If it turns out to be John McCain…. (with 16 Jan. update)

It's early days yet, but we had all better start looking more seriously at Senator John McCain to see what may be in store for us all.  There's good reason, as matters stand Senator McCainafter Iowa and New Hampshire, to expect him to win the Republican nomination against Romney (suspect in the more liberal states and among independent voters as a Mormon) and Huckabee (ditto as a fundamentalist Christian conservative);  he would represent a change — the key word in this contest — from George W Bush;  he has experience and a spectacular war record, perhaps enough to offset his "great age": he was born on 29 August 1936 (almost two years after me!);  and he's no party hack, with a record of frequent Senate votes against the GOP party line.  For the GOP the most cogent argument for McCain is that he's the Republican who looks at present most likely to beat either Hillary Clinton (not a change but a reversion to the Clinton White House; divisive; widely disliked; possibly too left-wing in US terms to be electable; a woman; unpopular with male voters especially; query over her real experience) or Barack Obama (extremely inexperienced, a special handicap with a recession and virtual defeat in Iraq looming; weak on policy detail; little or no record of achievement in the Senate, and signs of negligence there; black but not mainstream civil-rights background Afro-American; foreign — Kenyan — father).

Of course things can and probably will change radically between now and November, and only a tiny proportion of the delegates to the nominating conventions has been mandated so far.  Nevertheless most of the factors listed above seem unlikely to change. So we had better not harbour any illusions about Senator McCain.  A useful corrective to a few current myths is made by the New York-based website FAIR ('Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting') in an incisive demolition job on a piece in Time magazine [several links in this are also well worth reading]:

Time: The Voters' Revenge (1/10/08) by Nancy Gibbs & David Von Drehle

A typical media rendition of "straight-talking" John McCain:
"He entered the campaign a year ago as the apparent front runner, an awkward role for a free-ranging, fence-jumping, kick-the-corral maverick. McCain never got the hang of it, breaking with his party's mainstream on tax cuts, immigration, harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects—the list goes on. By July his bank account and his poll numbers were in a race to zero, which turned out to be a blessing."

Of course he doesn't "range" much at all from his party's line. Take the first issue listed—tax cuts: He voted against the Bush tax cuts because there weren't enough spending cuts to go along with them, which in a way is a more "conservative" approach than Bush's. He supports them now, and thinks that when you cut taxes you increase revenues. That's standard right-wing crazy talk. As FAIR founder Jeff Cohen pointed out way back in 2000, McCain is
"conservative on almost every issue of social, economic or foreign policy except campaign finance and tobacco…. He votes consistently anti-choice on abortion and against gun control measures like the Brady Bill and the assault-weapons ban. He opposes a minimum wage-hike. [in 1999], the League of Conservation Voters ranked McCain's environmental voting record at 11 percent, up from zero in 1998."

FAIR does not endorse every opinion expressed or vouch for facts presented here, except by ourselves. Send link suggestions to jnaureckas@fair.org.

A sobering record, worth bearing in mind.

In the personal opinion of this column, far away on the other side of the Big Ditch, Hillary Clinton is by far the most attractive and promising candidate of those who currently appear to be in with a chance, followed at some distance by John Edwards (whose prospects look pretty dim as of now, unless Hillary and Obama both come terrible croppers before the nomination is decided, not impossible eventualities).  On his record, McCain is a reactionary conservative and an unpredictable maverick:  undoubtedly an improvement on W, but not a huge one.  And incidentally, contrary to much UK media sniggering at Hillary's allegedly 'teary' or 'tearful' emotional moment in New Hampshire, widely and implausibly held up as having persuaded a few thousand women voters to switch their votes to her, she didn't shed a single tear — not una furtiva lagrima, as even the majestic El Pais couldn't resist calling it.   

If John McCain wins the Presidency of the United States in 2008, remember: you (may have) read it here first.  If he doesn't, don't. 

