7 Days: It's Not McCain's Age But the Age of His Ideas -- w/ Ed Cox, Huffington, Green, Conason

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET
  • Mark Green Host, 'Both Sides Now' & author of "Bright, Infinite Future"

Now that John McCain last week elaborated his economic and foreign policy views in major addresses, the weakness of his candidacy is clear: it's not that he'll be 72 if inaugurated but has a 72 year-old agenda. If you like gunboat diplomacy and pre-Depression laissez-faire economics, McCain is your bridge to the 19th Century.

While the spotlight currently focuses on clashing Democrats, the mainstream media has lazily bought into the narrative that McCain is a straight-talking maverick, just as so many concurred that W was a compassionate uniter in 2000. But when it comes to war, economics and ethics -- as our 7 Days program discusses -- the Republican nominee is now no straight-talker and no maverick.

*War. Remember John Mitchell's famous aphorism in the Nixon era, "watch what we say, not what we do." It describes exactly the divergence between McCain's speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and his unstinting cheerleading for starting and continuing our unilateral blunder called Iraq.

"The United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone," he said in L.A. "We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact." Sounds good. But five years ago he argued that we had to invade Iraq notwithstanding opposition from the U.N. and many allies. With panglossian ease, he concluded, like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, that we'd be "greeted as liberators" and the war would be short, cheap, and self-financed by their oil.

Telling critics of the war "I don't care what anybody says," McCain concludes that we may stay in Iraq 100 years. Again we're watching someone not using facts to lead to conclusions but conclusions to lead to facts. The fact, however, is that the war is a calamity which has spawned more terrorism than it's squelched and has made coalition-building far harder.

Occupations long ago used to be called colonialism. But if McCain is selling his experience and judgment, then why doesn't he remember that the English in India, French in Algeria, and the U.S. in Vietnam all gussied up these dirty, deadly occupations with high-minded rationales, and then each had to withdraw when reality set in.

Now McCain argues that we have a "moral" obligation to stay no matter the cost. Really? Even if it required, say, 300,000 soldiers, 30,000 more amputees and wounded warriors, a decimated army, a cost of $5 trillion and higher taxes to pay for it? And all for a country 60% of whom believe it's ok for insurgents to kill Americans and 90% of whom want us to get out of their country?

McCain's maniacal repetition of buzz phrases -- "the surge is working! we are winning! surrender is betrayal! -- expose him as a militarist itching for more war-war, not more jaw-jaw, in Churchill's phrase. Yes, he served honorably and heroically in Vietnam and has experience after decades in the Congress. But based on his catastrophic misjudgments in the Middle East and his unwillingness to learn much of anything from America's failures in Vietnam and Iraq, he's flunked the so-called Commander-in-Chief test. By urging more troops and more years, he's out-Bushing Bush. Some maverick.

*Economy. After Enron, E.coli, dangerous Chinese imports, and mortgage fraud, one would think that even principled Republicans would agree that at times laissez isn't fair. But not John McCain. "His speech on the economy," wrote Paul Krugman, "was that of an orthodox, hard-line right-winger."

Today we have a real economic crisis -- mortgage fraud leading to widespread home foreclosures leading to a credit crisis and a near-financial meltdown. McCain's response shows perfect pitch - for Herbert Hoover and Milton Friedman. "It's not the duty of the government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers." So at the same time that the Federal Reserve provides up to $400 billion in low-interest guarantees to banks, McCain opposes anything comparable to 2 million families about to lose their homes and some 15 million whose home mortgages exceed their home equity.

Again, corporate welfare for the rich and capitalism for the poor is at least an old idea, tracing back at least to Treasury SecretaryAndrew Mellon in the 1920s and, writes Gail Collins, to banker Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life.

*Ethics. It's surely true that McCain has been less in hock to big corporate money than Bush and Cheney, which is not a very high bar to hurdle. Still, a "maverick" who sells himself as a warrior against special interest lobbyists will have a hard-time explaining why then they're running his campaign and Senate office. The problem is not that he's literally in bed with a female lobbyist, as the New York Times implied without substantiation, but in bed figuratively with many lobbyists.

