By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
All last week George W. Bush laid such a barrage of mudslinging on John McCain's reform campaign that by the weekend South Carolina politics looked like the Grozny killing fields. At nearly every stop, before banners blaring that he was "A Reformer With Results" (the catchphrase his handlers dreamed up after his New Hampshire drubbing), Shrub snapped at McCain as a do-nothing Washington hypocrite. This, of course, was to be contrasted with Dubya's own "reform" record as the chief executiveget it?of the Republic of Texas.
In addition to the fact that the functions of a governor and a senator are not comparable, McCain has been an innovative and active legislator and has a well-deserved reputation as a conservative reformer. His campaign-finance proposalswhich won him the enmity of GOP congressional backbenchershave not succeeded. But as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee he's won major cyberspace and truck safety legislation. His effort to convert the tobacco deal into federal legislationanother stand that doesn't endear him to the party leadershipwas defeated. But such attempts to change the parameters of business and politics can't be expected to succeed in a couple of years. Ted Kennedy has been fighting for health-insurance reform for nearly 30 years without noticeable results.
In 1995, McCain crusaded to strengthen lobby-disclosure rules and put restrictions on acceptance of meals, entertainment, and travel by members of Congress. He's fought to block funds for the B-2 bomber and the Seawolf submarine. He tried to reopen the commission on base closings, and backed a doomed inquiry into corporate welfare.
On Kosovo, he was a strong voice urging Congress not to tie the president's hands, and was beaten in a move to authorize ground troops. He has supported normalizing relations with Vietnam. At home, he backs greater self-government for Native Americans. He won environmental protections for the Grand Canyon, and fought successfully to allow Social Security recipients to earn more income without losing benefits (a measure that connects with conservative primary voters).
Then there was the line-item vetocertainly one of McCain's more notable initiatives. In 1996, he won congressional approval for the measure, which had been sought by chief executives of both parties, only to have it overturned by the Supreme Court. Last week, he told The Washington Postthat even though it was overturned, he considered this his biggest accomplishment.
Even before Publisher's Weekly hit the streets with news that Joe Klein would follow up his McCain profile in The New Yorker with a novel about (guess what?) a war hero, the Bush camp was going crazy over the fawning in the press about the ex-POW. To wit, in South Carolina last week:
When Shrub led brother Marvin Bush to meet the press in the rear of the campaign plane on a flight from Greenville to Columbia, bro couldn't restrain himself. "The great sucking sound you hear," Marvin told reporters, "is the sound of the media's lips coming off of John McCain's . . . "At which point," wrote The Washington Post's Lloyd Grove, "Marvin smirked and left the sentence unfinished."
Dubya threw up his hands, emphasizing that his brother's comment was "off the record." As Marvin was hauled to the front of the plane, he added, "Now you see why I don't get out much."
Last November, the Sierra Club couldn't agree about whether to support Al Gore. Arguing strenuously against backing the veep was club director Michael Dorsey. His reasons, set forth in a recent statement, include:
Gore's continuing push for free trade in lumber. His refusal to work to protect ecosystems from invasions by exotic foreign species. That he says he's against urban sprawl, yet backs policies favoring development in the Everglades. That he broke a commitment to clean up water pollution in Appalachia by ignoring environmental precautions in strip-mine legislation. That in 1992 he promised to help block oil drilling off the Florida coast, but never did so. That he double-crossed protesters against the huge WTI incinerator in Ohio after promising to help them as a candidate in the 1992 campaign (see last week's column). That he bowed to pressure from Mexico and other countries to water down protections for sea turtles and dolphins. That he has hampered ozone-protection measures. That he ordered the EPA to go slow on tougher implementation of pesticide laws. That he dropped out of the battle to control pollution, sitting on the sidelines while pig shit clogged U.S. waterways. That he did not work to keep radioactive materials out of commercial products. That he was silent as the environmental-protection budget was cut. That he did nothing as the Army Corps of Engineers expanded wetlands destruction.
"With this legacy," wrote Dorsey, "no real environmentalist could ever endorse Al Goreand the Board of Directors of the Club would be remiss if it did." Don't count on it, bud.
Footnote: While piling on Gore, eco activists should keep in mind that the great McCain, who chairs an arguably important environmental committeethe Senate Commerce Committeehas a record of 11 out of 100 percent on the League of Conservation Voters' scorecard, released last weekdown from 13 out of 100 percent in the previous Congress.
Congresssman James Traficant of Youngstown, Ohio, who once fought off opposition efforts to have him declared insane, is in hot water againthis time over charges that he's mobbed up. Traficant, who says he expects to be indicted for political reasons, vows to fight it out with the Justice Department.
In December, the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Ohio issued subpoenas to the House general counsel asking for phone, payroll, and rental records for Traficant's office dating back to 1985. This represents the latest phase in the Justice Department's fight against organized crime in Youngstown, long a mob stronghold.
So far the probe has resulted in several convictions, including one against Traficant's ex-district director, Charles O'Nesti, who came to Congress as a Traficant aide in 1985. O'Nesti pled guilty in 1998 to perjury and racketeering charges. Traficant has denied any wrongdoing, or knowledge of wrongdoing by O'Nesti.
As sheriff of Mahoning County, Traficant was indicted for taking bribes from mob bosses. Defending himself at trial, he explained that he had accepted the money only as part of a sting operation he was conducting against organized crime. He was acquitted.
In Washington, Traficant goes on almost daily rampages in the House, lambasting the Justice Department and the IRS. He's always enjoyed strong support, in 1996 receiving the most votes of any House candidate in the nation. But this year he faces strong opposition back in Youngstown, both within the Democratic Party and from the Republicans.
"I have done nothing wrong," says Traficant defiantly. Adds Paul Marcone, his chief of staff, "He's going to fight like a junkyard dog in the midst of a hurricane."
The National Women's Health Network is asking the Food and Drug Administration to pull an ad for Nolvadexmanufactured by Zeneca Pharmaceuticalswhich, the group says, makes false claims. The ad, which has appeared in national media, states: "In a landmark study of women 35 and older at high risk for breast cancer, women who took Nolvadex [a trade name for tamoxifen citrate] had 44 percent fewer breast cancers than women taking sugar pills."
"The ad is misleading because of the shifting use of absolute and relative risk numbers," insisted the Network in a letter to the FDA. "By juxtaposing text reading 'women who took Nolvadex had 44 percent fewer breast cancers than women taking sugar pills' with text asserting that health-threatening side effects 'occurred in less than 1 percent of women,' Zeneca is deliberately creating an inaccurate impression of the risk-benefit ratio of this drug. The average consumer reading this text would understand that she has a 44 percent chance of benefiting from taking tamoxifen and less than 1 percent chance of experiencing the associated risks."
In a related development, women with family histories of breast cancer will get a measure of protection if Rochester representative Louise Slaughter's Genetic Non-Discrimination in Health Insurance and Employment Act passes Congress. The act would block health insurers from denying coverage on the basis of genetic information.
Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi