000-year-old man if Robin Hood was real and if he really robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. the response was that he was real and that he stole from everyone and kept everything. When asked how the legend started, the 2000-year-old man replied that he had this guy, Marty, the press agent, who wrote scrolls. Marty is apparently still alive and well and covering the senior Senator from Arizona.