Search results for the tag, "John McCain"

October 16th, 2008

Double-Talk vs. Straight Talk

If he can fool his pro-choice wife into thinking that he supports Roe v. Wade, should we really be surprised that John McCain can fool his countrymen, too? As Sarah Blustain observed this past summer in the New Republic,

McCain has spent years manipulating the public’s perception of his stance on abortion and reproductive health. He’s been against overturning Roe v. Wade and he’s been for it; he’s embraced the idea of a pro-choice running mate and, more recently, recoiled from it. It’s no wonder the public is confused.

Kudos, then, to Bob Schieffer, who in last night’s debate pressed McCain for clarity. Double kudos to Schieffer for following-up not just once, but twice, resulting in the following exchange:

But even if it was someone—even someone who had a history of being for abortion rights, you would consider them?

I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.

Translation: Roe is disqualifying, even though I don’t believe in such qualifications in the first place.

Those who have followed McCain’s career recognize this massive contradiction as one of his classic tricks: A little pandering, a little double-talking, and hope that no one notices.

February 22nd, 2008

Does John McCain Know the Difference Between YouTube and MySpace?

The blogger-friendly John McCain held a conference call this afternoon with us “ankle-biting pundits.” After reading Garrett Graff’s excellent op-ed in the Post a couple months ago, I prepared the following question:

I’m sure most of us would agree, as a recent op-ed in the Washington Post observed, that the Internet, “probably more than any other force, will drive and define the nation’s economic success and reshape its society over the next 20 years.”

Yet many politicians get a pass on technological literacy. For instance, last year, answering a campaign-trail question, Mitt Romney didn’t seem to know the difference between YouTube (then the fourth most popular Web site in the world) and MySpace. This seems like not knowing the difference between Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, and Pakistan, the sixth most populous. Or the difference between Chevron, number four on the Fortune 500 list, and General Electric, number six.

This is bad enough in itself, but when you consider the congressional debates about taxing the Internet and net neutrality, I hope you’ll agree that our economic future and security require that we hold our leaders to higher standards.

Accordingly, can you tell us the difference between YouTube and MySpace?

Alas, I’m still having trouble mastering the *1 combo—the Jeopardy inequivalent of pressing the buzzer—so I didn’t get the chance to see if McCain is any smarter than his fellow ignoramus senator, Ted “Tubes” Stevens (R-WTF).

Addendum (3/4/2008): I’m a few days late, but I have exciting news to report: On February 28, I got to ask John McCain how YouTube differs from MySpace. He began his answer fitfully, but once he got his thoughts straight, gave a lengthy and accurate response. Here’s a condensed and rough transcription:

MySpace is a social network … People come up and do the communications with one another, establish relationships and all that … YouTube … carries videos.

McCain also noted, as Michael Goldfarb put it, that

YouTube is reservoir of embarrassment—”John Edwards can attest to that (click it, you know you want to watch it again).” McCain would later remember that his campaign has a MySpace page.

Related: “John McCain: I Invented YouTube.”

November 14th, 2007

McCain on Medical Marijuana

Dialing in from Phoenix, where his wife Cindy is having an operation on her knee, John McCain held a conference call with bloggers this afternoon. Having learned the hard way that in order to ask a question, you need to press *1 as soon as possible, I was rewarded with the first question. With apologies to Radley Balko,

Should federal law supersede the will of the people in a given state when it comes to medical marijuana?

McCain’s answer: “There is no convincing evidence” that medical marijuana relieves pain and suffering that cannot be relieved by prescriptions.

But what about referenda in California and New Mexico, I followed-up?

The will of the people can be wrong, McCain declared. Look at Iraq today. Look at North Korea 60 years ago. “I’ll be glad to continue the discussion,” he concluded, “but I’m not changing my opinion.”