Update, 16 January 2008:  Perhaps the most obnoxious attack on Hillary Clinton (accompanied by unreserved praise for Barack Obama) to appear recently in the UK media has been the long article in the [London] Sunday Times of 13 January 2008 by Andrew Sullivan.  Any self-respecting editor of a prestige Sunday newspaper, even one of Richard Murdoch's, should have hesitated about allowing this piece to appear.  Sullivan, English-born, a former President of the Oxford Union with a first-class Oxford degree, still a UK citizen, has long lived in the US and is a Roman Catholic 'libertarian conservative' whose colourful background is readably described in Wikipedia (there is also an undeniably impressive and frank biography of him on his own blog here).  His blog is only a little less vitriolic than his Sunday Times article about Hillary Clinton, and almost equally effusive about Obama, as even some of Sullivan's right-wing fans seem to be admitting.  I think we can safely give this kind of stuff a miss. 


16 Responses

  1. Barbara Earnest says:

    Shortest, clearest description of McCain I've seen–thanks for bringing  to our attention how conservative he really is.   There would be some poetry if McC succeeded W since he & Karl Rove so smeared McC during elections (saying McC had fathered a black love child (he'd adopted the child) and that McC couldn't control his temper (how can you rebut that?).

    As to Hillary's choking up, it's one more instance of how she's treated differently than the "boys."  AOL did a great feature last week reviewing others crying:  GWB saying he cries often (& w/a photo w/tears streaming), a pix of Romney crying, Bill Clinton, etc.   God knows there's enough to cry ABOUT in this world!

    Barbara, NYC

    Brian writes:  Thanks for this, Barbara.  You're doubly right about the implied sexism of so much media coverage of Hillary's moment of controlled emotion:  not only are male politicians who weep salty tears more readily forgiven while a woman aspirant is labelled 'weak': Hillary Clinton wasn't even weeping, as the video clips confirm! 

  2. keith morris says:

    McCain has long been regarded as the Republican with the best chance to beat a Democrat in 2008.  The question was could he win the nomination. He was written off by most in July. Now he is back but far from certain of winning. He won New Hampshire in 2000 only to lose from then on to Bush. New Hampshire has an open primary which favoured him because he attracts many independents. Many other primaries are closed like New York and those will be more difficult for him. Giuliani, whom you do not mention, will only enter the race seriously in Florida. With his name recognition it is too soon to write him off.

    McCain is far from being a reactionary conservative. He is undoubtedly a conservative on some issues but he is progressive on others, admirably so in fact. It is no coincidence that his great hero is Teddy Roosevelt. He is the leading player on reform of campaign funding, lobbying and against pork-barrel expenditure in US politics. This makes him very unpopular among his fellow members of Congress from both parties. He s also a strong supporter of immigration reform, also against the majority of congressional  Republicans and Republican activists in the country. He has strong record on climate change. He is also in favour of free trade, unlike the Democrat candidates who have given in to protectionist pressures from the unions. Obama has even come out against NAFTA, one of the great achievements of the Clinton administration. On Iraq McCain was a consistent critic of US policy post-invasion. His support for the surge reflects his support for the much more sophisticated counter-insurgency approach of General Petraeus.  McCain as President would be most unlikely to use force lightly.  

  3. Matt says:

    OK so I have a number of points to make here:

    Firstly McCain could possibly beat HC – although most polls have shown HC to have a slim lead over JM should they be the contenders in a general election.

    Although it’s not vital to be a fantastic public speaker JM is not a great deal better than GWB in that area.

    Huckabee is indeed a Christian Conservative. However when you hear him speak he emphasises poverty relief and healthcare as key concerns (almost, but not quite, in the manner of a Christian Socialist – indeed when teased by Jon Stewart for being such he did not demure). Although his key policy platform of a single sales tax to replace the IRS, with a (prepaid) rebate to ensure that the poor are not hit too hard, is regressive in the extreme.

    I’m amazed that you are favour Edwards, Brian. As well as being part of the losing team last time, his oratorical style is one of pure political pornography. His  New Hampshire speech is a case in point, rather than outline his platform with regard to health care he held up the case of a woman with (as I recall) liver cancer and outlined her condition and the consequences to her of the system of health care in the US. This was not a victory speech but a concession speech. None the less he held up this poor womans plight like some exotic specimen for US citizens (and those of us in the UK that like to stay up late to follow such things) to inspect. Disgusting.

    I strongly suspect that HC would beat JM in any final election. Whilst she is divisive and the candidate most likely to rally the GOP  to their  champion I suspect that JM’s age, suspect judgement (recently in a speech "you remember the old Beach Boys song ‘bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’ ") and poor oratory will count against him.


