If you add it up, John McCain had an unusually weak week, last seen angrily using his POW status to respond to Obama's criticism of his opposition to veterans benefits much as George Bush would reach for 9/11 to answer any criticism. Electorate to McCain: you were a heroic POW 40 years ago, now please talk about why you should be president for the next 4 years of the 21st century. (Listen to 7 Days here.)
If his five problems in five days are an indication, McCain is on track to end up with a smaller vote than the last Republican nominee from Arizona in 1964:
Pastorgate: Since Team Republican had serially guilt-associated Rev. Wright and Senator Obama, it was only a matter of time before McCain had to disassociate himself from Pastors Hagee (Hitler was an ok hunter) and Parsley (saying of Islam, "America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed"). But this political house-cleaning leaves behind two questions: First, as Arianna Huffington argues below, why is McCain so solicitous of folks he previously called "agents of intolerance," other than that he's not related to the fellow of the same name who won praise for his candor and independence in 2000?
Second, why did he stick with Hagee when he made anti-Catholic remarks (Catholicism is "the great whore") but broke when he made anti-Jewish comments -- was the principle here bigotry or Florida?
And in the spirit of what's good for the goose, may I suggest that some Democratic 527 announce that they will not run ads associating Hagee-McCain...any more than Republican 527s associate Wright-Obama. But they will run ads linking the two in the same amount, no more, if Republicans plunge into religious McCarthyism. Why should Floyd Brown have all the fun?
Cindygate: True, the press should lay off the wives and wealth's no sin -- didn't hurt FDR or JFK or GWB. But if your campaign and career are going to benefit from your wife's private plane and nine-figure wealth, it's probably necessary to disclose some of her tax returns...as the campaign joylessly did for only part of 2006 on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. Still, it's going to be real hard to argue that a wife with a net worth more than Bill and Hillary will allow McCain to attack the black guy raised by a single mother as the "elitest."
Healthgate: Again, why the release of health records after waiting months on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend -- and then only for a few hours to select journalists? Look, I'm ok with his age -- since it's well known that 71 is the new 68. But apparently the public is concerned since twice as many say in polls that age is a reason to vote against a candidate as say that race or gender or religion are.
Lobbyist-gate: Both Obama and McCain have real records on ethics and special interests -- Obama as the lead author of the congressional ethics reform and McCain as co-author of McCain-Feingold. Which left the latter very vulnerable after it was disclosed that lobbyists weren't just in his campaign but running his campaign -- it was as if he were the senator not from Arizona but K Street. So the McCain camp came up with standards that required at least five top staff to leave, though not Charlie Black, the #1 staffer who's represented dictators Marcos, Mobutu and thug Savimbi. His campaign groused that if Obama wanted to question McCain's associations, how about his association with radical Bill Ayers (was Ayers running Obama's campaign?) and also that the lobbyists' flap was a side issue. Yeah, McCain's allowed to run largely against the special interests in 2000 but Obama can't do that in 2008.
Vet-gate: In politics and sports, a well-known tactic is to go after your opponent's strength...as the Bush crowd successfully attacked Gore's integrity in 2000 and Kerry's military record in 2004. So when McCain opposed and didn't show up for a vote on Sen. Jim Webb's bill to provide educational benefits to Iraqi GIs like WWII GIs got, Obama chided him on the Senate floor when Webb's bill won 75-22. McCain's furious response focused not on benefits but biography, assaulting Obama personally because "he did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform."
McCain comes off here not as a happy warrior but just as a... warrior. And an angry and defensive one. While many commentators are talking about how damaged the Republican brand is, as consequential in the presidential race is how the McCain brand is being devalued daily by the candidate himself.
EXCERPTS FROM 7 DAYS IN AMERICA, MAY 24, W/ KLOBUCHAR, HUFFINGTON, CONASON & GREEN
Listen to the entire show here.
SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D. MINN): Q: Senator Clinton told the Washington Post this week that sexism in the media and elsewhere contributed for her current political predicament, what do you think about that as a woman who ran successfully for the U.S. Senate? "You know, I'm not a pundit able to parse out what lead to where we're heading right now with [her polling] numbers. [However,] I believe whenever you're a woman running for office or in office, you do experience sexism -- it happens all the time. I always love being in the Senate elevator and going up with a bunch of people visiting for the summer and while you're standing there they say, 'I think I see a Senator outside, standing right there'. What Hillary really hit up against here -- and it's not over yet -- was just this extraordinary candidacy of Barack Obama."
