New York

McCain: Between Iraq and a Hard Place


The joke’s on us: McCain and Bush share a stage in March 2005 during one of the GOP’s innumerable PR campaigns to hoodwink people about Social Security and other issues.

Just as his final stab at the presidency is failing — being a fan of the war doesn’t help — John McCain has finally succeeded at completely remolding his image.

He’s spent a lifetime careening from one tragedy and/or scandal to another by embracing the monsters that pursued him. Now he’s a full-fledged “reformer” in the eyes of journalists. It’s a remarkable story, and not a new one — read Amy Silverman‘s still excellent May 1997 dissection, “The Pampered Politician” in Phoenix New Times — but he continues to fool journalists.

Today’s A1 story in the New York Times portrays him as a maverick crusader who has finally pissed off big campaign donors just too many times.

Who would have guessed 25 years ago that McCain, a war hero and son of an admiral who morphed into a carpetbagging congressman solidly in the grasp of S&L financiopath Charles Keating and crooked governor Fife Symington, would ever be thought of as a reformer? From today’s story, by David D. Kirkpatrick and Michael Cooper:

At a critical moment for him, his presidential campaign may be paying the price for a career of positions seemingly calculated to alienate constituencies that according to Washington custom should be prime sources of campaign cash. Mr. McCain’s campaign filings show just $61,000 from the military industry in the first quarter — less than half as much as the long-shot campaign of Democratic Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Followed by this:

The twist is lost on no one: a candidate who has spent decades fighting to minimize the influence of money on politics is under extraordinary pressure to scare up tens of millions of dollars to prove he can jump-start his campaign. And after months of trying to make up with factions of the conservative coalition he has snubbed in the past, fund-raising has turned into another example of the balancing act he faces as he tries to appeal to the Republican establishment without giving up his aura as a straight-talking reformer.

“Aura” is what he projects. Delusion is what it is. It’s okay to say he’s a reformer, I suppose, but how can you not at least mention his former ties to Keating, which were the subject of televised ethics hearings?

And yet, the guy is one of the few people in Congress who actively tries to clean up the fight game and stop the spread of guns. Captured by the North Vietnamese, he later embraced them. Hounded by campaign reformers for his ties to Keating, he later embraced campaign reform. Pilloried by the religious right for blasting Jerry Falwell in 2000, he embraced Falwell by delivering the 2006 commencement address at the evangelist’s university. And McCain does continually hammer at Defense spending.

Silverman’s piece from 10 years ago in New Times is required reading during what has to be McCain’s final bid for the presidency. She explains why journalists are drawn to him, and she parses his career nicely.

If you can stand the misspellings and breathlessly conspiratorial tone, go to the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance and read David Ickes‘ dot-connecting piece from a few years back. It goes into McCain’s link to the Hensley liquor fortune, which itself is linked to shady Arizonan Kemper Marley, whose attorney way back when was a young William Rehnquist.

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