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AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER! They Man They Loved dispensed straight talk–except, of course, when he didn’t: // link // print // previous // next //

JAMISON FOSER, MAN IN BLACK: Is something wrong with negative ads? In our view, there’s nothing wrong with such ads—if they make claims which are accurate. Indeed, it’s strange to think that a candidate should be banned from criticizing his opponent. If he thought his opponent had good ideas, why did he run against him?

In short, there’s an obvious difference between negative ads and inaccurate ads. (Positive claims can be bogus too, a point Sarah Palin is establishing.) You’d think that almost anyone could sort out this simple distinction. But your nation’s multimillionaire pundits have always been flummoxed by this distinction. In Friday’s post at Media Matters, Jamison Foser shows you why we recommend that one percent bet: It may turn out that Matthews and Gregory are from a different part of the multiverse.

FOR THE FACTS, PLEASE SEE PAGE A4: Luckily, we read page A4 of Saturday’s Post before we got to page A6. At the top of page A6, a news report festooned with photos told the public this:

BALZ (9/20/08): McCain has aired and prepared, respectively, two ads that link Obama to former Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae chief executives Jim Johnson and Franklin D. Raines. McCain told a large, loud audience in Blaine, Minn., that Johnson had walked away from the mortgage giants with $21 million "of your money" in severance pay, while Raines received $25 million.

"Let's tell them to give it back," McCain said, and the crowd obliged, chanting "Give it back. Give it back."

Luckily, we’d already read page A4. In this less inviting Fact-Checker post, Michael Dobbs had given McCain “two Pinocchios” for the ad which makes that claim about Raines. “The McCain campaign is clearly exaggerating wildly,” Dobbs had written about that claim. The fact was checked on page A4—and permitted to stand on A6.

Dobbs was hardly breaking new ground in offering this particular fact-check. At the Post, the facts can now be found on page 4. You’ll find them nowhere else.

Special report: An affair to remember!

PART 1—THE MAN THEY LOVED DISPENSED STRAIGHT TALK: Truly, it’s an affair to remember—the love affair your “press corps” conducted with a straight-talking man named McCain. Today, many pundits hate The Man They Loved. But The Man They Loved may still reach the White House because of this long love affair.

All week, we’ll help you remember that long love affair. It’s often said that love is blind. You’ll see that point established.

We’ll start today with a quick look at the “straight talk” The Man They Loved would dispense. As the week proceeds, we’ll recall other parts of this sordid affair—an affair which may yet change world history.

The Man They Loved and that tax bill: The Man They Loved dispensed straight talk—except when it came to that tax bill.

It was September 1999. They’d been in love with The Man for years—and the affair had been conducted in public. But The Man They Loved was now running for president; he rode them all around New Hampshire, letting them watch when he got off his bus and dispensed straight talk to the voters. Except when it came to that tax bill, of course. Roger Simon mentioned the problem, in a profile for U.S. News:

SIMON (9/27/99): McCain not only has the true politician’s ability to call complete strangers “my dear friends” and sound like he means it, but he also has the ability to avoid candor when he chooses, such as when he rails in nearly every speech against the recent Republican tax bill passed by Congress—“It’s a disgrace; it’s obscene”—without also mentioning that he voted for it.

Say what? “In nearly every speech,” The Man They Loved would rail against that Republican tax bill—a bill The Man had supported! But so what? To Simon, this merely meant that The Man They Loved “had the ability to avoid candor.” (His profile was headlined, “Honest John, On the Loose.”) Their lover’s dissembling was mentioned in passing. By contrast, here’s how Simon began:

SIMON (9/27/99): John McCain wiggles around in the seat, leans the back of his head against the window of the bus, whips out a pair of dark, happenin' sunglasses that make him look like Sen. Blues Brother, and begins to talk about his old friend Barry Goldwater, the man he followed to the Senate, a man he truly loved. "Goldwater said to me, 'If I had been elected president, if I had defeated Lyndon Johnson in 1964, you never would have been in a Vietnamese prison camp,'" McCain says and waits as the reporters scratch this furiously into their notebooks. "And I said, `You're right, Barry. It would have been a Chinese prison camp!'"

Everyone roars. The bus rocks. And John McCain plunges into another story, this one about how when his plane was shot down and he was imprisoned by the North Vietnamese from 1967 to 1973, he was his cell's "movie teller" and had to tell the plots of movies every day to help everyone survive the crushing boredom.

The journalists were roaring; the bus was rocking; and, as always, The Man They Loved was talking about Vietnam.

The Man They Loved had just flipped on Roe: The Man They Loved dispensed straight talk—except when it came to abortion.

As they all knew, The Man They Loved had always supported repeal of Roe v. Wade. But now it was August 1999, and The Man They Loved was running for president. Uh-oh! Terry Neal reported the problem in the Washington Post:

NEAL (8/24/99): Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared to soften his position on making abortion illegal in separate interviews in recent days, drawing criticism from social conservatives and some of his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination.

Aides to McCain said perhaps he could have been clearer in comments he made to the San Francisco Chronicle and CNN, but that he had not wavered from his long-term opposition to abortion or his belief that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, should be repealed.

"I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary," McCain told the Chronicle in an article published Friday. "But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.”

