By Mark Mellman - 09/09/08 06:02 PM EDT
John McCain offers America a welter of contradictions in both character and policy — contradictions so profound they call into question the fundamental premises of his campaign.
McCain’s brash display of those contradictions suggests at best a total absence of self-awareness and at worst an even more dangerous condition.
For example, what does it mean for John McCain to tell us he wants to end the “rancor” in Washington while presiding over a convention now infamous for its rancor? No one watching that convention in full possession of their faculties could have listened to the personal invective heaped upon vituperative attack, layered with scurrilous lies, leaned back and said, “There is a guy who will end the rancor in Washington and extend the hand of cooperation across the aisle.”
More fundamental is the contradiction between a man who self-righteously expresses his desire to reform Washington by kicking out lobbyists and limiting special interest influence, but who has been deeply enmeshed in that system from his days as a member of the Keating Five until today, employing the very lobbyists he decries to run his campaign.
McCain revels in telling Americans he has “never done any favors for anybody — lobbyist or special interest group,” an assertion as bold as it is absurd. When Charles Keating, a savings and loan magnate who used government-insured accounts to make risky real estate investments that eventually cost taxpayers nearly $3.5 billion, asked McCain to intercede with regulators, introduce legislation to benefit him and secure the nomination of a Keating associate to a regulatory board, McCain readily complied. More recently, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission publicly rebuked McCain for attempting to interfere with commission decisions on behalf of a lobbyist.
McCain backed some $16 billion in tax breaks for big oil companies as they rack up record profits. Was that the national interest speaking to him, or were the million dollars in contributions from oil executives doing the talking?
Perhaps most appalling is the contradiction between McCain’s call for change and his embrace of George Bush’s policies on the core issues of Iraq and the economy. Yes, there have been times when McCain visibly clashed with his own party, but on most of those issues — immigration and tax policy, for example — he has publicly recanted, begging to be readmitted to the band of loyal followers.
For McCain to suggest he is an agent of change on Iraq policy is positively Orwellian. An early cheerleader for Bush’s war who has never, for even a second, entertained the possibility that it was a mistake, McCain wants to keep sending our soldiers and spending our tax dollars there, indefinitely. Of course, he wants the situation on the ground to improve (so does George Bush), but John McCain supports a long-term, even permanent, U.S. military presence in Iraq.
That is not change.
Throughout Bush’s second term, McCain has also steadfastly supported every single plank of Bush’s economic policy. Tax breaks for Big Oil and the wealthiest individuals — he is for them. An increase in the minimum wage — he is against it. Healthcare? McCain put forward George Bush’s healthcare plan as his own — a plan that would end the tax deduction for employer-paid health insurance, leaving millions uninsured with a $5,000 tax credit to pay for a $12,000 insurance policy.
McCain lauds Sarah Palin for “taking on oil companies.” What did she do? Palin instituted a windfall profits tax, distributing the proceeds to taxpayers. But McCain explicitly rejects the very economic policy for which he lionizes Palin.
McCain’s contradictions would tear a lesser man apart, but should give the rest of us great pause.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.