Sunday, February 24, 2008

McCain's vulnerability

Recent news is showing some points of vulnerability for that darling of the MSM, John McCain.

The wingers already dislike him because of their bizarre notion that he's not a conservative. By November I expect that most of them will come around, if only because they hat the idea of a Democrat, especially either a black man or a woman, in the White House. Still, partly because of the steady diet of pro-McCain coverage the MSM have fed us over the last two decades, lots of moderates and independents have swallowed the myth that he's an honest straight shooter, beholden to no special interests.

If we want to win in November it will be important to work to dispel this myth, and keep working on establishing the truth.

That's what's really important about the coverage in the Times and the Post this week.

First off, did he have an affair with a much younger lobbyist, and trade "personal" favors for legislative ones? This is obviously a two-part question, and the answer to part two does not depend on the answer to part one, much as his people are trying to conflate them. The evidence of a sexual relationship has not yet been published, although if there is truth to the story it seems likely to surface. The evidence of favors provided by McCain to the clients of the lobbyist, on the other hand, is indisputable, even if you accept McCain's story at face value.Recalling the Paxson episode in his memoir, Mr. McCain said he was merely trying to push along a slow-moving bureaucracy, but added that he was not surprised by the criticism given his history.

Of course, there is reason to dispute McCain's claims. Broadcaster Lowell "Bud" Paxson yesterday contradicted statements from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.

But even if he is telling the truth, does McCain really expect us to believe that a letter from a powerful senator, urging a federal agency within the jurisdiction of that senator's committee to expedite agency action on behalf of a lobbyist, is not a significant benefit to that lobbyist? To even ask the question is to expose how ridiculous it is. Why did the lobbyist ask for the help if she didn't think it would be a benefit to her and her client? Whether he's been doing favors for the woman because she's been providing favors (heh!) for him is beside the point: he's been doing them, and his staff knows it.

Of course, the Post coverage goes far deeper. McCain's campaign organization is run by lobbyists and fat cats, who continue to work for their corporate clients while running McCain's campaign. But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O' Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.

What's their defense? What I heard on NPR the other day is that it shouldn't be a big deal because their work for the McCain campaign is unpaid. What they call unpaid, I call an investment. What possible difference does it make if McCain is paying these millionaire lobbyists cash to work on his campaign? If he gets elected, what are the odds that their services won't be handsomely repaid, either by appointive positions that enable them to steer government benefits or toothless regulations to their clients, or, more likely, seats at the table when the regulations, programs, and contracts are being written?

I also have to say that McCain's defense that he isn't going to be corrupted because of his inherent honesty is somewhat undermined by his history when, as one of the Keating Five, he was reprimanded for his role in insulating Charles Keating from S&L regulations and helping to precipitate the Savings and Loan debacle (yes, your tax dollars at work).

We need to keep an eye on this, and to keep this very visible as the campaign develops. The MSM love this guy, which is undoubtedly why he's been on the Sunday morning talk shows more than anyone else, and without a Democratic counterpart much of the time, but I sense an opportunity to undermine his image as honest John. It may be essential in 2008.


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