Straight-Talk Missing from John McCain

by Randy Shaw on August 30, 2004

Arizona Senator John McCain, who speaks at tonight’s Republican convention, is often described as “the most popular politician in America.” McCain has drawn fawning national media coverage, and even Michael Doonsebury was mesmerized by the Senator’s appeal. But McCain’s alliance with the Bush re-election effort shows that the Senator is chiefly driven by personal ambition, not the desire for a more equitable America.

Like John Kerry, McCain’s political career was sparked by his experience in Vietnam. A former prisoner of war, McCain was easily elected Senator and votes solidly Republican.

The mainstream media likes McCain for the same reason it unduly promotes Connecticut Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman. Both sometimes espouse positions contrary to their Party, which the media views as a sign of “independence” less often seen in their more “ideological” colleagues.

Despite the takeover of the Republican Party by the extreme right, McCain has been generally a go along to get along Senator. He is content to nibble around the edges, refusing to use his political capital for any cause other than the questionably effective McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

During his run in the primaries for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2000, McCain’s “Straight-Talk Express” galvanized America. But McCain’s candidacy ran aground before the South Carolina primary, when his military record and even his patriotism were harshly attacked by the Bush campaign.

Despite these personal attacks, the “straight-talking” McCain has bent to Bush policies over the past four years. The media tries to distance the Senator from the President by noting McCain’s personal dislike for Bush, but stories rarely addresses the Senator’s strong backing for the President’s agenda.

Why is the media silent over McCain’s consistently running political interference for the President? Because this fact conflicts with the mythical John McCain the media has invented.

The media’s McCain is a stand-up guy who sides with “the people” and lets the chips fall where they may. This mythical McCain secretly opposes the Bush giveaways to the rich, the President’s environmental policies, and even the manner in which Bush carried out the war in Iraq.

But the real McCain, the Senator who actually casts votes, is much different. The real McCain is a calculating politician who will do whatever it takes to stay on good terms with Bush so that the conservative wing of the Party will support his candidacy for President in 2008.

The recent controversy over Swift Vote Veterans for Truth showed both the mythical and real John McCain in all of his glory.

The mythical McCain is, as the New York Times puts it, “caught in a new crossfire” over the false attacks attacking fellow Vietnam veteran John Kerry. This McCain is “furious” over the advertisements.

But the real McCain “will do whatever the President asks to help re-elect him.” The real McCain has not condemned Bush for supporting the attack ads and will campaign with the President in a three-day swing following the convention.

The media’s unjustified elevation of McCain parallels its longstanding cheerleading for Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Powell has long been described by the media as “above politics.” His appointment to the Bush cabinet brought widespread support, as pundits claimed he would rein in the more militaristic Cheney and Rumsfeld.

But Powell, like McCain, is committed only to personal ambition, not principle.

When Powell told the United Nations that Iraq had tried to acquire nuclear materials from Africa, he made the claim knowing it lacked a credible factual basis. A principled person would not have participated in such a public charade, but Powell turned in a winning performance that boosted public support for the invasion.

When Colin Powell told America that the evidence supported the President’s claims, many were persuaded; after all, they thought, Powell would not lie.

The Bush forces now hope that John McCain will produce a similar impact.

Their hope is for voters to conclude that John McCain would never campaign for a liar or warmonger, so Bush must not be either. McCain’s role is to deflect Bush’s right-wing agenda, and to convince independents that the President is of similar mind.

Arizona is no longer a rock-solid conservative state, and McCain does not have to help Bush to ensure his own re-election. This is all about his own dreams of the White House, and his doubtful assumption that conservatives will reward him in 2008 for his campaign work this year.

McCain is using his media image of independence and nonpartisanship to sell the most ideologically- driven conservative President in history to the American people. This is the real John McCain, and the closest politician we have to a real-life Manchurian Candidate.

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