The current Presidential election will be one of the most significant events of our lifetime. American politics is undergoing historic change, which is reflected in new levels of bottoms-up networking and grassroots participation in this year's election. We need a strong, capable, and honest leader in the White House; one who is responsive to the needs of the American people as a whole, not just the few connected elite with political access.
Both McCain and Obama have strong reputations as reformers in Washington, and at first glance, it appears that change is inevitable, regardless of who wins the election. Despite the noise around the issue, Obama has stood firm for genuine election finance reform, relying on massive numbers of small contributions by individual voters. However, when you look past the clever marketing ploys executed by John McCain's advisers, you get a different picture.
When I met first met him, John McCain was for fair play. For example, he was against tax-breaks for the elite. He had a strong and clear stance against the use of torture by the U.S. military as demonstrated by the 2005 anti-torture amendment that he wrote and endorsed. He wanted to support our troops, giving them the benefits they have earned and deserve. And now, it seems he's flip-flopped on all that.
McCain's recent support for the Bush veto of legislation that would have prohibited the CIA from using physical force in interrogations is not all. About six weeks ago, I asked McCain directly about his refusal to sign the Webb GI Bill, which provides full reimbursement for college education for veterans who have served for over two years. The response I received was scripted rhetoric about solider re-enlistment; an excuse that has been proven to be disinformation by a recent report filed by the Congressional Budget Office. While this may be an honest mistake (perhaps he was misled by his advisers), considering the hardships that our troops have endured in recent years, it is one that is inexcusable.
What happened to McCain?
In the last few years, I've gotten a glimpse of the inner workings of the Washington "sausage factory", and it's not pretty.
A digression: lobbyists get blamed for a lot of the problems in Washington, but I see that these accusations are not all that accurate. Most lobbyists are just trying to get a fair shake for their clients, which is protocol in the sausage factory. Many lobbyists are even promoting causes that benefit the public interest (they're the ones who don't get paid much).
However, a really small number of lobbyists are really good at getting special privileges for their elite clients. They don't care if their selfish actions hurt everyone else. These are the ones most often referred to as "influence peddlers" (the name Jack Abramoff comes to mind here). They will compromise the best interests of the American people for billable hours. Again, it's a small group, not representative of the industry.
These influence peddlers are the true predators in Washington, and it's not fair that the whole group gets a bad name for the actions of this small yet powerful group.
Please note that many of these influence peddlers, due to loopholes in the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act, are not required to register as lobbyists. Regardless of their official title, it is these "influence peddlers", not honest lobbyists, who act against shared American interests.
You look closely at the people pulling the strings on McCain, and you can see that his campaign is run by influence peddlers. He is being fed scripts by hacks that have managed to exploit registration loopholes, while the legitimate lobbyists on his campaign team are being asked to step-aside. The most influential members of McCain's entourage now include people like Charlie Black, McCain's Senior Political Adviser, whose firm has represented shady characters like Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos as well as unscrupulous private security contractors such as Blackwater Worldwide.
I feel that people who claim that McCain is "confused" are not looking at the whole picture. When you're trying hard to recite memorized lines, it's easy to confuse facts like Shia vs. Sunni Muslims, or the actual vs. the predicted affect of the new GI Bill. This isn't genuine confusion; it's just hard to remember lines, especially when they go against your better judgment.
Furthermore, as demonstrated by McCain's involvement in the controversy surrounding the Northrop Grumman/Airbus tanker contract, it seems as if McCain is still able to stand up against influence peddling when it is not related to his bid for the presidency; he is just unable to see the special interests prevalent within his own advisory committee.
I feel that McCain is not a lost cause, and that he has enough integrity to once again stand up for the American people against the "influence peddlers" that threaten our core values. It is time that the American people put pressure on McCain to assert his himself and fire the lobbyists feeding him scripts. It is time for the American people to help McCain to once again be the "stand-up guy" which we admire and respect.