POLITICS
06/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Tries Aggressively To Distance Himself From Bush In Speech Tonight

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The frame of John McCain being an extension of the Bush presidency is apparently getting under the Senator's skin.

In his speech tonight in Louisiana -- the kick-off, of sorts, of the general election campaign -- McCain took overt steps to distance himself from President Bush. In the process, he revealed, however vaguely, that the attacks he's been receiving at the hands of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are proving politically irritating.

"You will hear from my opponent's campaign in every speech, every interview, every press release that I'm running for President Bush's third term," McCain said. "You will hear every policy of the President described as the Bush-McCain policy. Why does Senator Obama believe it's so important to repeat that idea over and over again? Because he knows it's very difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false. So he tries to drum it into your minds by constantly repeating it rather than debate honestly the very different directions he and I would take the country. But the American people didn't get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to know Senator Obama. They know I have a long record of bipartisan problem solving. They've seen me put our country before any President -- before any party -- before any special interest -- before my own interest. They might think me an imperfect servant of our country, which I surely am. But I am her servant first, last and always..."

From there, the presumptive Republican nominee pivoted to a list of issues on which he has shown resistance to the Bush White House. The problem, however, may be that the record isn't entirely clear that there is distance between the old and the new GOP standard-bearers.

McCain began with Iraq: "I disagreed strongly with the Bush administration's mismanagement of the war in Iraq. I called for the change in strategy that is now, at last, succeeding where the previous strategy had failed miserably."

Maybe so, but there is ample evidence that Senator was a great cheerleader for both the president and his policy. "No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have," McCain himself declared in April 2008. "Let me emphasize that there are many national security issues that I have strongly supported the president and steadfastly so," he added.

Moreover, a full year before the troop surge -- on which McCain has hung his campaign -- the Senator was advocating a (in his words) "stay the course" policy.

"I think the situation on the ground is going to improve. I do think that progress is being made in a lot of Iraq," he told the Hill newspaper in December 2005. "Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course. If I thought we weren't making progress, I'd be despondent."

McCain's speech on Tuesday night, according to those in attendance, was something of a letdown. John Riley, of Newsday, wrote that it "reads better than it is on delivery," and that he "stumble[d] on some of the lines, and doesn't seem to have a big crowd."

But the Senator did hit on some policy points that could prove poignant attacks against Obama.

"No problem is more urgent today than America's dependence on foreign oil," the Senator declared. "Senator Obama voted for the same policies that created the problem. In fact, he voted for the energy bill promoted by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, which gave even more breaks to the oil industry. I opposed it because I know we won't achieve energy independence by repeating the mistakes of the last half century. That's not change we can believe in."

But these points are far fewer and far between than McCain would like to acknowledge. Nowhere in his speech, for instance, does the Arizona Republican touch on tax cuts, judicial philosophy or social security reform -- all areas in which McCain's progressive critics point out, he is in line or more regressive than the soon to be departing president.

Update: Bill Burton, Obama's chief spokesman, e-mails the campaign's response to McCain's speech:

While John McCain has a record of occasional independence from his party in the past, last year he chose to embrace 95% of George Bush's agenda, including his failed economic policies and his failed policy in Iraq. No matter how hard he tries to spin it otherwise, that kind of record is simply not the change the American people are looking for or deserve.

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