Monday, May 12, 2008

The McCain scrutiny VI

Two more pieces of the puzzle that is John McCain have recently emerged, fragments of identity that call into question both his willingness to separate himself from the lobbyists that shackle him to the Washington politics he condemns as a “maverick,” and his ability to talk the “straight talk” that’s been the signature brand of his campaign.

This weekend, as McCain campaigned in Oregon, Newsweek reported that Doug Goodyear, a longtime McCain friend, resigned his position as a campaign manager tasked with preparing floor operations for the Republican convention in September. Goodyear, as well as Doug Davenport, another McCain staffer, stepped down in the wake of Newsweek's story, which found that Goodyear and Davenport worked for the Myanmar totalitarian junta in 2002.

Goodyear is chief executive officer of the DCI Group, a consulting firm that, Newsweek reported, “earned $3 million last year lobbying for ExxonMobil, General Motors and other clients.” Davenport also worked for DCI Group.

According to the Newsweek story by the reliable Michael Isikoff, DCI Group “was paid $348,000 in 2002 to represent Burma's military junta, which had been strongly condemned by the State Department for its human-rights record and remains in power today. Justice Department lobbying records show DCI pushed to ‘begin a dialogue of political reconciliation’ with the regime. It also led a PR campaign to burnish the junta's image, drafting releases praising Burma's efforts to curb the drug trade and denouncing ‘falsehoods’ by the Bush administration that the regime engaged in rape and other abuses.”

Not even mentioned was the Myanmar government’s ongoing suppression of human rights, symbolized by the continued house arrest of activist Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize laureate who has spent 12 of the past 19 years in enforced isolation.

“Another issue: DCI has been a pioneer in running "independent" expenditure campaigns by so–called 527 groups, precisely the kind of operations that McCain, in his battle for campaign-finance reform, has denounced,” Isikoff reported.

Such revelations will feed into the evolving narrative of McCain as a politician who relies on Washington’s K Street lobbyist crowd, despite a well-cultivated reputation of the Arizona senator as a political iconoclast who disdains the power of special interests — like lobbyists.

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McCain will also have to face the fallout of another comparatively minor issue, something that reinforces an emerging sense of McCain as a shameless operator who’ll do or say anything for political gain — criticisms not unlike those directed at Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Arianna Huffington reported May 5 in The Huffington Post that: “At a dinner party in Los Angeles not long after the 2000 election, I was talking to a man and his wife, both prominent Republicans. The conversation soon turned to the new president. 'I didn't vote for George Bush' the man confessed. 'I didn't either,' his wife added. Their names: John and Cindy McCain …”

Huffington’s claims were corroborated May 9 by Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff, two of the stars of “The West Wing” TV series, who attended the same party and sat at and near McCain’s table. Whitford and Schiff recalled the incident for Elizabeth Bumiller, who wrote about it in Friday’s New York Times.

From the Times story:

“Another guest then asked Mr. McCain, Mr. Whitford recalled, whether he had voted for Mr. Bush. ‘And he put his finger in front of his mouth and mouthed, “No way,”’ Mr. Whitford said.

“Mr. Schiff, who played Toby Ziegler, the White House communications director on ‘The West Wing,’ said he was listening to Mr. McCain from the other of the two tables in the room.

“’Someone asked, “What do you think of Bush?” Mr. Schiff recalled. ‘My recollection, and I have to qualify this, because I’m not 100 percent sure he used this word, but my recollection is that McCain said that Bush was dangerous and he didn’t trust him. Then this person said, “Why did you support him?” And McCain said, “It was my obligation as a Republican to support the Republican candidate.” And the person said, “Did you vote for him?” And McCain said, “No.”’

Attorney Al Meyeroff, writing in HuffPost, recalled a personal meeting he and his then-fiancee had with the McCains, at a barbecue at the McCain home over the July 4th weekend in 1999:

“… [T]he McCains … invited us to spend the day with them, including for barbeque, a favorite of John's. And as McCain flipped burgers, I could not help but ask his views about then candidate George W. Bush.

“’He's as dumb as a stump,’ McCain offered. We then went on to discuss other matters (including Vietnam) but that quote remains seared in my memory.”

Not surprisingly Team McCain has been vigorous in its denials of all of these assertions. Mark Salter, a close adviser to McCain, told The Washington Post that Huffington was “a flake and a poser and an attention-seeking diva.” The candidate himself, speaking Thursday to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, said Huffington’s claims were “totally false.”

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But these latest claims about McCain further compromise his hold on the McCain “straight talk” campaign trademark. They’re just the latest in a series of duplicities — his stroll through a “safe” Baghdad neighborhood that was guarded by swarms of U.S. troops; his about-face on his “100 years” in Iraq statement; his denial-followed-by-belated-admission of meeting with lobbyist Vicki Iseman — that are likely to be front and center for the fall campaign, every one of them as or more damaging than whatever mud Team McCain will throw at Sen. Barack Obama, sure to be his Democratic challenger.

Most of the mainstream media, still smitten by the image of McCain the war hero, will be forced to come to grips with all of this, on the basis of the sheer weight and number of these recollections.

But citizen bloggers, not pros like Huffington, are already speaking out.

Cathy, posting a comment at The Trail, the Washington Post campaign blog, cuts sharply to the chase: “The guy has not only lost his bearings, he has sold his soul to [the] highest bidder so many times he doesn't know who he is. Do we really want someone like that leading our country?"
Image credits: Whitford and Schiff: NBC. All others: Public domain.

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