Meet McCain the Reformer


David Corn asks in so many words, asks how a veteran of unregulated greed like McCain can sell himself as a reformer, Is McCain More the Populist than Obama?

Forget for a moment all of McCain’s connections to the current crisis. (He seems to do so easily enough.) Forget that his pal and adviser Phil Gramm helped create this mess. That his top advisers and campaign staffers lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And that over 80 lobbyists for top financial industry firms–including AIG, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Washington Mutual–have worked for McCain’s campaign. McCain is showing anger, vowing to knock heads together (on Wall Street and Washington), and, by the way, tying Obama to the mess. McCain is no William Jennings Bryan. But for a Republican, he’s coming on like a populist gangbuster. Given his track record as a deregulator, this is faux populism. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work politically.

We live in a sound bite culture that barely remembers what happened two months ago much less what McCain has done in his quarter century in Washington. Can McCain get away with selling a completely false image of himself. Sure he can. This was part of and remains part of the Bush-Rove legacy. Lie often, lie big and keep repeating it. Through out McCain’s career he has picked up and dropped positions so fast it was difficult to tell whether he really stood for something or was just an attention hog. In a profile from Time during the 2000 campaign, How Conservative Is McCain? Plenty conservative. He isn’t the Clinton clone Bush makes him out to be–or the muckraker he likes to play on the stump

Bush went after McCain’s reform credentials last week, pointing out that as Commerce chairman, McCain has been willing to milk the system he rails against. “The portrait McCain likes is the one of the plain-talking crusader who’s bucking the system,” writes Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity in his book The Buying of the President 2000. “The one many others see is that of a politician who rarely breaks ranks with the special interests that finance his campaign.” Many of McCain’s top fund raisers and advisers–Kenneth Duberstein, Vin Weber–are lobbyists who do business with his committee. And as the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, McCain is more apt to rail against corporate malfeasance than to sponsor legislation to rein it in. It’s the reverse of Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum–McCain speaks loudly and carries no stick. He hammered airlines for providing lousy service, then tabled his passengers’-rights bill when they promised to do better. He bashed cable-TV operators for raising rates, but didn’t write a bill forcing them to open their networks to competition. (Telecommunications giants such as AT&T and Time Warner, which owns TIME, have been among his big contributors.) “If we can get people to act in a meaningful, progressive fashion,” he says on the stump, “we don’t need legislation.”

McCain’s record makes the Bush strategy of calling him a Clinton clone seem foolish. In the Senate, McCain has been a rock-solid vote on just about every core G.O.P. issue, winning high ratings from the Christian Coalition and other conservative groups. He supported every item in Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America and voted to convict Bill Clinton on every article of impeachment. And his environmental record would make Teddy Roosevelt cringe. McCain has voted many times to cut funding for toxic-waste cleanups, he has supported subsidies for mining on public lands, and he favors reopening national forest lands to logging. (In 1998 the League of Conservation Voters gave him a zero rating.)

The Real McCain written in 2000 also took a look at McCain record on the Senate Commerce Committee versus his rhetoric,

“He is about as craven politically as the rest of them,” says one former staff member.

If one considers McCain’s entire record, Kimmelman’s point is probably well taken, but there are two recent examples that suggest that even if politics did not dictate what McCain believed, it dictated when he decided to make his beliefs known. Last March, McCain was actively raising funds from telecommunications executives and lobbyists. At a Washington fundraiser hosted by adviser Vin Weber, who lobbies for AT&T, McCain raised $120,000. A few days later, according to Associated Press reporter Jonathan Salant, McCain hinted that he would introduce a bill eliminating the role of the FCC in policing mergers. Then in May, after FCC Chairman William Kennard had said that AT&T’s purchase of MediaOne”warrants careful scrutiny,” McCain introduced this bill. Within two weeks, McCain received 10 contributions of $1,000 from AT&T executives.

McReform waned to give the FCC the boot despite the fact that in 2000 as now, most of the media is owned directly or indirectly by five corporations. Maybe he was right in an incidental way. The FCC doesn’t been doing its job protecting the public interest in regards to corporate oligarchies. As recently as 2004 Mccain wanted to privatize Social Security – despite what his campaign says otherwise and he’s been caught on tape as they say.

Debate Rules Modified to Benefit Palin

At the insistence of the McCain campaign, the Oct. 2 debate between Gov. Sarah Palin and her Democratic rival, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., will have shorter question-and-answer segments than those for the presidential nominees, the advisers said. There will also be much less opportunity for free-wheeling, direct exchanges between the running mates.

She’s ready to lead we’re told. She is just not ready to have a debate without training wheels. If she isn’t ready to debate without training wheels then she is not equipped to govern the USA.


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