This week, I had the opportunity to chat with a friend, author and blogger Cliff Schecter, about his new book, The Real McCain.
BOB CESCA: Hey Cliff. Before we get into it, I'd like to thank you for injecting the word "trollop" into the 2008 debate.
CLIFF SCHECTER: Well as you know Bob, and as I am sure William Safire knows too, trollop comes from Old English.
Trol-lop n. - Old guy who uses words from 1672 to denigrate his wife in front of strangers.
BOB: I'm not so sure the McCain campaign ought to be throwing down on "the facts". The whole "surge is working" thing -- the whole "Sunnis aren't al-Qaeda" thing and the whole "Iran is arming the Sunnis" thing, to name a few examples. Just saying. Anyway, you mentioned the progressive blogs. I have this theory that many blog readers are exhausted with hearing about how bad Iraq is going; they're embarrassed about torture and therefore don't want to hear about it; and they're also hesitant to criticize Senator McCain. Or, at least, they're not getting excited about dissecting his chicanery. Are you noticing this around the tubes, and if so, why are people seemingly ambivalent about McCain?
CLIFF: It was fun seeing his attack dogs trying to deflect the story by going after me in The New York Daily News. I commend them as the first to actually get McCain to respond to the very factually based charges I make in the book. You may have also seen him hem and haw on FOX yesterday when he was asked about the story I broke in the The Real McCain, and first reported here, that he physically assaulted another member of Congress (in his defense, it was Rick Renzi).
As for the Intertuboblogosphere, I sadly have to agree with your analysis. It is most definitely the primary. With the Obama/Hillary Thrilla in Manila still going on, it seems many have dug in and are more content to bash the other one than McCain. Which is a problem, as he is a scary guy, and people need to know it. I also think some may have internalized the media message. You know the "he's not that bad for a Republican" line or the "he's an independent-minded guy" David Brookisms. But mostly I think it is the primary that has given him a free pass, and that is why I am so excited The Real McCain is out now, because we need to remind progressives where the real danger lies: WIth a right-wing, dunderhead who likes to sing songs about bombing Iran when hopped up on a few shots of Sanka.
BOB: In researching for The Real McCain, did you find that the lenient treatment from the traditional media comes from a similar place as their post-9/11 patriotic hypnosis -- out of respect for his terrible Vietnam ordeal? And based on your anonymous source for the trollop story, do you think we'll see more and more reporters break from the cole-slaw and spare-ribs pack to tell the real story? And in your estimation, which is worse from a journalistic integrity perspective: accepting a BBQ picnic from someone you have to treat with objectivity, or telling a story to an author on condition of anonymity?
CLIFF: All good questions Bob. I found that much of the lenient treatment comes from the fact that he wines and dines them with BBQ as you said, but also that reporters, like many Americans, are a sucker for a man in uniform. Even if it is George W. Bush in a cheerleder outfit (give me an M, give me an O, give me a R, give me a O, give me an N, what's that spell?). But he has also had a media machine behind him, from the neocons who control many conservative publications and outlets to many others in the MSM who have been convinced by good marketing that he is a straight-talker, when he is anything but. I think if we can change the conventional wisdom, many in the media will then feel safe to report what they see: That he is temperamental, politically ambitious, not knowledgeable on foreign policy, scary on economics and overall a third term for Bush. The bubble needs to be pierced, and I hope this book can do that.
As for your last question, interesting. Obviously, the fact that those who are supposed to expose the malfeasance of those in power are actually rubbing elbows with them at DC soirees on a weekly basis is a problem. A big one. So I find it funny when the moralizing begins, whether from atavistic right-wing bloggers or some in the MSM. These are the people who know Bush lied about why we are in Iraq. Some of these people pushed the story that the Clintons killed Vince Foster, or Obama is a Muslim, knowing both to be demonstrably false. But now they are just so darn angry that I dared report what unimpeachable sources told me about McCain, sources who didn't allow their names to be public because they don't want to lose their jobs.
Some people are just simply in dire need of an enema.
BOB: There definitely appears to be a pattern here. Centrist uniter with a war mongering agenda artificially elevated by a complacent traditional media. Plus, he's neck-and-neck with the Democrats despite eight years of Republican crimes and disasters. Eight years ago at around this time, then-Governor Bush couldn't name the leader of Pakistan. And now, we have a Republican who can't tell the difference between Sunnis and Shia. To that point, is Senator McCain willfully ignorant about Iraqi sectarian divisions, or does he try really hard and the smart just rolls out of his skull and down his neck -- gathering in a puddle inside his cranky cortex?
