The real McCain

The real McCain

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 8:11 pm
By: Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

By DOUGLAS COHN and ELEANOR CLIFT WASHINGTON — Conventional wisdom says the only way Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., can win the election is for the voters to size up Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., conclude he’s not up to the job, and retreat to thesafety of the more familiar candidate. But how safe is McCain? We think we know him, but do we? Who is the real McCain? As the campaign evolves the voters will get to know a lot more about McCain, and they may be surprised at what they learn. McCain has built a political reputation as a maverick, bucking his party on key issues like immigration and embryonic stem cell research. But on another core issue, reproductive rights, he lines up with his party as a staunch pro-life advocate. He has said he supports the overturning of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion rights. If McCain became president, he would hold the future of the Supreme Court in his hands, because the next president is likely to get at least one and possibly more Court appointments. With four solid conservatives backed up more often than not by the lone swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a McCain presidency would reinforce the right ward direction of the Court. Progressives who are drawn to McCain are often surprised to discover he has pledged to name judges in the tradition of Justice Samuel Alito. A Bush appointee and the newest member of the Court, Alito is a reliably conservative vote on most cases. McCain’s personal life is somewhat checkered, another revelation for those who don’t know that much about him. His first wife was severely injured in an automobile accident while McCain was a prisoner of war. He returned home after five years in captivity to find her disfigured. The marriage didn’t survive the trauma both had endured and soon after his divorce was finalized, McCain married his current wife, Cindy Hensley, a beer company heiress. McCain blames himself for the failure of his first marriage, and his ex-wife, who lives in Virginia, has a McCain sign in her yard, a good sign that old wounds have healed. McCain portrays himself as a good-government reformer, a persona he adopted after being caught up in the Keating Five, one of the more sensational savings and loan scandals of the 1980’s. It involved as most government corruption does the apparent trading of government access and favor for campaign contributions. McCain was the only Republican involved. He found the experience so searing that he has since devoted much of his professional life to championing campaign finance reform. Yet he maintains strong ties with a number of Washington lobbyists and the corporate interests they represent. A front-page piece in The New York Times this week detailed McCain’s interactions with a variety of special-interest pleaders and questioned the credibility of his anti-lobbyist rhetoric when so many former lobbyists are in his inner circle. The McCain of 2008 is a far cry from the McCain of 2000 who assailed the “agents of intolerance” on the Republican Right and opposed the Bush tax cuts as excessive. Needing the conservative base for a future run, McCain methodically remade himself, even courting George W. Bush, the man whose 2000 campaign in South Carolina had defamed his daughter, his wife and his military service. In the old days, a candidate slimed the way McCain was would challenge his opponent to a duel. Instead, McCain decided to forgive and forget either because that’s who he is, or because it was politically expedient. McCain presents himself as the reliable and familiar figure in the race, but he has been many things to many people. When he stands next to Obama on the stage for the debates scheduled this fall, McCain will have to choose. Which is the real McCain? When he decides, we will finally get the answer to our question. Published in The Messenger 8,6,08

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