A few days later, on CNN, The Man They Loved seemed to say the same thing. Neal noted the problem with this new stand. “In a National Right to Life Committee questionnaire last year, he answered ‘yes’ when asked if he supported the complete reversal of Roe v. Wade,” Neal recalled. And sure enough! As they constantly do today, McCain’s aides offered a tortured explanation of what the great man had said:

NEAL: When asked if McCain misspoke in the Chronicle and CNN interviews, aides yesterday said no. They said he was trying to explain that efforts to repeal Roe v. Wade would have to come in conjunction with efforts to reduce abortion through other means, including adoptions and counseling.

McCain released a statement on Sunday saying that he has always opposed Roe v. Wade and "as president, I would work toward its repeal."

No, that didn’t really make sense. But so what? The Man They Loved was honest—straight-talking. They stuck to that story as The Man They Loved made other soft statements about abortion—even when his “people” wink-winked at them about his intentions (details below).

The Man They Loved had cooled off Tapper: The Man They Loved dispensed straight talk—except when he spoke with Jake Tapper.

The conversation had occurred in May 1999. When Tapper reported it for Salon, he started with what he called “a confession.” Uh-oh! “I was thisclose [sic] to becoming one of those reporters who swoon whenever the Republican senator from Arizona flashes his winning smile and demonstrates his passion and boyish enthusiasm,” Tapper confessed. And then, he described the incident which killed his incipient ardor. It involved the famous gun show loophole—the loophole McCain so despised:

TAPPER (5/14/99): On Tuesday, in response to a question about what he would do if he were president in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings, McCain told me, "It's obvious that at a gun show people should be subject to background checks. I don't get it why in stores you get a background check, but you go three blocks down, there's no background checks."

There's a loophole in the existing gun control laws, I noted, because the gun lobby argued successfully to exempt gun shows.

"Well, it should be closed," McCain responded.

But a day later, on Wednesday, McCain voted to kill an amendment from Sen. Frank Lautenberg that would have closed that very loophole. The largely party-line vote was 51-47. Six Republicans voted for the measure. McCain was not among them.

There’s a bit more to this loophole story—but, in all candor, not much. Once the Lautenberg amendment was defeated, a large political hue and cry led The Man They Loved to flip a bit more. For Tapper’s account, just click here. In the Washington Times, a mordant Audrey Hudson captured the new flip-flop thusly:

HUDSON (5/14/99): Republicans including Sens. Gordon H. Smith of Oregon and John McCain of Arizona—a contender for the GOP presidential nomination—said they had been unhappy with the outcome of Wednesday's votes [on the Lautenberg amendment], even though they had supported [the Republican] position at the time.

In short, McCain had voted against Lautenberg. Then, he said he was unhappy with the fact that Lautenberg lost.

But so what? It was now September, and everyone knew it: The Man They Loved dispensed straight talk. An ardent love affair was on—and as everyone knows, love is blind.

Today, many scribes abhor The Man They Loved. He has broken their hearts with his recent vile conduct—conduct which is remarkably like the conduct he displayed all along.
And then too, he may end up in the White House. For that reason, their love affair is truly one to recall.

TOMORROW: The Man They Loved often lacked a clue—about his own proposals.

Whispers ignored: As the campaign continued, The Man They Loved seemed to flounder and thrash on abortion. In February 2000, Lars-Erik Nelson, a liberal admirer (and critic) of McCain, was challenged about this on C-Span (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/24/00). “McCain has been all over the lot on abortion,” he acknowledged.

But so what? No one seemed to let this affect their view of The Man They Loved. In December 1999, Richard Cohen even described the whispers he was hearing from “McCain’s people.” Quickly recovering, he then recited the standard line about The Man They Loved:

COHEN (12/14/99): McCain's people whisper, Don't worry. He's not really so anti-abortion. He'll come around on gay rights, gun control and almost anything else you can name. He's a reasonable man—big-hearted, too. Check out what he's done for American Indians. Yes, his record is admirable. Yet it is George W. Bush who talks about "compassion" and reaches out to minorities. His reward? Scorn from Democrats.

Is McCain the first real post-Cold War, post-ideological candidate? Is he the guy who can appeal both to the middle and the affluent—people who rely on no government program and no longer fear a nuclear showdown? These are the people who cannot really be hurt by a flat tax or some similar scheme and who no longer look to politicians for either jobs or welfare. They seek something else instead: a genuineness and a sense of purpose.

McCain has those attributes in spades. He is the anti-Clinton, nothing slick about him. While Clinton gravitates to the most votes, McCain sticks on principle. Before he can please anyone else, he must please himself. This, to say the least, is refreshing.

In essence, “McCain’s people” were telling Cohen that McCain had been lying all those years, when he said he favored repeal of Roe. But so what? No one loved The Man They Loved any more than Cohen did! Two grafs later, he typed the standard mash note. The Man They Loved isn’t slick, he said. The Man I Love is nothing like Clinton, a love-sick puppy-dog howled.

The Man They Loved was nothing like Clinton! As we will eventually see, this was the utterly childish idea which drove their ridiculous love affair. And it drove their simultaneous War against Gore—the inexcusable, vicious acts which sent George Bush to the White House.

“Liberals” watched the love affair—and the simultaneous war. At best, they kept their pretty traps shut. More often, they engaged in both efforts.

In recent weeks, McCain has broken Cohen’s heart. But good lord! What a tumultuous affair! Truly, it’s one to remember.