McCain’s first answer is factually inaccurate, which I hope to elaborate on tonight. His second answer is more interesting, but suffice it to say that whenever you ignore the will of the people—which you sometimes need to do—you need a very compelling reason to do so.

Quote of the day: Bloggers who criticize John McCain but haven’t come aboard his campaign bus, “remain[] attached to their couches and mattresses.”

Addendum: Phil Klein notes that Rudy and Romney also oppose decriminalizing medical marijuana.

Addendum (2/23/2008): Hendrik Hertzberg points out that

[u]nlike McCain, Obama and Clinton have at least promised to stop the feds from harassing medical marijuana patients and dispensaries in the dozen states whose laws permit marijuana to be used for medical purposes. But neither has given any indication of a willingness to rescue us from the larger disgrace of the drug war—the billions wasted, the millions harmed, the utter futility of it. On this point, hesitancy trumps hope, and expedience trumps experience.

July 18th, 2007

Wisdom from Joe Klein’s Politics Lost


A month ago, I was asked to name the three most recent books I had read. I could only name two—Bob Woodward’s State of Denial and One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century.

I explained that I am a voracious reader, but of newspapers, magazines and blogs, but I was chagrined.

Accordingly, I’ve since digested three books, all of which I’ll blog about by quoting or summarizing the passages I underlined. Here’s the first, which was inspiring, highly informed, balanced while retaining conviction, yet not wholly persuasive; that is, Joe’s thesis works best if applied selectively rather than comprehensively. (Disclosure/self-promotion: as an editorial intern at Time in 2004, I did some research for Joe on this column.)

Here’s the thesis:

I am fed up with the insulting welter of sterilized speechifying, insipid photo ops, and idiotic advertising that passes for public discourse these days. I believe that American politics has become overly cautious, cynical, mechanistic, and bland; and I fear that the inanity and ugliness of postmodern public life has caused many Americans to lose the habits of citizenship. . . .

[What we need is] not just the intermittent bolts of unmassaged oratory but also the spontaneous moments of honor and cowardice, the gestures, the body language, the smirks and sighs—that gave us real insight into those who would lead us. It encompasses Bobby Kennedy quoting Aeschylus and Richard Nixon saying that we won’t have him to kick around anymore.

1. On Ronald Reagan (paraphrased):

Once, when Reagan aide Michael Deaver handed his boss some questions Deaver had planted with a friendly audience, Reagan tossed the questions into the trash. “Mike, this won’t work,” he said. “You can’t hit a home run with a softball.

2. On Republican vs. Democratic messaging:

Ronald Reagan had given his party the gifts of simplicity and clarity and, as we have seen, a coherent belief system that could be explained in sentence fragments. Military Strength. Low Taxes. Traditional Values. The Democrats, by contrast, were the party of the complex, clause-draped sentence: “We need to spend money on Head Start programs in order to… [ellipsis in original]”. . . .

Democrats slouched toward public pessimism—the middle class was always suffering silently, the poor neglected, the environment degraded—but they were philosophically optimistic: humankind was improvable, reform possible, government could help make things better. Republicans, by contrast, were publicly optimistic—the United States was exceptional, the greatest country in the world, and anyone who said otherwise was unpatriotic—but privately realistic and often pessimistic: people were who they were, the poor would always be with us and there was no sense trying to change them. . . .

In public, Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” was countered by Congressman Richard Gephardt’s 1988 “it’s close to midnight and getting darker all the time”. . . . In 1968 . . . an academic named William Gavin, who would later become a White House speechwriter, sent Richard Nixon a memo about communications strategy: “Voters are basically lazy, basically uninterested in making an effort to understand what we are talking about.” He went on to discuss the difference between intellectual and emotional appeals: “Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand.”

3. On impressions vs. policies:

In the television era, fleeting impressions counted far more than cogent policies. Fleeting impressions were all most people had time for. Presidential politics was all about character… [ellipsis in original] or rather, the appearance of character. . . . [I]t wasn’t about the economy, stupid.

