Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Before You Actually Vote for McCain

April 30, 2008, 6:30, 9:15 a.m.

If Senator McCain Had Opponents

Senator John McCain is coming to Iowa tomorrow (Thursday, May 1). With increasingly angry Clinton and Obama supporters threatening to vote for McCain if their favored candidate is not nominated at the Democratic National Convention, it's time this blog gives a little more attention to the Republicans' choice before he lands in Des Moines.

But first, have you begun to notice how the media and politicians seem to be holding Senator Obama to a different standard?

Take that matter of the flag lapel pin. Senator Obama is charged with being un-American, unpatriotic, and probably a supporter of terrorists and our other enemies because he doesn't wear one.

Now don't get me wrong. I love the flag as much as anyone, salute, say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing the Star Spangled Banner, participate in flying the flag on Memorial Day and appreciate those who put flags at veterans' graves that day.

But I've never been a big supporter of flag lapel pins. To me they just seem a little phony; a little too much "in your face;" as if putting a pin in your lapel (or a magnetic "support the troops" ribbon on your car) is somehow the equivalent of serving in the military.

I don't think attending church services makes you a Christian, and I don't think wearing a pin makes you a patriot. There are more substantive and meaningful ways in which one can demonstrate patriotism.

Beside, when I was a kid -- if I remember my Boy Scout "respect the flag" training properly -- there were laws that prohibited reproductions of the American Flag -- whether in signs or in pins. So it may actually be illegal to wear one.

In any event, they were big during the Nixon years, and my fellow FCC commissioners all (as I recall) wore them. Rather than protest by merely going without a pin of my own, I decided on a different strategy. I shopped for, and finally found and bought, the biggest, most garish, rhinestone-encrusted flag lapel pin in Washington. I wore it proudly each day. Gradually, over the next couple of weeks, my colleagues started leaving theirs in their sock drawers at home, until I was the only one sufficiently "patriotic" to wear one. Then, having achieved my purpose, I removed mine as well.

So I suppose I'm biased about flag lapel pins; I don't consider the failure to wear one a disqualifying character flaw in a presidential candidate.

But that's not my point.

My point is that neither Senator McCain nor Senator Clinton are wearing one either! Doesn't anyone else see the hypocrisy of their supporters criticizing Obama for doing (or, in this case, not doing) the very same thing as their favorite candidate?

Or what about their efforts to hang Pastor Jeremiah Wright's every outburst around Senator Obama's neck? What part of "No, those are not my views" don't they understand? And why are Senators Clinton and McCain seemingly immune from responsibility for the equally (or more) outrageous views of their ministers, lobbyists, and campaign contributors?

Once again the Press-Citizen's
Bob Patton has saved me from having to write, and you from having to read, hundreds of words to make a point he can put in a single editorial cartoon.

Bob Patton, "Hatorade on Parade: Extremist Speech, A Study in Black and White,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 30, 2008, p. A12, posted April 29, 2008, 4:44 p.m.

In case the reproduced text is too small to make out, over the caption "Extremist Speech: A Study in Black and White," there is a small black panel and a much larger white panel. In the black panel is "Jeremiah Wright" carrying a sign reading "After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 'America's chickens are coming home to roost.'" In the white panel are, from left to right, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, John Hagee and Rush Limbaugh -- each with an "OK" ribbon awarded them. Their signs read, in the same order (Hagee has two): "9-11 was caused by 'the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians," "I totally concur," "Jewish 'disobedience' caused the Holocaust . . . Those who live by the Islamic Qur'an are mandated to kill Christians" and "Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment against New Orleans for gays and sin," "There should be riots at the Dems' convention in Denver."

Meanwhile, while Senator Obama is spending much of his time and skill evading these knives thrown by the media and Senators Clinton and McCain, Senator McCain -- with no remaining primary opponents -- seems to have little to dodge except his own statements, including those expressed with a seemingly uncontrollable anger. Michael Leahy, "McCain: A Question of Temperment," Washington Post, April 20, 2008, p. A1; Michael Gerson,"McCain's Anger Management," Washington Post, April 23, 2008, p. A21.

Sensing this vacuum, the staff decided to begin the task of filling it. (
And don't forget to check out State29, "10 Things You Should Know About John McCain," April 30, 2008, in his effort to do one better.) And thus was created's . . .