  4. Peggy K says:

    It is very early days for predictions what with all the "big" promaries laft to go.  And-let’s not forget how far off all the media was about both Iowa and New Hampshire.  That said, I share a concern about the possibility of McCain being elected.  People consider him to be much less conservative than he really is.  And he would truly be a change from the Bush dynasty-but……

    Please don’t leave John Edwards completely out of the picture.  He is still in the contest, and I can easily imagine the three front-runners having to sort it out-not just Hillary and Barak.  I, personally would be pleased to see a ticket for the Democrats that was Edwards/Obamo, Obama/Edwards or Clinton/Obama etc etc

    Of corse, the biggest fret I have is all the Hillary-haters out there, and what they’d get up to if she were the convention’s choice.  Anything could happen then.

  5. Matt says:

    Also – I just re-watched Mike Nichols’ "Primary Colors". Excellent viewing in this primary season.

    Although I think Barack Obama is a truly wonderful speaker I do worry that there is a certain demographic in America that may have a problem voting for someone called Barack Hussein Osama, err sorry Obama…..


  6. Brian says:

    A good friend of American origin, resident in the UK for years but a regular return visitor to her native land, has commented:

    Oh, dear, I hope your prediction..McCain…is wide of the mark. At the moment I'm reckoning on a Clinton-Richardson ticket.  And also reckon they might just make it.  I think voters are ready for more pragmatic politics and weary and wary of ideological posturing and empty rhetoric. But then this may just be wishful thinking on my part.  My favourite Bushism last week: "When the final page of history is written, it will say America won the victory."

    The statistic I found the most interesting after NH primary was amounts each candidate spent per vote: Clinton, McCain, and Obama about $40-30; Romney and Giuliani about $100; Huckabee $6. 

    It all gets curiouser and curiouser…keep the comments coming…

  7. Malcolm McBain says:

    I am constantly astounded by the extent to which American friends go to politicise government, and to take up the cudgels on behalf of their preferred party.  If you are a Democrat, as most of our acquaintance seem to be, it is quite useless for me, as a non participant in the US scene, to utter a squeak in favour of a Republican. Republicans must be utterly condemned. The opposite is also the case.  The fight to gain advantage in this grand political circus is hard for any outsider, and most insiders, to predict. Why not just wait for the outcome?   

  8. Carl Lundquist/LA says:

    The race is turning interest Brian.   Clinton and Obama have seemingly engaged in a mutual slanging match as their way of continuing the Democrat tradition of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  

    On the Republican side, McCain has taken So. Carolina and knocked Fred Thompson out of the race and badly mauled Huckabee.   Meanwhile Romney has taken Michigan and Nevada and in actual delegate count leads McCain.   It could be that Florida may yet be just a side show and the election swings to Super Tuesday on Feb 5 and California with its huge bag of votes looms as critical to Clinton and Obama, McCain and Romney. 

    Romney picks up an advantage in CA as he did in NV.  Mormons are part of the scenery out here — nothing exotic or cultish about them.  Evangelicals are more exotic  birds in a number of ways on the West Coast.   McCain will suffer from the fact that the CA Republican primary is closed — registered Republicans only.  ( I am one.)  In the Demo primary, independents can vote.   Obama has picked up those elsewhere.  OTOH Obama is shaping up as the black candidate and CA is 20% Latino with little love lost between them and the blacks.  Clinton is already out here plowing Hispanic ground.   Obama is still dawdling in So. Carolina. 

    Final thought.   American put all the involvement  and speculation that you Brits put in your Parliamentry politics into our electoral politics – especially the quadrennial Presidential parade.   Your ministerial gossip is our election prognostigation.

    Brian writes:  Interesting, as always, Carl: thanks.  But a couple of questions:  is the squabbling between Hillary and Obama damaging the Democrats long-term, thus risking letting the GOP come through the middle?  And has Hillary, quitting S Carolina and leaving Bill there to put the knife deeper into Obama, given up on S Carolina, as perhaps you imply and as the UK press is speculating? 

  9. Carl Lundquist/LA says:

    Democrats are great squabblers and Obama and Clinton are fighting over the African American vote everywhere.   Clinton seems to have the old guard, Obama, the young squirt has the 20 and 30 somethings.   Now Clinton is trying to shortstop Obama with the Latinos.   I suspect she can.   Edwards might do well in blue California — if it were not for the independents, a strong CA force who can vote in the Demo primary.

