Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Ugly New McCain

I've written quite a lot recently about the stirrings in the press against the dishonesty which has become rampant throughout John McCain's campaign.

Well, it's threatening to turn into an avalanche. In today's Washington Post Richard Cohen talks of "The Ugly New McCain" and points out:

Following his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 South Carolina primary, John McCain did something extraordinary: He confessed to lying about how he felt about the Confederate battle flag, which he actually abhorred. "I broke my promise to always tell the truth," McCain said. Now he has broken that promise so completely that the John McCain of old is unrecognizable. He has become the sort of politician he once despised.
When one considers that, earlier on in this campaign McCain's POW status had left him almost immune to such charges, it really does say how far the McCain campaign has fallen that newspapers like The Washington Post are willing to call him so openly on the despicable campaign that he is running and just how little relationship his claims bear to the truth.

Cohen times his own eye opening to McCain's appearance on The View, which puts him several weeks behind the rest of us and only goes to show just how far McCain had to push it before everyone, including The Washington Post, caught on to the despicable campaign he is running.

The precise moment of McCain's abasement came, would you believe, not at some news conference or on one of the Sunday shows but on "The View," the daytime TV show created by Barbara Walters. Last week, one of the co-hosts, Joy Behar, took McCain to task for some of the ads his campaign has been running. One deliberately mischaracterized what Barack Obama had said about putting lipstick on a pig -- an Americanism that McCain himself has used. The other asserted that Obama supported teaching sex education to kindergarteners.

"We know that those two ads are untrue," Behar said. "They are lies."

Freeze. Close in on McCain. This was the moment. He has largely been avoiding the press. The Straight Talk Express is now just a brand, an ad slogan like "Home Cooking" or "We Will Not Be Undersold." Until then, it was possible for McCain to say that he had not really known about the ads, that the formulation "I approve this message" was just boilerplate. But he didn't.

"Actually, they are not lies," he said.

Actually, they are.

I presume, until this point, Cohen and others were prepared to cut McCain much more slack than I was, and were telling themselves that McCain possibly had no hand in the disgraceful and dishonest ads which were being aired in his name.

This, for Cohen and others, became the moment when they could no longer pretend that McCain was an innocent bystander in his own campaign. Cohen's disappointment is more keenly felt than I expected:

McCain has turned ugly. His dishonesty would be unacceptable in any politician, but McCain has always set his own bar higher than most. He has contempt for most of his colleagues for that very reason: They lie. He tells the truth. He internalizes the code of the McCains -- his grandfather, his father: both admirals of the shining sea. He serves his country differently, that's all -- but just as honorably. No more, though.

I am one of the journalists accused over the years of being in the tank for McCain. Guilty.
He then points out that he never admired McCain simply because of the accessibility he afforded to journalists, and I believe him to be sincere as he says this, but rather because he had always admired what McCain stood for: "Service to a cause greater than oneself."

There can be no doubt that Cohen was a true believer in McCain, just as there can be no doubt that McCain's actions have genuinely shaken him.
McCain has soiled all that. His opportunistic and irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his political heir -- the person in whose hands he would leave the country -- is a form of personal treason, a betrayal of all he once stood for. Palin, no matter what her other attributes, is shockingly unprepared to become president. McCain knows that. He means to win, which is all right; he means to win at all costs, which is not.


Karl Marx got one thing right -- what he said about history repeating itself. Once is tragedy, a second time is farce. John McCain is both.
Barack Obama said recently that McCain was prepared to lose his integrity rather than lose an election. I have always thought that he will actually lose both.

What is simply undeniable at this point is that even true believers are backing away from McCain's disgusting tactics and, when this is all over, a simple apology won't be enough to wash away the damage that McCain has done to his own good name.

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