10 things you should know about John McCain (but probably don't)

. . . complete with footnotes.

1. John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has "evolved," yet he's continued to oppose key civil rights laws.1

2. According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain "will make Cheney look like Gandhi."2

3. His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for vetoing that ban.3

4. McCain opposes a woman's right to choose. He said, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."4

5. The Children's Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children's health care bill last year, then defended Bush's veto of the bill.5

6. He's one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a "second job" and skip their vacations.6

7. Many of McCain's fellow Republican senators say he's too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."7

8. McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.8

9. McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his "spiritual guide," Rod Parsley, believes America's founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a "false religion." McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church "the Antichrist" and a "false cult."9

10. He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year.10

John McCain is not who the Washington press corps make him out to be.


1. "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day," ABC News, April 3, 2008

"McCain Facts,", April 4, 2008

2. "McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq," Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008

"Buchanan: John McCain 'Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,'" ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008

3. "McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill," ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008

4. "McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned," MSNBC, February 18, 2007

5. "2007 Children's Defense Fund Action Council® Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard," February 2008

"McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion," CNN, October 3, 2007

6. "Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady," Associated Press, April 3, 2008

"McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,'" Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008

7. "Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?," Associated Press, February 16, 2008

"Famed McCain temper is tamed," Boston Globe, January 27, 2008

8. "Black Claims McCain's Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: 'I Don't Know What The Criticism Is,'" ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008

"McCain's Lobbyist Friends Rally 'Round Their Man," ABC News, January 29, 2008

9. "McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam," Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008

"Will McCain Specifically 'Repudiate' Hagee's Anti-Gay Comments?," ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008

"McCain 'Very Honored' By Support Of Pastor Preaching 'End-Time Confrontation With Iran,'" ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008

10. "John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record," Sierra Club, February 28, 2008
Following which the staff adds:

Please help get the word out—forward this email to your personal network. And if you want us to keep you posted on MoveOn's work to get the truth out about John McCain, sign up here:

Thank you for all you do.

–Eli, Justin, Noah, Laura, and the Political Action Team

Now here are some excerpts from commentary about Senator McCain's own words . . .

It is 3 a.m., and the stillness of the White House night is shattered by the ringing of the red phone. President John McCain, rousing himself from a deep sleep, turns on the light and picks up the receiver. A U.S. embassy in a Middle Eastern country, he is told, has been blown up, and al-Qaeda is taking credit.

McCain takes a deep breath. "Character counts, my friend," he says. "Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb Iran."

There is a rustling of blankets, and, brushing aside Cindy McCain, a concerned Joe Lieberman rises from the bed. "Not Iran, Mr. President," he says. "They hate al-Qaeda."

"That's right," the president says. "I remember now." He sighs with relief. "Good thing you're here every night, Joe."

But suppose, dear reader, that John McCain becomes president and Joe Lieberman doesn't bunk with the McCains on a nightly basis. How easily should the rest of us sleep? It's anything but an academic question after McCain's bizarre performance in Jordan last week.

There, he told reporters that he was "concerned about Iranian [operatives] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back" to Iraq. "That's well known," he continued -- at which point Lieberman whispered a correction in his ear. "I'm sorry," McCain then said. "The Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

What are we to make of this moment? Was it a senior moment? A jet-lagged moment? Or, worse, was it really a moment at all? After all, the evening before, McCain had told listeners of Hugh Hewitt's radio talk show that "there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they're moving back into Iraq."

So the al-Qaeda-Iran alliance wasn't just a passing thought. It was a thought that had taken up residence in McCain's brain for at least a day, possibly longer. Whether it was a simple mistake, a neoconservative delusion or a habit of mind that lumps together all of America's enemies (either sincerely or calculatedly, to build public support for military action), we cannot say. What we can say is that the idea of any or all of these options is profoundly disquieting. The very thought of a president who deliberately conflates or erroneously confuses our adversaries with each other is appalling, though not without precedent. We're mired in a war that has its roots in George W. Bush's both imagining and fabricating an alliance between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Do we really want to perpetuate these habits of mind in the next administration? . . .

