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What Exactly Is A “McCain Moment?”

Elizabeth Bumiller of the NYTimes — now branded as the reporter McCain most recently vented his temper on in public — had a piece yesterday discussing two "McCain Moments" that were revelatory of just how much mercurial temper and ego play a role in his decision making.  And how willing he has been to hide behind staffers or others when trying to distance himself from the consequences of his attempted actions once they are uncovered. 

Ronald Reagan was a master of this.  We all know how well buck-passing’s worked for the Bush/Cheney Administration wherein no bad deed goes unblamed way, way down the staffing line so long as the high level folks remain untouched by accountability.  So the grunts in McCain’s camp can look forward to life as a potential scapegoat at any moment, I suppose.  Haven’t we had enough of this already?

Bumiller showcases the McCain flirtation with switching parties after his bitter loss in SC in 2000 to George Bush and his political dirty tricksters — short-lived though it was, since he now embraces the very people responsible for smears on his wife and children…but hey, that’s McCain’s political future we are talking about, isn’t it?  And the McCain approach to John Kerry about potentially becoming Kerry’s running mate in 2004.  Both of which McCain was content to allow a political aide to answer for him by trying to recast long-known stories in a better light for today’s version of McCain.

But there are many more examples of McCain’s ego, buck-passing maneuvers and outright avoidance of responsibility above and beyond the two highlighted by Bumiller

Sen. Jim Webb is sponsoring a revision of the GI Bill, so that servicemembers can afford to come back home after grueling tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere and be able to pay for college at today’s costs — not the ones from WWII that the Pentagon is trying to stingily stick to in today’s dollars. On this bill, as on so many others, McCain is a no show:

…College costs have escalated, and benefits have shrunk. Service members are surprised to discover that the grateful nation that made it possible for Sen. John Warner to go to both college and law school and Sen. Frank Lautenberg to graduate from an Ivy League university won’t even cover three years at a public institution, much less a private college. Members of the National Guard and Reserves, who have been a linchpin of the current conflicts, receive only a fraction of that help….

[Webb’s] revamped GI Bill would cover the full cost of the most expensive public institution in any given state; World War II vets like Lautenberg and Warner are enthusiastic supporters, as are dozens of other senators. (Oddly enough, Webb has not been able to get John McCain, who received the ultimate taxpayer-funded education at the Naval Academy, to take a position on the bill.)… (emphasis mine)

Unconscionable. But there’s McCain, running ads hyping his military service.  Supporting vets is something you do — not just pretend to do, John.

— There is McCain’s recent whirlwind government-sponsored travel extravaganza — paid for primarily with your tax dollars, btw — so that McCain along with good buddies Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham could stage a foreign policy PR stunt for the masses.

McCain repeatedly insisted last week that his government-funded trip was not a campaign stunt aimed at voters. Rather, he said, it was a fact-finding mission similar to trips abroad taken regularly by members of Congress in both parties…. 

He paused for a fundraiser with about 100 wealthy American expatriates living in London, who gathered at the ancestral home of Princess Diana and dined on duck salad and ice cream flambe. (His aides said the campaign reimbursed the government $3,000 for travel because of the political nature of the fundraiser.) McCain also gave numerous interviews to U.S. television network correspondents who followed him across the continent and to local newspapers in each country, which touted exclusives on their front pages. And he was hardly treated like a member of Congress by world leaders now eyeing him as a potential equal.

In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy led McCain into the Elysee Palace past a throng of cameras, where the pair sipped cappuccino around a large table set with grapes. In Israel, he walked past Chagall stained-glass windows to meet with President Shimon Peres at his ceremonial home. In London, protocol dictated the absence of a red carpet at 10 Downing, but there was a photo op in the White Drawing Room…. 

McCain’s political advisers say those images were a valuable reminder to voters of a key asset. "This trip has shown the world Senator McCain’s foreign policy credentials and highlighted the depth of his knowledge on international affairs," Rick Davis, his campaign manager, wrote in a memo to supporters.

But there were missteps as well. By incorrectly saying that Iran was training al-Qaeda insurgents rather than Shiite extremists, McCain sparked days of headlines questioning that depth of knowledge he so often boasts of on the campaign trail….

"Was it a good trip? Yeah, it was good" was how one of McCain’s senior advisers summed up the journey as the senator from Arizona headed to London for a few days of downtime with his wife, Cindy. "The impression that came back to the American people was someone who was deeply comfortable there in a way that showed he’s ready to be president." (emphasis mine)

Two things: Rick Davis is the master of the "leaked PR missive disguised as a campaign memo," but there is no public calling out of this in the article. And, second, why on earth would you grant anonimity to a campaign aide to praise his own candidate effusively about a campaign tactic? Note how McCain’s trip is all about staging the latest public version of himself, but his efforts were pretty much a rubber stamp of Bush’s cowboy diplomacy policies with a few, well-chosen dissenting points on which there is likely to be little or no agreement within the GOP — and they know it.  No serious questions on that point by the press, either. 

—  There is the stunt with the "fired" staffer who put out a hit YouTube on Obama which McCain then got to publicly disavow all the while getting out the "scary negro" message they’d wanted to publicize in the first place.  Welcome to Lee Atwater School of Thuggery 101.  (If you think this isn’t going to be a GOP pop-up constant, then you didn’t see the Pat Buchanan pile-on.)  McCain’s staffers have been vetting out a familiar attack line on Clinton for months, having the groundwork already laid for them by the Arkansas Project and other wurlitzer appendages.  McCain is not only NOT above the fray, he relishes being in it — and the media does the American public no favors by pretending otherwise.

— And his hypocrisy on the issue of campaign finance laws that he is openly thumbing his nose at is becoming the stuff of bad legend.  Let alone how much pointing out his lobbyist pal connections gets his goat.

And on and on it goes.  The DNC has started hitting McCain on the hypocrite angle — not a moment too soon, in my book.  (Video on McCain’s contradictory Iraq statements here.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com