It was about the appearance of caring about the economy, stupid.

4. “The best political advice I’ve ever heard,” from William Bennett to a meeting of the Christian Coalition:

“Some of the people who follow me onto the stage are going to say things that you will find very pleasing. They speak our our ‘virtues’ and the vices of the other party. They will speak about ‘us’ and ‘them.’ But in America there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’ And if a candidate tells you only thing that you want to hear, if he asks nothing of you—then give him nothing in return, certainly not your vote, because he is not telling you the truth.”

5. On fund-raising:

“Do you want to know what I do all day?” he [Alex Sanders, the Democratic sacrificial lamb in the 2002 race for Strom Thurmond’s South Carolina Senate seat] asked me. “I sit at a desk with a telephone. A woman named Ashley Newton sits across from me with pieces of paper called focus sheets and a stopwatch. She hands me a focus sheet and a phone number and some vital information about a potential contributor. I call the number. She starts the stopwatch. I have six minutes to make the sale. I’m supposed to make ten calls per hour. So I start out like this, ‘Hello, my name is Alex Sanders and I’m running for the United States Senate. Have you ever heard of me in your whole entire life?’ Then I chat with him for a moment about life at his horse farm or whatever. I tell him I know about the horse farm because I have a focus sheet with all this information. And then I say, ‘I’m not calling to ask for your vote. It’d be a waste of time to ask for a single vote. My purpose is far more humiliating. It’s the chemotherapy of a political campaign. It’s painful… [ellipsis in original] Wouldja give me some money?’ If they say yes, I tell them I have two more questions, and these are far more humiliating than the last. ‘First, I am so sorry to have to ask but, when you gonna send the money? Can you send it today?’ And then I say, ‘Now this last question is so embarrassing that I can hardly bring myself to ask it, but… [ellipsis in original] How much?’ And before they can think about it, I jump in and say, ‘How ’bout a thousand bucks?’

6. On John McCain:

It was one of the oddest qualities I’d ever seen in a candidate—entirely sincere and politically brilliant. . . . In one fairly dramatic example, McCain told me, unbidden, that the breakup of his first marriage was all his fault: “I’ve lived a very, very flawed life. I don’t think people would think so well of me if they knew more about that part of it”. . . .

“There aren’t many of us who haven’t done things we’re ashamed of over the past 25 years,” I said.

7. On Al Gore:

There was something about the vice president that simply demanded couchification. He was successfully analyzed by his opponents. He was unsuccessfully analyzed by his own consultants.

8. On John Kerry:

He proved weak, indecisive, and yes, aloof. At six feet, four inches tall, with a head of hair that came out of central casting and a sonorous baritone that slouched toward drone, he literally seemed to have his head in the clouds; there was a distressing, unfocused, soporific quality tot he man. The prevailing mystery of the Kerry campaign, especially for those who had known him longest—the Vietnam veterans he had led in war (and in peace marches)—was: Whatever happened to the courageous young leader who had risked his life to protect his crew in Vietnam and risked his political career to oppose the war when he came home?

9. On Bill Clinton

[A] womanizer of desperately bad taste.

10. On Howard Dean (paraphrased):

When the Democratic front-runner for president in 2004 said the capture of Saddam Hussein didn’t make America safer, “the real problem was that Dean didn’t seem particularly happy that Saddam had been captured—in fact, he seemed disappointed that the president’s war effort had succeeded in any way.”

