Posts Tagged ‘John McCain’
Well, after 3 months off, I had hoped to start with something more positive, but inspiration often comes from outrage, so I want to rant a little about what Joe Klein dubbed the Benghazi Circus back in November, and which any close viewer of politics can tell you is apparently still parked in Washington DC.
Last week, Senate Republicans bestowed on themselves the dubious distinction of being the first Congress ever to filibuster a Secretary of Defense nominee. The reasons for this vary (the main reason was to see if they could dig up a little more dirt on Chuck Hagel), but one cited by both Senators McCain and Graham is that they wanted the White House to release more information on the Benghazi attacks. This latest stunt is just one in a series dating back to the campaign, with the most prominent being Senator Ron Johnson’s ill advised attack on Hillary Clinton and the gentle smackdown provided by John Kerry the following day.
In order to understand the reasons that Republicans have wasted so much energy on the Benghazi attacks, you don’t have to look far. As Kevin Drum pointed out months ago, it’s the same thing that makes Republicans think that it would be good politics to hold the Attorney General in contempt of Congress over the “Fast and Furious” scandal that no one who doesn’t watch Fox had ever heard of, or that our electoral system has been severely compromised by Acorn and the six guys in the New Black Panther Party: Fox News. Even after the rest of the country had moved on, many Republicans continued to “very closely” monitor the story of “who knew what, when” after the Benghazi attacks. Why? Because it was on their TV every night.
Just to be clear, I’m not someone who thinks that there was no issue here. Clearly the White House soft pedaled the attack carried out on the anniversary of 9-11. While Susan Rice’s mentions of the “spontaneous response” to an anti-muslim video can be explained with reference to the talking points she was given by the intelligence agencies and the evolving reports from Benghazi, President Obama’s repetitions of this incorrect narrative are harder to justify. In addition, there are lessons to be learned about how we protect our embassies in distant lands, many of which were detailed in the a State Department commissioned report on the incident.
But let’s put this incident in historical perspective. President Obama shades the truth about four dead Americans and it’s a national tragedy that deserves months of media coverage, multiple hearings and the filibuster of a Secretary of Defense nominee who wasn’t even in the Obama Administration at the time. On the other hand, President Bush and his cronies lie our country into a war which results in the death of over a 100,000 people, including the death of 4,000 Americans and the maiming of tens of thousands of others, and there is nary a peep from those same Republicans. Where is the sense of proportion here?
Rand Paul, during the final Senate testimony of Hillary Clinton, said that if he were president he would have fired Secretary Clinton, and that the death of 4 Americans in Benghazi was the “worst tragedy since 9/11.”
First of all, Senator Paul, you’re not president, nor will you ever be president. And second of all, “the worst tragedy since 9/11″?! Were you sleeping through the entire eight years from 2000 to 2008? Again, 4 People Died. That’s a tragedy, and we mourn all Americans who die in service to this country, but were talking about 4 people, not the tens of thousands wounded in Iraq, not to mention the deaths of almost 2,000 Americans during Hurricane Katrina, or the many others who have died in mass shootings that could have been mitigated (if not stopped) if the GOP wasn’t completely in hock to the NRA.
Bill Maher on the Republican Convention Whitewash of the Bush years.
No Bush, no Cheney, no Rumsfeld, no Bachman, John McCain relegated to a short speech out of prime time and Sarah Palin was not only not invited to the convention, but her scheduled appearances on Fox were cancelled as well, leaving her sitting in Alaska whining to the country on Facebook.
Great interview with John McCain’s 2008 campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, regarding HBO’s Game Change.
Caught the movie last Sunday. Highly Recommended.
I invited a few people over to watch it and one friend skeptically asked: “It’s a movie about Sarah Palin? Is it a comedy?”
I said “No, but it’s about Sarah Palin, so it’s probably funny as hell.”
I actually thought the movie was a sympathetic portrayal of Palin, but sympathetic is not the same as positive. Sarah Palin was a reckless choice, motivated by the imperative to win and the knowledge that winning was impossible with the usual suspects as candidates. Throughout the movie, Palin consistently demonstrates a shocking ignorance of American government, history and foreign affairs. She doesn’t understand how the Federal Reserve works, doesn’t know the difference between North Korea and South Korea, thinks that Saddam Hussein attacked America on 9-11, and believes that the Queen of England directs British foreign policy. Obviously, this is not a portrayal of a woman that would be qualified to become commander in Chief were President John McCain to die in office.