    On my side, the Republicans are looking at two people really:  Romney and McCain.   Huckabee is scrounging for money and CA takes a lot of money to run in.  The state has 34 million people and is 800 miles north to south and 250 miles east to west.   To make that even worse 20 other states will be in play on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday.  CA is merely the biggest prize. 

    Of the three, McCain is my sentimental favorite.   He should have had 2000 —  and wouldn't that have changed things.  The Bushies did a job on him.    Anyway, he is the only chance my generation, the Silent Generation, has to get the top job.   GWH Bush was a member of the WW II Class of '45 generation.   Clinton and Bush are Boomers.  However, Romney would be my second choice.

    By the way, CA is all a twitter, people are actually paying attention to how we will vote this primary.  Candidates are actually campaigning in CA, not just sucking contributions out of Beverly Hills and Malibu.   People are registering like crazy.  We may have a record turnout.   That could benefit Obama if the crowd favors the 20 and 30 somethings as it may.

    Brian writes:  Renewed thanks for this, Carl.  

    Just when we think it can't get even more exciting, it does!  But for us, the disfranchised of Europe, pretty frustrating, too. 

  10. Carl Lundquist/LA says:

    Well here it is Jan. 31 and things are boiling.   Both races are down to 2 each:  McCain v. Romney and Clinton v. Obama.   California and 20 other states vote on Feb 5, next Tuesday. 

    We have had two debates, Republicans yesterday and Demos today.  Both debates were in California and I must say we are definitely all atwitter at the attention being paid to us Californians.  We have been the orphans of American politics for a lot of years.    The Republican debate shook me a bit — my boy McCain seemed querelous in dealing with his opponent Romney who looked pretty good.   Remember what I said about Mormons and California, Romney might well pull an upset.  Huckabee looked surprisingly good — came over as a real old fashioned Roosevelt progressive:  TR not FDR.  However, this was his swan song, he is likely to bow out on Feb 6 if not earlier.

    The Demos had a love feast.   Clinton and Obama have decided that pissing contests were helping no one except the Republicans.  Both looked good and allowed each other to look good.   I got the feeling that each was content to say, 'Here we are, we are both pretty good candidates, you pick one folks'.  

    Obama still looks good with the 20-30 somethings, Clinton looks good for the boomers and old crocks.   Clinton has evidently locked Good Old Bill in the barn for the duration.  <g>  In any case, the Demos look tough as hell in November.

    Brian writes:  Thanks for the up-date, Carl.  You almost achieved the amazing feat of making us feel sorry for you poor neglected Californians!

    We're expecting your detailed forecasts immediately before Super Tuesday and an even more detailed post-mortem on Super Tuesday +1…. 

  11. Carl Lundquist/LA says:

    Feb 3, 2008.*

    Obama’s fortunes in California with its 55 electors just took an upturn.    The Los Angeles Times, the heavyweight broadsheet in the Pacific west came out today with editorials in favor of Obama in the Democratic primary and McCain in the Republican.   This is the paper’s first stand on presidential candidates since 1972 and the fact seems to amaze them.   I regard it as yet another sign that California is atwitter with all the attention.  Actual televised debates held in the state — yee katz!   The Times has a centerist, establishmentarian reputation nowadays, so the pro-Obama stance is particularly significant.

    So Clinton no longer has a walkover on Tuesday.   With Edwards out of the race, Obama is liable to pick up the numerous anti-Clintonians among his progressive supporters.    Independent  non-Party voters can vote in the Democratic race.  They are a growing and large segment of the electorate and a young 20-30 something segment at that.   This is bad news for Clinton.

    How this translates into delegate votes is anyone’s guess.   The Democrats have a complex PR system that has a 15% viability level for minority candidates.   Furthermore, the party has "super-delegates"  which in Calif. equate to the incumbent 40 odd members of Congress.  Most have declared for Clinton, tho how that would stand against a heavy Obama win is another matter.

    *Now we are into datelines I fear.

  12. Carl Lundquist/LA says:

    Feb 5.

    Well the Lundquist family has voted, wife and son for Obama, I for McCain.   Now we all must wait until at least 8:00 pm PST, 4:00 am GMT on Feb. 6, to find out what happened.

    All is quiet on the western front until then.  <g>

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