When McCain says indignantly that "he's never betrayed the public trust," he's conveniently forgetting about his improper conduct in the Keating Five scandal. But that 20-year-old episode alone should not be enough to tarnish him now. His work since then on McCain-Feingold and against Jack Abramoff deserves praise. But there are other current examples of helping those who help him in give-to-get politics, as when the FCC chair reprimanded him for interfering in a proceeding on behalf of a big donor and patron. Shades of 5 percenters in the Truman years.

*Social Security. John McCain also, like George W. Bush, wants to go back to private security accounts to partly replace Social Security. Actually, America before 1937 used such a private system to take care of the elderly, with the result that one-third of them were poor before FDR created the current Social Security system, but only one-tenth now.

Since the idea of private accounts recently failed in a then-Republican Congress and the country, it is unclear why McCain chooses to champion an idea last in place when he was born.

This Fall, when there's one Democratic nominee to explain the age of McCain's ideas, even an admiring media will have to explain why a presidential candidate would argue for more war, more foreclosures, less social security, and less taxes on the super-rich. His bio ads can refer back to his heroic war record all they want in order to avoid the main issue in 2008 - viz., when it comes America needing a modern 21st century leader in our interdependent world, McCain = McCain't.

To listen to the whole show please click below:



ED COX: Why would McCain get more than the 10% of the Democratic vote that Bush did in 2004. "When people are looking for a person to unite the country, John McCain has always been good at reaching across the aisle: McCain/Fielgold, McCain/Kennedy, McCain/Lieberman. He's looking for solutions to real problems and he's willing to take the political risk to do that. I think he's going to play well to Independents and Democrats as well as Republicans."

COX: How can McCain continue to defend such a catastrophic mistake as Iraq -- we invaded to get rid of Saddam and now he's gone? "Our presence is necessary to ensure peace in the Middle East. Just take a look at East Asia. Without our presence in Japan and Korea, they would be going at each other and Japan would be nuclearized. Our presence there, which has been for 50 to 60 years, is necessary to keep the peace in East Asia."

COX: Does it matter much politically that right-wing talk radio dislikes McCain. "It's not going to erode the Republican base. The issues that they are talking about are small ball compared to the big issues of National Security that John McCain is focused on."

CONASON: How persuasive was Cox's argument that McCain would do better than Bush with Democrats? "He does have a point, but it points out the central contradiction of the McCain camp. Everything about McCain that Democrats like is something that suppresses his voting base in the Republican Party -- and you can see the demonstration of that in the fund raising numbers right now. McCain can't literally raise money. The Republicans are simply not opening their check books for him." HUFFINGTON: "We need to update our images of him. This is a man who was himself tortured but has embraced torture!. He has completely gone back on his immigration plans. He has now recanted on his position on Bush's tax cuts and has said he wants to make them permanent. What is actually left of the old John McCain for Democrats to like?"

HUFFINGTON: How does McCain survive politically on the war issue aftger following Bush's failures in Iraq? "Well the amazing thing is how he's so far ahead in the polls on this issue. The problem is really with the Democrats. They have a message problem. McCain's message is very simple and it's working. McCain's message is: Stay with me, we are going to win together. And the Democrats are all over the map -- the worst thing is that they promised to get us out when they got elected in '06 and instead we had a surge."

CONASON: Why do the the mainstream media adore McCain? "He is tremendously charming to people in the media. I've interviewed him, I know why reporters like him, but that has resulted in placing him on a kind of pedestal above his fellow Republicans. He was seen as several cuts above the rest of the Republican field and was treated accordingly. This is why his campaign survived." HUFFINGTON: "The media coddling of McCain will continue unless we do a much better job than we've been doing with unmasking McCain. But I think it can be done because the facts and the evidence are on our side."

CONASON: Doesn't McCain look like a hypocrite when he is condemning lobbyists while his campaign is being run by them? "The reason this story might be of interest to people is that they don't know anything about it. They have heard so much about McCain the straight shooter that for them to find out that he's enthralled to lobbyists would be news. There's a rich story here that goes way past the alleged girlfriend who was exposed by the NY Times."

HUFFINGTON: Was it fair for Sen. Leahy this week to tell Clinton to quit the race? "I don't think it's appropriate. What is appropriate is to ask her to refrain from comments like her response the Rev. Wright situation. She can stay in the race and have a great campaign, but stop making those comments."