What it is, however, is a portrayal of a woman who has just given birth to a special needs child, has a 17 year old daughter who is pregnant out of wedlock, who is put in the unenviable position of being nominated for a job that she is clearly unqualified for, and is then separated from her family and thrust into the harsh glare of media scrutiny that comes with American presidential campaigns. While the movie chronicles how unprepared she was for the challenge, it also shows the adoring crowds she drew and the heartwarming connections she makes with the families of Down Syndrome children. Similarly, after scenes that show her in a downward spiral, lying on the floor of her hotel in her robe saying, “I miss my baby,” she seems reborn when John McCain brings her to his Sedona ranch to reunite with her family and begin debate prep.
While the movie portrays an erratic, sometimes petty Palin, who often seems more concerned about her own political future than that of John McCain’s, it also shows a woman who has an amazing ability to answer when the bell rings, delivering a great convention speech soon after she is plucked from Alaska, and standing toe to toe with Joe Biden for a Vice Presidential Debate on the national stage. But along with great performances on the national stage, come historic failures as Palin embarrasses herself on national TV in the Katie Couric interviews after she refuses to be coached by Nicole Wallace in the run-up to the interviews. Typical of the Palin we have grown to know over the past three years, she blames Wallace for her own lack of preparation for the interview.
Of course, Palin and her supporters have decried the movie as just another liberal media smear job, and while every movie has it’s own biases, (this one seems like it could have been written by Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace) I haven’t heard any credible refutations of the amazing gaps of knowledge that she exhibits throughout the movie.
Watching the movie was like reliving the campaign for me. I remember all of those moments vividly: Obama at the Brandenburg Gate (hard to believe he did that), the Bridge to Nowhere, the revelations of Todd Palin’s involvement in the Alaska secessionist party (“He checked the wrong box!” she exclaims), Palin’s Convention speech, and perhaps most vividly, when the campaign greenlighted her Bill Ayers attack and Republicans started showing up at McCain events yelling “Obama’s a terrorist!” One of the strongest images of the campaign was the look on John McCain’s face when he took that mic away from the crazy lady when she said that she couldn’t trust Obama, because, “he’s an Arab.”
“This is not the kind of campaign I wanted to run,” McCain says to Steve Schmidt after the event.
Just as vividly, I remember the fierce debates I had with my conservative uncle and other Republican diehards about whether Palin was just as qualified as Obama was for the job. Despite fiercely defending Palin, my uncle has consistently insisted that Obama’s “only qualifications” for President were that “he reads good speeches off of a teleprompter.” I think this movie (and, more importantly, the primary sources it is based on) clears up this debate: Aside from the star power and the hype, Sarah Palin is nothing like Barack Obama. Barack Obama may have had a thin resume, but he sure as hell knew what the Federal Reserve did and that you wouldn’t call the Queen of England to discuss British military policies.
To be fair to Palin, most of the people in the United States do not know what the Federal Reserve does. But “most people” aren’t running for Vice President, either.
More importantly, the Republican defense of Sarah Palin’s ignorance is par for the course in a party that now seems to celebrate ignorance. Somehow, the Republican meme of: the Democrats are a bunch of elitists who want to impose their worldview on youhas morphed into something bordering a distrust of anyone with an education. To cultural conservatives, Sarah Palin was seen as a great example of how intelligence and competence can come from salt of the earth, pro gun, Christian conservatives who didn’t go to elite Ivy League schools. Unfortunately, when measured by the criteria of competence and intelligence, Palin is an epic failure.
As Steve Schmidt notes in the clip above, even more important than her lack of knowledge in 2008, has been her reluctance to do the hard work and homework required to become an effective national leader. Instead of keeping her head down, learning about the issues and emerging as a more substantial candidate for future office, she quit her job and spent the last 3 years enriching herself and her family, becoming a reality TV star and practicing the politics of grievance that she is so adept at. It’s now obvious that Palin was hoping she would be able to use her very effective skills at media manipulation to be nominated for President in 2012 without actually having to run for the nomination. Certainly, we have to give her credit for the manipulating the media for her own ends, but the events chronicled in Game Change and her record over the subsequent three years should end any serious discussion of her as a viable contender for a national position.
Two years after his historic loss to Barack Obama, it is worth asking: “What the hell happened to John McCain?”
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McCain was one of my favorite Republicans back in the day (it’s a very short list), but in the past two years (and especially in the past one year), he has become unrecognizable.
