Monday, February 04, 2008

Who is John McCain?

Republican candidate John McCain has risen from the ashes of a faltering campaign, and is currently poised to become the the official nominee on the GOP side for the 2008 presidency. His surprising victories in several primary elections have taken many astute political observers off-guard. Although he was identified as a favorite over a year and a half ago, he seemed to lose steam during 2007, and looked like a dark horse as recently as last month. This has been an especially tumultuous race, and speculating about the eventual winner is a hazardous proposition. But it seems clear that it's appropriate to take a closer look at McCain's record and positions, as he has become a major player in current events. What could keep the masses from supporting his candidacy? Why do people think he is an electable option?

McCain's early life was dominated by a five-and-a-half year stint in a prisoner-or-war camp in North Vietnam. His experiences there have been repeatedly evoked to define his character.
He has consistently spoken of this period in his life to enhance his image with the voting public. But soon after his release from captivity, his admittedly immature and selfish extramarital affairs eventually led to a divorce from his long-suffering wife Carol. Upon his retirement from the US Navy in 1981, he chose to enter political life and was elected to the US House of Representatives. After two terms he won a seat in the Senate. He has served there continuously since his initial victory.

Early in his career, he ran afoul of the Congressional Ethics Committee by being a principle player in the Keating Five Scandal. McCain had been the recipient of significant donations from several Federal Savings and Loans institutions. To express his gratitude for those contributions, he pressured the Federal Home Loan Bank Board to ease off their investigation of Lincoln Savings and Loan, and its Chairman Charles Keating (who happened to be a personal friend). The collapse of the Savings and Loan industry, and the ensuing federal government bail-out, cost the American taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars.

As a form of karmic irony, McCain chose campaign finance reform as his main agenda in the upper house. In 2002 the McCain-Feingold Act was finally passed, and targeted soft money contributions, and the proliferation of "issue ads". This has been a bone of contention for the GOP- many of its members believe that it is an attack on First Amendment "free speech" provisions. Incidentally, this isn't the only issue on which McCain appears to be out-of-step with the Republican masses. His support for a comprehensive immigration reform act that would grant amnesty to illegal immigrants is wildly unpopular with many "heartland conservatives".
Earlier attacks on Christian Conservative darling Paul Weyrich (in defense of his philandering friend John Tower) further estranged him from that constituency.

In the 2000 presidential race, he ran against George W. Bush for the Republican nomination. He characterized himself as a "straight-talker" and narrowed his efforts to state primaries where he believed he could swing the vote. McCain made a very strong showing, but fell victim to a famous "push-poll" (developed by Bush adviser Karl Rove), that suggested he had sired an illegitimate, mixed-raced child. Other shadowy whisperings suggested he might be "mentally unstable" or a homosexual. Meanwhile McCain continued to launch verbal attacks on Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, claiming that he would not let these Christian leaders hijack his party. When Bush was appointed president by the Supreme Court, McCain continued to oppose his rival. He was one of only three within his party who voted against the new executive's sweeping tax breaks. It wasn't until after 9-11 that he capitulated to Dubya's strong-armed rhetoric.

After the tragic day in 2001, McCain began to make his subtle shift toward becoming a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Although he claimed to disagree with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's methodology, he was an an unredeemable apologist for the invasion of Iraq. In 2006 he even reversed his opposition to Bush's tax cuts, and said that eliminating them would be tantamount to a tax increase. The cynical might suggest that such a turnabout indicated a crass appeal to "fiscal conservatives" whose votes McCain needs to prevail in 2008. Another red flag is his appearance as 2006 commencement speaker at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University (after previously characterizing the preacher as "an agent of intolerance"). But perhaps the biggest hint of McCain's growing hypocrisy is the fact that he has more lobbyist fund-raisers than any other candidate, and is increasingly appealing to corporate and industry contributors.

Despite McCain's media-driven reputation of being a "maverick" within his party, he is pro-life, free-trade, and supports private social security accounts, school vouchers, welfare reform, mandatory sentencing, and capital punishment. He adamantly opposes socialized medicine. He's extremely superstitious and highly temperamental- both traits that should make potential voters take a second look at rumors that he is insane. Still there have been precedents for that kind of thing in the White House. One thing that might work against McCain's chances of becoming president is his advanced age. At 72, he would be the oldest man ever to attain the office. Maybe McCain can use that to his advantage by playing himself as a reincarnation of Ronald Reagan?

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