KLOBUCHAR: Q: There is quite a good chance that in January there will be a Democratic president, a 50-seat House Democratic majority and 56 or 57 Senate Democrats, near filibuster-proof. If that happens, what realistically could be enacted in the first six months of 2009 to move us toward a carbon-neutral economy, given climate change and given our dependency on foreign oil? "Well, in the first six months I believe we will pass a climate change legislation. We're going to be debating it now and we'll put in a cap on greenhouse gas emissions with a cap-and-trade system and that's really going to push investment in wind and solar and other things. I think it's realistic if we have that kind of margin and a president to put a renewable portfolio standard in place, like we have in my state."
CONASON: Q: What if Obama's Jewish vote in Florida is only 60%? Medium or huge problem? "I think there are a constellation of issues that Obama faces in trying to win Jewish votes that make it difficult for him, particularly in places where those voters might be more conservative in general, or might be attracted to a Republican candidate like McCain who professes absolute fealty to Israel. I thought in his meeting with Jewish voters Obama asked a very good question: 'What makes you think this administration has been good for Israel?' And he asked that question at a time when Israel has broken with the Bush administration to try and negotiate a peace agreement with Syria."
GREEN: "I think Obama's question is intellectually interesting, but not politically all that relevant. Bush's views on Iraq and Iran do coincide with the Israeli government's and older Jewish voters so associate them now that it's very unlikely that the Jewish community will question the Bush administration's fidelity to Israel and hence McCain's. I think the burden instead is on Obama, who's new at this issue, not so much to attack Bush and McCain on Israel but just to talk about his own faith in the state of Israel."
HUFFINGTON: Q: Is McCain rightfully afraid that he'll be guilt-associated with reverends Hagee and Parsley -- hence his repudiation of them? "This is such a major instance of the fall of John McCain, of what has happened to him. The man who called those guys 'agents of intolerance' is now going around seeking their endorsements. So that's really for me what is the most tragic thing. What we need to do between now and November is to demonstrate to that 48% of Americans who still want to vote for him that he's not the guy who they fell in love with back in 2000."
CONASON: Q: Can McCain use his military record to win despite opposing Veteran benefits, like Webb's GI Education bill that was just voted out of the Senate 75-22? "I think McCain's history of military service is what he's going to try and float into the Presidency on. He's at odds with the American people on many issues, not just Veterans benefits, but whenever he has the opportunity to emphasize his military service, he will try to use that. On the other hand, I think as people learn where he is on issues, it puts all that in a different light; his military service was a long time ago and the fact that we honor his military service doesn't necessarily mean we want to make him President."
HUFFINGTON: Q: Joe just said McCain's stellar military service was a long time ago. Is an opponent or critic allowed to say to McCain, "Senator, you were a heroic POW hero 40 years ago, now let's talk about who should be president for the next four years in the 21st century" -- or is that too un-PC? "Not only are they allowed to say it, they absolutely have to say it. I agree with what you said in the early segment that Democrats have to go after McCain's strengths first and foremost. And his strength is that he is going to keep America safe, that because of his record he's the best person to protect us against the enemy. Well, he's going to make America way less safe because of his delusional views on Iraq and Iran and what America should be doing."
CONASON: Q: Joe, pretend that you're Obama in 2 months, would you or would you not offer the Vice Presidency for political reasons to Hillary Clinton? "I think you'd have to very seriously consider offering her the Vice Presidency. Let's say all things being equal that she's qualified to be President in the view of the public, certainly she came very close to beating Obama for the nomination. If he thinks he can work with her then she offers some political strength to the ticket"
HUFFINGTON: Q: Arianna, if you're Hillary, and Senator Obama says 'Hillary, we've been through a lot together. If Kennedy and Johnson could do it, so can we.' Would you accept the Vice Presidency, given her career and interests? "Yes I would accept. I would campaign hard for the ticket, which I'm sure she would do. And it would be great to have a landslide victory, to have McCain defeated not just by a small margin but by a large margin, a repudiation not just of him, but of the last 8 years."
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