Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When Country Could Have Come First, And Didn’t

An Open Letter To Sen. John McCain

Dear Sen. McCain:

You like to say that negative commentary of your campaign his driven by liberal bias. On the contrary, it is moved by genuine, and justified disgust for the personal smear tactics your campaign has chosen to employ against Obama. Such tactics are particularly troubling because they are reminiscent of the tactics that Gov. Bush's campaign employed against you in your 2000 bid for the Republican nomination. More and more your campaign has resorted to dishonorable tactics: smears, guilt by association, and robo-calls, the very tactics that brought you defeat in 2000. I am not alone in thinking as I do.

In truth, I am not surprised. I have come to expect the worst from you for some time. The date was August 30, 2004, when you agreed to speak at the Republican convention to endorse the president in his re-election bid, in spite of how he had viciously smeared you in 2000.

I should have known even earlier, on May 9, 2000, when you endorsed Gov. Bush’s bid for the presidency after he and Karl Rove had just dragged you, your character, and your family into the gutter with false accusation. But you earned the benefit of the doubt when you said: "[t]he only way you approach politics and seek elective office is to move forward. For me to look back in anger or with any rancor would be a mistake." I mistook that pronouncement as a commendable piece of political realism and charity toward your opponent.

But by 2004 you had already seen the damage President Bush had done and was capable of. For a man like yourself, who prides on seeking bipartisan agreement, seeing George W. Bush act with total disregard for the minority must have been hard to take. Or was it?

Importantly, by the time you addressed the delegates at the Republican Convention you had already seen three of the four Swift Boat ads aimed at John Kerry. In fact, you condemned the very first one to come out: "I condemn the ad, it is dishonest and dishonorable, I think it is very, very wrong." You even issued the president a challenge, asking him to condemn the ad himself. And he did eventually condemn the ads, but only after 2 of the 4 had already run.

You must have recognized that the Bush campaign was employing against Kerry the very same smear tactics they had employed against you four years earlier. And yet, on Aug 30 you took the stage at the Republican Convention to throw your support behind George W. Bush. Some maverick.

The maverick thing to do at the time would have been to endorse John Kerry, You could have put country first then. You could have been 2004's Joe Lieberman. You chose not to.

Perhaps you were just playing politics. Or perhaps you were thinking of 2008 already. It does not matter now.

Sadly, your presidential campaign has only confirmed what I instinctively knew back in 2004. You have changed many of the positions and opinions you used to hold (leaving Roe v Wade in place, your opposition to the Bush tax cuts, Falwell and Robertson are no longer "agents of intolerance" now that you need their supporters' votes, just to give a few examples), leaving observers with the impression that you'd say just about anything to get elected. And you did.

And when you were called to explain some of your about-faces, as when you were asked why you had decided to go negative with your campaign against Obama in spite of earlier stating that you wanted to run a clean campaign, you gave childish reasons, like "if Sen. Obama had met me in town halls as he said he would do, I wouldn't have gone negative." That's the justification you gave others, and no doubt your former self, for attacking Obama for his "close relationship" with William Ayers, for calling him a socialist, for spreading lies about his tax plans, and so on.

For all your posturing as a maverick, you have behaved just like so many of our elected representatives in Washington: a man who stands up for his deeply held convictions, IF it is politically convenient to do so.

The correct label, then, is "opportunist."

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