CLIFF: First, kudos on that last sentence. That was art my friend. It is amazing that with over 80 percent of the country thinking things are headed in the wrong direction -- the other 20 percent ostensibly waiting for the Bubonic plague to occur or locusts to descend from the Heavens -- that McCain is even in this thing. But it is a perfect storm for Democrats to lose the White House. Any other GOP nominee would have been no problem. And if our two candidates weren't the Jets and the Sharks right now, I still think it's game over for McCain. But with our guys duking it out, and McCain's having successfully separated himself from a Republican brand that rivals scurvy in its popularity, he could win.
As for Republicans, what can I say that hasn't been said about how they pick their leaders. Looks good in a cowboy hat. Check. Has a chip on his shoulder bigger than Ann Coulter's Adams Apple. Check. Wasn't caught--at least in the last week--in a public bathroom making passes at any other dudes. Check (as far as we know). Knowing the leader of Pakistan is a liability. So much like in the case of Bush, I am not convinced that McCain is being purposely ignorant, knowing he won't be called on it by the media.
As my book shows, he is that cynical, having switched his positions on everything from foreign intervention to taxes to whether Martin Luther King was an "issue" to be studied or an American hero. Don't believe the hype on any of them. It is what he needs to do or say to get elected president. And that is all he cares about. I go into these kinds of details in the book, and was pleased when I a U.S News & World Report editor who interviewed me earlier today referred to the book as a blueprint for Democrats to beat McCain. It certainly is, in my humble estimation, but that is because it tells the truth about the man, "straight-talking, bipartisan, maverick, centrist" be damned.
BOB: And I don't know if you chased down this information, but I have it on good authority that Senator McCain is a Muslim. So it ought to be "straight-talking, bipartisan, maverick, centrist, Muslim." As for the blueprint, if you could mastermind one big national ad buy against Senator McCain, would you target the economy, Iraq, his temper, his age or his on-going selling-out to the Bush administration?
CLIFF: Interesting. I heard McCain was a Buddhist Separatist, homosexual, vegetarian. Pssst, don't tell the base. As for a big national ad, I would very simply have an image of George W. Bush floating around, mixed in with images like the one on the cover of The Real McCain, where McCain is basically prostrating himself to Bush, and simply ask with a large picture of Bush on the screen: "Would you vote for 4 more years of this man?"
I then would point out in a series of ads why voting for McCain is voting for Bush. Same temper and petulance. Same lack of knowledge on foreign and economic policy, and continuation of both of these disastrous Bush hallmarks. Same proclivity to climb in bed (metaphorically....of course) with lobbyists, sleazy characters (like brawl-buddy Rick Renzi, who became a "good friend" afterwards in McCain's own words on FOX yesterday and is now headed for the Big House), racists (Trent Lott, white supremacist Richard Quinn) and Armageddon-seeking preachers (late Rev. Falwell, Hagee, Parsely, Land, Mahoney)...
It is simple: For all these reasons, four more years of McCain is four more years of Bush. And I was heartened to see in a writeup at US News & World Report yesterday, by Liz Halloran, she called this book a blueprint for Democrats to beat McCain. Because, as I laid out above, by just telling the truth about him at the risk of losing some quality BBQ invites, it is.
BOB: So when can we expect to see you back on cable news making Republican "strategists" cry? I know that many people credit you and Olbermann for breaking through the noise machine -- for being the first liberals to bring along your flame-throwers to various cable news shows and to really be incendiary towards the Bush-apologists. And now with campaign season heating up, can we expect you to hit the shows and face off against Pat "Whitey Is Awesome (Food Stamps, For Example)" Buchanan or the latest shrink-wrapped FOX News Barbie Doll?
CLIFF: I am certainly hoping so! Sometimes Republicans just need to cry. Ask John Boehner. Or even tough-guy W. I certainly want to go on TV to talk about The Real McCain and also chat with some of my kind Republican friends. Many of these guys act so tough, but then they're scared to have you on. Sean Hannity, any time pal. Any time.
Otherwise, as the MSM gets copies of this book and sees it is a lot more than what has been reported already, but a pretty thorough compendium of McCain's history of changing positions whenever it suits him, Livin' La Vida Loca with any lobbyist within arms length and constantly losing control of his temper, not to mention his intention to continue Bush foreign, economic and social policy, then I think there will be much more TV. Let's hope so, because somebody needs to tell Bill Kristol to put down the pipe.
BOB: Yeah, how does Kristol hold the pipe with a striaght-jacket on? Thanks, Cliff. Let's get a radio show together.