Hushed Radio Narrator Voice: When last seen, David Brooks, political columnist for the New York Times. had just discovered that anonymous sources may have ulterior motives. As we begin today's episode, Brooks has tracked the wily political consultant into his lair:
You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but political consultants are as faddish as anyone else. And the current vogueish advice among the backroom set is: Go after your opponent’s strengths. So in the first volley of what feels like the general election campaign, Barack Obama has attacked John McCain for being too close to lobbyists. His assault is part of this week’s Democratic chorus: McCain isn’t really the anti-special interest reformer he pretends to be. He’s more tainted than his reputation suggests.
Thus David Brooks, Republican countertenor! Now that the Wall of Shame is down, anyone's free to search for a single week when Brooks didn't tout GOP talking points at least once, often with no visible link to any actual news stories. I found a couple, but only when he was on vacation.
And by the way, "first volley of the general election?" McCain started in on Obama on campaign finance two weeks ago, and last week called him "the most liberal US Senator". Those are volleys, even if they didn't hit anything, although when I read the second my wife mistook my spastic laughter for a choking fit and tried to Heimlich me. People in public life really ought to be more careful.
Well, anything is worth trying, I suppose, but there is the little problem of his record. McCain has fought one battle after another against lobbyists and special interests. And while I don’t have space to describe all his tussles, or even the lesser ones like his fight with the agricultural lobby against sugar subsidies, I thought that, amidst all these charges, it might be worth noting some of the McCain highlights from the past dozen years.
Or, put another way, I've got a copy of the standard litany of right-wing complaints about John McCain, which for the most part could only be leveled by extremists hiding behind a crackpot "defense" of "free speech" and unfettered robber baronage, which it now occurs to me can be 1) offered as a argument in McCain's favor and 2) used to fill up a column:
• In 1996, McCain was one of five senators, and the only Republican, to vote against the Telecommunications Act.
• In 1998, McCain championed anti-smoking legislation that faced furious opposition from the tobacco lobby.
• In 2000, McCain ran for president and reiterated his longstanding opposition to ethanol subsidies. Though it crippled his chances in Iowa...
• In 2002, McCain capped his long push for campaign finance reform by passing the McCain-Feingold Act.
• In 2003, the Senate nearly passed the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.
• In 2004, McCain launched a frontal assault on the leasing contract the Pentagon had signed with Boeing for aerial refueling tankers.
• In 2005, McCain led the Congressional investigation into the behavior of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
• Over the past few years, McCain has stepped up his longstanding assault on earmarks.
Okay, look, I'm from Indiana. My senior Senator has been touted for the Nobel Fucking Peace Prize for his heroic efforts to stem our global nuclear threat. Meanwhile he's voted for every war, police action, Third-World government destabilization, bullying military "exercise", and every last weapon system that's come down the pike, not to mention voting to send nuclear technology to the world's largest nuke-armed non-signator of the NPT.
So, forgive me for not performing naked somersaults just because John McCain has sometimes voted--or gotten his name on front on, no great trick when you're the only Republican to support something--in a way a hell of a lot of Americans consider merely reasonable. And forgive me if I imagine one can afford to stake out some unpopular positions in the World's Most Sluggishly Deliberative Body with relative impunity (Dave, try being a lefty default Democrat watching the Democratic Senate majority for the past two years!), especially when one has been running for President since 1996.
And (praeteritio alert!) I'm not even gonna mention that Young Senator McCain got caught with his hand in the lobbyist cookie jar before he'd unpacked his toothbrush, and has been campaigning for sugar-free sainthood ever since, or that his campaign staff is chockablock with insider Washingtonians, or that he's made his own campaign finance decisions this time around based purely on expediency.
This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus.
For pity's sake. No one's accusing McCain of failure to reach perfection. They're accusing him of failing to live up to the standards he proposes for others, and they're pointing out that lobbyists themselves don't seem to find McCain quite the pariah the standard-issue Republican chatterers claim to. It's not possible anyone could miss that distinction.
And here’s the larger point: We’re going to have two extraordinary nominees for president this year. This could be one of the great general election campaigns in American history. The only thing that could ruin it is if the candidates become demagogues and hurl accusations at each other that are an insult to reality and common sense.
Maybe Obama can start this campaign over.
Please. You people sat still for the sliming of John McCain in 2000, for an unfiltered Press pathology disguised as coverage of the Gore campaign, the ham-fisted disenfranchisement of Florida voters (and quite probably others), for multiple criminal enterprises run out of the House Majority Leader's office, for the outing of a covert CIA agent at the direction of the Vice President, the sliming of John Kerry in 2004, and Jack Murtha shortly thereafter, not to mention the jaw-dislocating move, in a span of three years, from "The President is not above the Law" to "The President Is the Law." This is Marquis of Queensbury stuff, and with feather pillows for gloves. Stop pretending otherwise.