11. On Mario Cuomo:

In 1982, I traveled through New York State with Mario Cuomo, who was more than 30 points behind Ed Koch in the Democratic primary for governor. The biggest issue in the race was the death penalty, and Cuomo was on the wrong side of it. And yet, at every stop, Cuomo insisted on explaining his position; if the audience didn’t ask him about the death penalty, he’d bring it up himself. “You might well ask me how I’d react if a member of my family were the victim of a brutal crime,” he would posit, in an eerie prediction of the question that would boggle Dukakis in 1988. “Well, my daughter was recently assaulted on the street in our neighborhood by a man who burned her breast with a cigarette. My son Andrew got into the car with a baseball bat and looked all over the neighborhood for the guy—and I’ve got to say, if I’d ever caught up with him … [ellipsis in original] well, I can’t guarantee what I would have done. But I’d be acting on my worst impulses, my momentary anger. One of the purposes of the state is to protect us from our worst impulses—and the desire for vengeance is one of the very worst. So, lock ’em up. Throw away the key. But don’t succumb to our worst impulses, our vengeance.”

12. On Democratic words that work (paraphrased):

Greenberg and Clinton devised a brilliant euphemism for spending money: “investing” in the future.

May 6th, 2007

Fred Dalton McCain?

John McCain and Fred Thompson

Perry Bacon (who recently left Time to join the Post, where he’s been lighting up the Web site’s list of mostpopular articles) reports:

Thompson was perhaps McCain’s strongest Republican supporter, even advocating an early version of McCain’s bill that would have banned contributions from political action committees. (In recent interviews, he has complained that the enacted law has not had the effect that was intended.)

To me, this sounds strikingly similar to Mitt Romney’s position.

Perry, however, draws a different comparison: “The man some in the GOP are touting as a dream candidate has often sounded like the presidential hopeful many of them seem ready to dismiss: Senator John McCain.” Indeed, there is more than unites McCain and Thompson—hawkish interventionism, good government, campaign-finance reform, etc—than separates them.

Consider foreign policy (my hyperlink):

In a 2004 speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Thompson said that “every politician that describes Iraq as another Vietnam gives our enemies hope for success.”

“If someone says, ‘This is Vietnam,’ they’re predicting defeat,” Thompson said. “They’re predicting an early pullout. I think that is irresponsible.”

He called for “regime change” in Iran in a recent interview with the Weekly Standard, although he did not detail how that would happen. . . .

In 2000, he infuriated business groups, a rock-solid GOP constituency, by insisting that a trade bill with China include provisions that would allow sanctions on Chinese companies that sent weapons to rogue nations. He was unsuccessful.

This sounds like McCain on steroids to me.

Nonetheless, there are some differences. Whereas McCain was overtly hostile to the religious right, which consequently still distrusts him—who can forget his “agents of intolerance” and “forces of evil” remarks in 2000?—Thompson seems indifferent toward it. Similarly, against McCain’s regulatory instinct, Thompson, as a federalist rather than an ideologue, is more inclined to favor market-based solutions.

April 8th, 2007

Reagan’s Heir Need Not Be a Reaganite

Ronald Reagan Shaking Hands With John McCain














In the past several years, as the GOP has labored under the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan has become our collective lodestar—all things to all conservatives.

Libertarians claim him as one of their own, owing to his rhetoric about government as the problem, not the solution. Christians view his conversion to the pro-life agenda as his strongest legacy. Neocons uphold his ending of the Cold War.

The biggest hurdle facing the current crop of our presidential candidates is the inability of each to unify these three wings of the party.

All three support the president on Iraq, especially, and crucially, the surge. But despite McCain’s voting record, the religious right doesn’t trust him. Nor do they embrace the pro-choice, pro-civil union New Yorker, Rudy Giuliani. On paper, Mitt Romney is the Christian candidate, except that he’s only recently become so, and he’s Mormon.

Rudy is the libertarian candidate, save for his elevation of security over liberty. Romney’s language about deficits and vetoes is attractive, if you minimize health care. Ditto for McCain’s bona fides on pork and waste, if you overlook McCain-Feingold and tax cuts.

So who will be Reagan’s heir? At this point, no one. Still, it behooves us to remember, as George Will has written, “that insisting on perfection in a candidate interferes with selecting a satisfactory one.” Or, to use another cliche, politics is the art of compromise.