In The News
McCain’s dark side a gift to Democrats
Go to our Take Action page for a McCain video and slide show on NAFTA
A version of this commentary appears in the March Labor Press
By Dominique Paul Noth
Labor Press Editor
Democrats got a welcome gift on the road to the White House – Sen. John McCain’s mouth.
That’s proved something of a surprise, since everyone concedes that the GOP – after inexplicable agony – wound up choosing the only grown-up in their pack.
McCain is almost the epitome of the old conservative movement, which viewed maverick independence, even a quirky streak, as a badge of honor. The religious right bled that out of the party – neither Barry Goldwater nor Ronald Reagan would pass their modern litmus tests, as several Republican pundits have noted.
McCain was still standing after everyone else self-destructed, but remains suspect on the far right. On the far left his career as a serial conservative is unquestioned. . He’s cozy with big business, always resistance to advances for workers, outspoken on ethics but easily blind-sided. He’s likely to tell the poor, the crippled and jobless to suck it up, but he is readily forgiven ramrod responses on social issues because he can genuinely wrap himself in the flag.
Such paradoxes tempt independents and GOP moderates -- until they start listening and thinking. To things like his victory speech in the Wisconsin GOP primary.
Even while Pervez Musharraf was being put on the shelf by voters for being too much of an American stooge, McCain attacked Barack Obama for advocating action with reliable intelligence against terrorists in Musharraf’s country, labeling the idea as an “inexperienced candidate who . . . suggested invading our ally, Pakistan.”
Yet earlier that same Feb. 19th the CIA revealed it had done just what Obama suggested – gone into Pakistan without advance permission to take out a major al Queda operative. So just who is inexperienced?
Ten days later, the devout free trader hit both Obama and Hillary Clinton for demanding new negotiations from Mexico and Canada on NAFTA.
McCain raised the “fear card” that US voters have become so familiar with under the Republicans – and insulted a lot of Canadians in the process. He said his Democratic rivals were “jeopardizing Canada's military support” in Afghanistan by threatening to renegotiate NAFTA. (At first he actually said the Democrats had pledged to “unilaterally abrogate” NAFTA, but then conceded they had said no such thing.)
Many Canadians were unhappy that McCain suggested it was not moral fiber that kept them in Afghanistan but some sort of trade concern.
Canada’s conservative prime minister – who also mocked the idea that he had any power to undermine Obamaa’s campaign -- likes free trade as much as McCain does, but Canadians value their military commitment as a matter of belief and honor.
Nor could Stephen Harper enjoy the attention McCain had brought to Canada’s trade policy, which has strong opponents in his county. Harper has taken advantage of the US’ fading reputation (under Bush, supported by McCain). He has grown Canada into Latin America’s second-largest investor, owning assets worth more than $96 billion and doing more than $1 billion a year in business with Cuba.
All McCain did was emphasize that he is afraid to talk change in NAFTA (“If I were president I would negotiate a free trade agreement with almost any country”) and his opponents aren’t.
Nor can McCain get away with calling his fellow senators “cut and run” Democrats. Neither had backed a “date certain” – just a commited exit from a war McCain believes in and most Americans don’t.
He rattles more sabers at Iran (which has been the only victor in our invasion) and is willing to stay in Iraq 100 years to prove the US is right.
His views have some credibility because of that heroism as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In that other war today’s historians question, he stood as a beacon of American tenacity -- and such courage in the face of brutality may explain his defiance of his own party and president for any weakening of ethical standards on torture. (But how do you explain his silence to Bush’s signing statement that the president could ignore the torture law?)
Bravery doesn’t equate with wisdom. If it did, the most decorated hero of World War II would have been the natural president – Audie Murphy.
The bigger problem for voters is what McCain consistently believes in and why and where he shows chronic inconsistency.
He doesn’t just oppose the Employee Free Choice Act but swings hard to mandate a federal ban on union security agreements (and prevent collective bargaining for airport screeners). For decades he has opposed virtually every bill that would help American workers and encourage unions, from adjustments to NAFTA to raising the minimum wage, from the concept of universal health care to his support of outsourcing government contracts and privatizing Medicare.
Whatever the virtues of his attacks on pork barrel spending, he used that outrage to crush $1.6 billion in school construction funding aimed at the most dilapidated buildings and desperate communities – and he opposed reauthorizing the federal highway and transit program that provided a million prevailing wage jobs for Americans. The money he says we don’t have for such work is wasted without question in our foreign wars. He would be Bush’s third –term on all these issues.
McCain also has problems of his own. More and more his reputation for opposing pork barrel lobbying runs counter to his tight involvement with lobbyists (many serving key positions in his campaign) and brings reminders of the “Keating Five” days that so damaged his reputation and propelled him into campaign finance reform.
(Along with fellow journalists, I am unhappy that the New York Times allowed a few salacious remarks from his aides – worrying about McCain’s relationship with a blonde lobbyist nine years ago – to sidetrack a needed clearing of McCain’s historical record. The focus should have been his long, too-close friendships with lobbyists and big money as he led Senate committees doling out taxpayer money.)
It’s hard to envision a candidate so demeaned by Bush forces in 2000 seeking to embrace both their positions and ad campaigners eight years later. Yet he has, almost obliterating the McCain his fans remember.
Those Bush tax cuts he once criticized at length for disproportionately favoring the rich? Well, today he embraces them, transparently to gain the conservative vote. Those religious leaders he criticized in 2000 as “agents of intolerance” he now curries favors from.
No candidate can be responsible for all the views of the people who endorse him, but McCain has weakened the values he once seemed to embody.
Obama, for instance, did not seek and quickly “rejected’’ and “denounced’’ support from Louis Farrahkan, whose anti-Semitic remarks and provocative statements had received wide play.
Yet McCain sought the endorsement and shared the stage with prominent televangelist John Hagee, who has run a San Antonio megachurch with particularly disturbing speech. It was not just flip remarks about women and slavery but open statements that the Catholic Church conspired with Nazis against the Jews and that Hurricane Katrina was God's retribution on homosexuals. McCain, stating that he does not share all the views, accepted the endorsement. No rejection nor renouncement here.
McCain’s mouth has become a weapon of self-destruction, revealing how he thinks, where he mentally slips and where his free associations lead him (Beach Boys equal Barbara Ann equals bomb Iran).
What’s still needed is a candid admission. If the “Straight Talk Express” has derailed, how far off the track is he willing to slide to win?