Wednesday, August 27, 2008

That Was Then, This Is Now: The De-evolution of John McCain

A friend asked me the following question on Monday:
Me: A lot of Dems would have been proud to run with McCain, or have McCain run with them, before '06. A lot about him has changed in just the past few months, though, and I'm very saddened to see it.

Friend: What specifically has changed? I haven't noticed much of a difference ... but then again I've only been following McCain since January.

I’ve made several blog posts about what I don’t like about McCain’s 2008 campaign, but as I haven’t actually compared those negatives to the 2000 campaign, I’d like to answer my friend’s question with a blog post.

I’ve been following McCain since December ’99 (not long for a 60 year old junkie, but quite some time for a lad of just 21), supported him in ’00 (yes, over both Bradley and Gore), and donated to his primary campaign as recently as January of this year. Unfortunately I believe things began to change with him late last summer – perhaps not with his values and inner core, but he seems to have lost sight of those values and that inner core. I did not realize this until only a month or two ago, as my admiration for him put me in denial. Opening my eyes has been an almost heartbreaking process. I hate to watch people fall from grace, as I enjoy admiring good men, but much to my chagrin, that is exactly what I believe is happening to McCain. Here are just four of many examples.

One. In 2000 and years after, McCain was about the biggest political celebrity in decades, and embraced the media as his base – but this year, watching someone else eclipse his celebrity, he has attacked Obama’s fame as a primary reason the Democrat shouldn’t be President, and mocked the press for daring to give someone else positive coverage. Odd that he didn’t mock the press when it was HE who was the celebrity getting positive coverage. Do you really think that, if 250,000 people turned up to hear MCCAIN speech, he would turn them away? I find this criticism hypocritical, and it is probably based in jealousy.

Two. In 2000, when Bush and external Republicans groups attacked McCain’s character – bad for veterans, has a black lovechild, etc. – he was livid, furious that they would engage in slime like that. Today, however, he insists Obama doesn’t really believe the things he says about Iraq and that he only says them for political expediency, despite no actual evidence to suggest Obama believes otherwise. He’s been jumping on the littlest things, suggesting Obama is playing the race card in a heinous way for even mentioning race in passing. That’s abandoning his core principles of positive campaigns and basic civility and decency.

Three. The McCain of 2000 gave us straight talk – it wasn’t just a campaign slogan; it really was the real deal. Yet now we’re getting this baloney that “Drill now, drill here!” is the answer to our current gas price problems, even though the REPUBLICAN CONTROLLED Department of Energy says expanded offshore drilling won’t influence gas prices for another 22 years. It may or may not be a good long-term strategy, but it’s not the short-term solution McCain claims it is, and there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise, yet he persists.

Four. In 2000, McCain’s background as a POW was a well-known part of his biography, but he didn’t harp on it. He told us he was reluctant to talk about it, and we believed him, and admired him for it. Yet today, every time someone tries to criticize McCain for anything, it’s what his campaign responds with - he can’t remember how many houses he owns? POW. He wasn’t in a cone of silence at the Saddleback forum? POW. He (probably accidentally) suggested his wife compete in a topless beauty pageant? POW. It’s reaching Rudy 9/11-esque levels. A noun, a verb, and POW. I agree that the way he behaved in the Hanoi Hilton 40 years ago was exceptionally admirable, but it has nothing to do with his ability to make sound economic decisions or even direct battlefield strategy, and it certainly has nothing to do with the rules of the Saddleback forum. That’s just silly, and it offends me that he would use such a sacrosanct story in such a cavalier, political fashion.

McCain, at his core, is a great American, but he replaced his maverick Senate careers and his great 2000 campaign of honesty and bold ideas with the negative ads and unfounded character smears he used to decry, with misleading policy proposals where once a quest for truth stood, and with a striking attitude of anger and bitterness that just wasn’t present before. I denied these changes in tone for quite some time, and still don’t agree with every attack and piece of spin from the Obama camp or the DNC, but the fact is, some of those attacks and some of that spin is actually true. There’s been a sea change, and while I hate to admit it, I just can’t ignore it anymore. McCain is one of the best senators we have ever had, but he would be one of the worst presidents.

Here are four relevant links:

Two columns from Maureen Dowd, who I usually find to be sour, empty, and spiteful but actually nailed it in her column on McCain’s envy and on how his overuse of the POW story cheapens his true heroism.

Two past blog posts of mine: “I Miss John McCain” and “The Economic Hubris of John McCain”.


Cany said...

Though I am a progressive, there was a time when at least I thought 50/50 of McCain. He was more reasonable and more solid than now.

His history with the right wing evangelical movement was (and has been) tenuous--something he is apparently trying to change, especially given his answers at Warren's Forum.