The process started with the 2008 campaign, when he started kissing the asses of Jerry Falwell and the Christian Right after he had called them “agents of intolerance” in the 2000 Republican nomination campaign against George W. Bush. It continued as he embraced the Bush tax cuts in 2008 after campaigning in 2000 on a program that wasn’t much different than Al Gore’s “lockbox” and then voting against the tax cuts in the Senate in 2001.
But even through the 2008 election, he stuck to his guns on issues that he had bucked his party on, including Cap and Trade, Immigration Reform, the Border Fence, Campaign Finance, the DREAM Act and at least keeping an open mind on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. On each one of those core issues, he has since reversed his position or stopped actively advocating for the policy.
Inevitably, these 180 degree reversals have invited parodies and armchair psychological theories on what is going on with this guy. Most of those analyses start with the fact that, as Richard Wolfe noted on Hardball, losing a presidential election “messes with your head.” Jacob Weisburg laid the situation out well (although quite melodramatically) during the 2010 primaries in an article which posited that a badly run campaign and the choice of Sarah Palin weighed heavily on McCain’s conscience. After McCain ended the year bitterly leading the charge against the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal, the DREAM Act and the START Treaty in the Lame Duck Session of the Senate, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein hammered McCain, writing:
His public fall has been spectacular, a consequence of politics…and personal pique. He’s a bitter man now, who can barely tolerate the fact that he lost to Barack Obama. But he lost for an obvious reason: his campaign proved him to be puerile and feckless, a politician who panicked when the heat was on during the financial collapse, a trigger-happy gambler who chose an incompetent for his vice president. He has made quite a show ever since of demonstrating his petulance and lack of grace.
Jon Stewart’s piece (posted above) on how John McCain’s continual moving of the goalposts on on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will forever put him on the wrong side of history is particularly devastating. Stewart (another former admirer of McCain) started this year lampooning McCain as a cranky old man who had become, “less as a paragon of straight talk independence… and more of an object lesson in just how f-ing mad people get when they don’t get their way.”
Of course, I can’t resist adding my own theory to all of this psychobabble:
It’s been a rough few years for McCain. His frustration that America chose the inexperienced Barack Obama over him was painfully visible throughout the campaign (think of the debate where he referred to Obama as “That One“). To top it off, McCain lost ugly, picking the inexperienced Sarah Palin after his advisers told him that, if he picked Lieberman, he would lose the election by fracturing the Republican base (not to mention creating the cranky old man/whiney old man ticket). Then, soon after this gut wrenching defeat, he faced a primary where he felt the only way to keep his job was to run as far to the right as possible, effectively going back on many of the things he had stood for throughout his career.
While this 180 degree change might have been easy for a politician like Mitt Romney, McCain has always had a strong sense of honor. My PhD in armchair psychoanalysis leads me to believe that the only way that McCain could cope with this was to internalize this new set of values and (as he has done so many other times in his life) embrace the new identity wholeheartedly. Add to this the anger at losing to Obama and McCain’s consistent tendency to rebel against any authority and you have a perfect storm to make the transition from Maverick to dogmatic cultural conservative.
Tragically, McCain’s transformation comes at a terrible time for the country. In this time of crisis, more than ever, we need rational centrists that can look past the narrow political interests of party and work together to find common sense solutions to our problems.
Put more succinctly, we need Mavericks.
Does anyone know where we can find one?
How would you like to have to work with these assholes?
Since the advent of the Tea Party, my conservative uncle has consistently been sending me info on how the only way for Republicans to regain and maintain power is to embrace the movement’s agenda wholeheartedly.
Based on the events of the past year, we may see that idea tested. Over the past months, Tea Party candidates have forced out an increasing number of “establishment” GOP candidates (many of whom were nationally known) in favor of candidates whose support came in large part from the Tea Party.
The list is impressive: Robert Bennet in Utah, Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Sue Lowden in Nevada, Jane Norton in Colorado, both Charlie Crist and Bill McCollum in Florida, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania (who was pushed out of the Republican party by Pat Toomey and the Club for Growth and then kicked out of the Democratic party by Sestak and the voters of PA), and finally and most dramatically, Rick Lazio in New York and Mike Castle in Delaware (the only Republican that could have taken the Senate seat for the Republicans).
In other cases politicians have completely revamped their personalities, becoming more rigid and dogmatic to save themselves from Tea Party challengers. John McCain, who faced a Tea Party influenced J.D. Hayworth is the most egregious example of this. Faced with losing his seat, this American hero who prided himself on being independent and putting “Country First” is almost totally unrecognizable from the John McCain that the country knew and loved three years ago.