As early as 1999, McCain was recommending "rogue state rollback" as our policy toward such nations as Iraq. He remains an unabashed advocate of preventive war, as his comments on bombing Iran have made clear, and of permanent war, as his comments on remaining in Iraq have made clear. . . .

Hard to say what's more dangerous -- McCain's approach to the economy or McCain's approach to the world. The thought of him answering the red phone at 3 a.m. fills me with foreboding. Hell, I don't want him answering the red phone at 3 p.m.
Harold Meyerson, "McCain on the Red Phone," Washington Post, March 26, 2008, p. A19.

Now, before you actually vote for McCain . . .

So what do you think? However appealing the option may seem to them in April and May, come next November are 25% or more of the Clinton, or Obama, supporters really going to end up voting for Senator McCain if their candidate doesn't get the nomination? I doubt it.

In part, of course, it will turn on how the process unfolds.

If by early June Senator Obama is still the candidate who has won the most elected delegates, most popular votes, most states, and nearly as many super delegates as Senator Clinton -- and Clinton is perceived to have "stolen" the nomination by unfairly beating up on Obama with a the-ends-justify-the-means, mean spirited, win-at-any-cost, race-tinged campaign, with the suspicion that she wants him to be a nominee who loses to McCain so she can run in 2012, regardless of what it may do to the Party -- there will be hostile Obama supporters for sure.

They may not vote for McCain. They may vote for Ralph Nader or some other candidate. They may stay home. Some might even hold their noses and vote for Clinton -- but they're sure not going to go out and work for her as they have been, and would continue to, for Obama.

The better she does between now and June 3 the more this reaction will be softened: if she continues to win primary after primary by double digits, exceeds Obama's popular vote totals, comes closer to him in elected delegates.

And if the polls continue to indicate (as the AP poll did yesterday) that she runs stronger against McCain than Obama does. But the significance of even that, of course, turns on a state-by-state analysis of a McCain-Clinton and McCain-Obama match up, and the resulting electoral vote totals. (For example, if polls indicate that Clinton would win California by a larger margin than Obama, but that he would also beat McCain, and that Obama would also win more electoral votes than Clinton because of the smaller states he could win that she could not, then her national margins and vote totals mean much less.) See, Nicholas Johnson, "It's the Electoral College, Stupid!" April 22, 2008.

On April 25 I quoted at length from Tung Yin, "Who's the real '4 more years of George Bush'?" April 24, 2008. He begins,

I hear the constant refrain from the Clinton and Obama campaigns that John McCain can't be allowed to win, because that will be just 4 more years of the Bush Administration. It's not an implausible argument, given that McCain has started to repudiate some of his past views on taxes, for example.

However . . . this is focusing purely on political issues. Now, I'm not downplaying the importance of issues, since for many people, such things as Supreme Court appointments, tax policy, Iraq, and so on are key points. But I can't escape feeling that on a procedural level, the candidate who would represent 4 more years of the Bush Administration is . . . Hillary Clinton."
He persuasively develops this assertion.

In effect, what Professor Yin is telling us is that there are two considerations here.

(1) One, for Obama supporters, is whether they are willing to forgive Bill and Hillary Clinton, and their staff members and supporters, for the tactics and character they've displayed during the campaign in the event Senator Clinton were, in the end, to get the nomination. Would they vote for Clinton in the general election anyway, "come together as Democrats," and "let bygones be bygones." Or, would they be so "bitter" (to use Senator Obama's ill-fated word) that they would be willing to "punish" her (and many would say, "themselves") by staying home, or voting for Senator McCain (or some other candidate)?

(2) But there is now another and much more significant issue. If Professor Yin is right, all voters -- Democrats (whether supporters of Clinton or Obama), Republicans and Independents alike -- need to at least think about (whether it affects their ultimate vote or not) the qualities of character attributed by him to Senator Clinton, and the weight they as voters would assign to them, in evaluating who they wish to vote for in November. This is not a matter of retribution or anger, or judgment about what tactics are, or are not, acceptable and to be expected in a campaign. This is not about the effect of her "high negatives" on her ability to win an election. This is a judgment to be made as to the qualities of character one wishes to have in a president -- in light of what we've all learned about their relevance from 8 years of George Bush.

Nicholas Johnson, "The Best Bush" in "Bush and Giveaways to Sheraton," April 25, 2008.

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