Monday, December 19, 2005

McCain's Straight Talk Express is having engine troubles

Did anyone catch John McCain on George Stephanopoulos the morning of December 18? It was a most distressing performance, to say the least. There is little doubt that Senator McCain is planning a run for the White House in 2008, and is making himself plenty prominent in the public eye. One thing that Senator McCain has going for him is that he's viewed as a man of principle by both Democrats and Republicans. One thing that Senator McCain has going against him is his apparent need to suck up to the Bush voters, which requires less "straight talk" and more vacillation.

The Senator looked cowed when Mr. Stephanopoulos asked him about the fraudulent intelligence that was used by the Bush administration to sell the war to the public. McCain looked frightened of saying anything that would make George W. Bush look bad. Maybe this is related to a deal that McCain might have struck with the President to get him to say "Uncle!" and finally admit that torture is wrong and that a country like the United States should neither practise nor condone it. Or maybe this is because Senator McCain doesn't want to lose the support of the Bush loyalists, whom he'll need behind him in the 2008 Republican primaries.

He also looked a little embarrassed when Mr. Stephanopoulos asked him about how Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) managed to ram through a rider to the defense appropriations bill to fund the troops in Iraq. Senator Stevens' rider would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil drilling. McCain said that he was disappointed that Stevens did this, but that it's too important to hurry up the funding to the troops to get hung up on principles. Despite the fact that most Americans feel that drilling in the ANWR is wrong, the Republicans in the Senate (and the White House) are trying to use this war to force this provision through. It's sad that McCain is being such a milquetoast, but then, he's crossed George W. Bush before, and he no doubt remembers what happens when you do that. Who can forget the 2000 South Carolina primary, when Bush's campaign team, led by Karl Rove, savaged him with push polls suggesting that he'd fathered an illegitimate black child? (McCain did no such thing, of course, but that didn't stop Bush and Rove and friends from saying that he did.) Clearly, John McCain remembers, even though he says he's put it all behind him. He'd better remember: if he doesn't, he knows he'll have to forget about the White House, and for good, this time. No doubt Mr. Bush has taken Senator McCain into some back room and made that clear with some "straight talk" of his own.

It's really sad to watch. John McCain is really very impressive when he speaks his own mind. When he's knuckling under to a man like George W. Bush, he comes across as a hollow shell. It's not that there's a lack of hollow shells in Congress; it's just that knowing what John McCain used to be makes it all the more painful to watch.

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