The thought of living another 4 years with the kind of thinking that McCain represents, including his economics (taxes) and social policies, is mind-numbing.

Jordan said...

Well naturally you've laid out your arguments and there a few good counterpoints, but I agree I haven't been that impressed with his attack ads. Then again I usually ignore those anyway and focus on what the candidates say for themselves in public, and behind closed doors.

The first point I'd like to make is that McCain's campaign in 2000 didn't even make it out of January; so he didn't have enough momentum to even bring up negative aspects about his opponents. Not to mention the fact he was too busy defending himself from the vicious lies that Rove and W. were putting on the air in SC which is where his primary race fell apart.

Secondly, I haven't heard any claims from the camp saying Obama doesn't really believe in pulling the troops out in 16 months. If anything Senator Obama's slow shift to making that a tentative date has added fuel to the fire that McCain's campaign less-than-innocently started.

As for your third point, I haven't heard speeches other than he wants to start drilling now, but he hasn't made the claim that the physical oil will help. It's the fact that we're beginning to drill for it that will lower prices and ease out some of the volatility currently in the economy. (Not to mention there are oil companies sitting on rigs waiting to use them for drilling when they can't get it from their Alberta oil fields).

As for the POW part, I agree he has no excuses for bringing that up other than his advisers have told him (accurately unfortunately) that it is an extremely powerful campaign tool. But actions speak louder than words and I'll let that broken, bleeding kid in a Vietnamese prison camp who stayed with his comrades only to be released in order of capture speak for itself. Now before the usual counter argument, you asked about the POW thing so the POW thing should be a valid answer.

In short, yes, it is used to much.

But what you say doesn't mean that the Maverick is dead. His main belief that has changed in the last ten years is the off-shore drilling; and in light of the current economy and my wallet I say every little bit helps.

I suppose what your saying is that because he's degraded himself to run a real political campaign as Bush and Clinton did before hims has made you changed your opinion about him; I'm sorry that happened. Just as sorry as that man who called into NPR on Thursday night saying he wouldn't vote for Senator Obama purely because he's pro-choice.

By the by; Obama isn't exactly pristine in his campaign either.

But that's how it is right now, and I've heard it best explained like this:
Most Americans agree John McCain has the qualifications to be president (they don't necessarily agree he'd be a good one), however, Americans in this election are deciding whether Barack Obama has the qualifications to be president. And when that's the choice most Americans are facing; it's tough for the opposition to maintain an entirely positive campaign and win.

Nathan Empsall said...

I never said Obama's been a poster boy, but this post wasn't about Obama.

Wait a minute - the POW thing should be answer to the POW thing being overused? That doesn't make any sense: Q. "Why does he overuse the POW thing? It's dishonorable!" A. "You can't say that, he was a POW!" That's ridiculous. You say "I'll let that broken, bleeding kid in a Vietnamese prison camp... speak for itself." The thing is, while that story speaks well for itself, it doesn't say a thing about Warren's cone of silence, knowing (or not knowing) how many houses you own, or offering up your wife for a beauty pageant, which are the issues McCain has tried to make it speak to. As a friend pointed out this week, he's turning into John Goodman's character in The Big Lebowski. And McCain is a better man than that. For someone who has talked obsessively of honor for decades and always had the credentials to do so, it is hypocritical to use his service in such a shallow and cynical way. It is downright dishonorable, something I hate to say about McCain given where I was about him just a few months ago.

And as for offshore drilling, I sympathize with your wallet, but the Department of Energy and many other groups more knowledgable about this stuff than I say that wallet won't come into play on this issue for years. If you want a psychological change, maybe offshore drilling would help, but not nearly enough as lowering the speed limit and telling Israel to stop saber rattling. I'm with McCain (rather than Obama) on nuclear power, but not on offshore drilling.

Jordan said...

I thought McCain was stuck in traffic in the Saddleback forum, and he didn't hear any of what Barack said any way so it seems to be a moot point.

Also it's his wife who has bought all the houses not the Senator himself (who as you should know) only sees his apartment in DC and his home in Pheonix regularly. So it seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to not know exactly how many houses you own.

And as for Offshore drilling you nailed it; I don't necessarily care about the physical oil flowing through the pipes but just the fact that we're drilling our own oil will lower prices here and over seas. That's what I want.

I'm also very grateful to see your on board with Nuclear Power.

Nathan Empsall said...

The point isn't whether or not McCain actually heard Obama's segment, but how he responded to the criticisms and accusations. A bad response to a non-issue is an issue in and of itself. Case in point, Scooter Libby or Bill Clinton - lied even though they'd done nothing illegal, and the lie was an issue. Well, McCain didn't lie, but he did give a dishonorable and irrelevant response to an something that could have been, as you say, a moot point.