While McCain’s rightward shift looked like overkill, the defeat of Lisa Murkowski in Alaska by Joe Miller, shows the perils of complacency. Murkowski’s defeat by Joe Miller in Alaska seemed to come out of nowhere. While polls has shown the race tightening, not a single poll had shown Miller even within striking distance of Murkowski and she overspent him by a 10 to 1 margin. Miller’s win was propelled by a number of influences, but what made the difference on election day was a huge increase in turnout by social conservatives who were motivated in part by a ballot measure on parental consent for abortion. These kind of unpredictable results are the kind of things that keep politicians up at night, and while it’s tempting to say that keeping politicians feet to the fire is a good thing, that’s more difficult to claim when we’re talking about the beliefs of a small minority of increasingly paranoid people (which is what Republican primary voters have become in many states).
There’s a debate raging around the country about whether the Tea Party Tumult will be good or bad for the Republican party’s electoral fortunes this year and going forward. It’s somewhat of a mixed bag this year, but the Tea Party has been able to take advantage of the unpopularity of the Democrats to field a slate of candidates (especially in Senate races) who seem to be faring well despite their extreme views. In other cases, the Tea Party has taken seats that were almost guaranteed Republican pickups and turned them into either dead heats (in the case of Nevada) or heavily favored Democratic seats (like Delaware).
In House races, the Tea Party should also help the Republicans since an influx of new (or newly energized) voters can swing a close election in House Districts (especially when the opposition party is as dispirited as Democratic voters have been this year).
Long term, I would be concerned about the Tea Party takeover of the party if I were a Republican. The country is generally center right, but there is strong support for a safety net. The Tea Party people are hard free market libertarians and many have spoken out in favor of dismantling the safety net. The country is becoming increasingly diverse and more open minded. The Tea Party led Republicans are becoming whiter, more nativist and idealize the 1950′s (a time that wasn’t always great if you were a minority or a woman).
Scapegoating immigrants and Muslims might be good short term politics in a midterm year, but if you want to see the fruits of that kind of effort, just go talk to President Pete Wilson, who rode to the presidency on his scapegoating of immigrants in the early 90′s… Oh wait, the actual results were that he is now reviled in the state and his party has almost ceased to compete statewide and struggles to elect 1/3 of the legislature each year.
While it’s interesting to talk about how this helps the fortunes of the Democratic and Republican parties, I believe that the more corrosive effect of the Tea Party will be felt when it comes to governing. As we all know from Government 101, The American political system is built around trying to limit the things that government can do. In order for something to pass, the House, Senate and President have to agree on it, and Senators have added yet another hurdle by mandating 60 votes for any significant legislation. Since it is rare for any party to control 60 votes in the Senate, this means that almost nothing can pass unless it has at least some support from both sides of the aisle.
Almost all of the great programs of the past that Americans take for granted passed in bi-partisan ways: Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, Environmental Protection. The passage of Health Care Reform this year is a large anomaly, and as has been pointed out by Republican David Frum, was greatly impacted (in a negative way) by Republicans refusal to lend their votes to improve the bill. The legislative deal-making that the Democrats had to go through to pass this bill without a vote to spare was a disgrace and harmed the initial popularity of the reform significantly.
More importantly, America is at a crossroads right now. We face massive debt that is a result of a combination of runaway spending and 3o years of tax cuts. As has been noted previously, taxes are now at the lowest level they have been in 5 years and spending is at it’s highest. Politicians from both sides agree that this is unsustainable. What they disagree about (or more candidly, just refuse to talk about) is how to make the changes to get us closer to balancing the budget. In two separate articles written this year by right-leaning economist Robert Samuleson and Obama’s former Director of OMB, Peter Orzag, both look at the consequences of trying to cut deficits by focusing solely on tax increases or by focusing solely on cutting government. They both reach the similar conclusions: any plan that focuses solely on either revenues or spending would entail either massive tax increases or massive cuts in popular programs such as Medicare, Social Security and national defense, none of which the American people will accept.
With a deficit commission soon to report its recommendations for meaningful deficit reductions, we need pragmatic centrists that are willing to compromise and do what is good for the country more than ever. The last thing we need is a bunch of Tea Partiers who will dig their heels in and refuse to compromise, either because they want tax cuts more than they want deficit reduction, or because they have to constantly look over their shoulder at the possibility that a Tea Party challenger will defeat them in the primary election because they weren’t dogmatic enough. The Tea Party has brought energy to the Republican party, but their lasting legacy may be to bring even more gridlock to our political system.