Dispatches from the Creation Wars

McCain and Bush

Cara from Shut Up Already has an interesting post up about John McCain’s sellout to George W. Bush after the vicious campaign that Bush ran against him in 2000. I tend not to post much on partisan politics because I just don’t really care about either party, but I was wondering if I was the only one who remembered the incredibly unethical campaign tactics that Bush used against McCain in the last election and I’m glad to see someone else remembers.

Karl Rove, Bush’s campaign manager and political adviser, is famous in political circles as the master of “push polling”. Push polling is a tactic for getting false and negative information out to potential voters without actually saying that the information is true. Here’s how it worked against John McCain. After McCain’s surprising defeat of Bush in the New Hampshire primary in 2000, the Bush campaign targeted South Carolina, the next big primary, and began calling voters, particularly elderly voters, to ostensibly take a poll. But rather than asking how they felt about an issue, they asked this question: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew that he had fathered a bi-racial child?”. Now, they didn’t actually say that he DID father a bi-racial child. But at campaign stops, you could see McCain and his wife Cindy with their dark-skinned daughter, Bridget. They adopted Bridget from an orphanage in Bangladesh. This is how you play dirty politics, folks. You plant seeds that push buttons, all with plausible deniability. But it’s vile as hell.

It didn’t stop there. They also put out “anonymous” pamphlets all over South Carolina telling people that McCain’s wife had a history of drug addiction (she apparently was addicted to prescription pain killers at one point). Again, plausible deniability while spreading vicious rumors to kill one’s political opponents. For a full report on the smear campaign, go here.

Even worse is Bush’s association with Ted Sampley, the absolutely loathsome former green beret and POW/MIA pimp who has claimed that John McCain is a traitor and even a communist spy that the Soviets had turned into a “Manchurian candidate”. He’s the same guy behind the attacks on John Kerry now, by the way.

After what the Bush campaign did to McCain in 2000, you’d think that McCain would be pretty pissed off, wouldn’t you? He said in 2000 that there was obviously no limit to how low Bush would go to win election after what they did to him, at one point even yelling at Bush when Bush grabbed his hand and telling him to “get your hands off me”. But this is politics and McCain is now lending his image and endorsement to Bush in 2004. Why? Because it’s his party and if he doesn’t go along, he doesn’t get party money and support when running for reelection to the senate.

In many ways, McCain is a brave man, both personally and politically. He survived the horror of being a POW and being tortured, obviously, and that’s something few of us could survive. And he has often bucked the party line on issues like campaign finance reform. But when push comes to shove, he sold out to preserve his place in the party, and all for a man whose campaign attacked his family to score political points only 4 years ago.

3 days ago was the 200th anniversary of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, a duel that ended with Hamilton’s death. That duel was fought over slights and issues of honor far less compelling than what we have here. This is personal. Bush used McCain’s wife and daughter and appealed to basic racial hatred to sink McCain in South Carolina. That is simply as repulsive as dirty politics can get. And if McCain had any real sense of honor and political courage, he would sure as hell not be lending credibility to the man responsible for it for the sake of party unity. Some things are more important than whether you get reelected, John.


  1. #1 flatlander100
    July 14, 2004

    I too was surprised at the McCain speech now being played on Bush election ads, and for the same reasons you mention. But I would not necessarily jump to your conclusion that McCain did it so he could tap into party funds for his reelection campaign. Possible, but there are other plausible explanations and some reasons to suggest your choice may not be the most likely.

    First, McCain is as solidly ensconsed in his Senate seat as any Republican not running in Utah that I can think of. The idea that he needs party cash to get re-elected is unlikely.

    Then why did he do it? Two possible other explanations, either of which seems more likely to me than “he did it for the cash.”

    First: It is possible McCain has been promised a key cabinet appointment… say State or Defense… in a second Bush administration, from which he believes he can significantly affect Bush [and so American] foreign policy in the event of a Bush victory. The price for the appointment, of couse, is his unstinting aid in the campaign.

    Second: McCain is often described [not entirely accurately in my view, but that’s another question] as a “moderate Republican” — as representing what seems to be a dying breed in the GOP [Rockerfeller Republicans, or Olympia Snow Republicans or Christine Todd Whitman Republicans, etc.] He and others of that ilk see themselves, the pundits tell us, engaged in a struggle for “the soul of the Republican Party.” [Yes, over-inflated punditry, but you get the idea.] Believing such, and that their party is in danger of begin taken over by the Wingnut Christian Right, they are fighting to preserve moderate Republicanism. But to do that, McCain [and others] must preserve their party bona fides intact. Hence his campaigning for Bush. It lends credibility to his crusade to preserve the party from extremism. [Witness his coming out today on the Senate floor against the marriage amendment, and his calling it, on the floor, “un-Republican.” His highly visible campaigning for Bush is what permits him to do that without being dismissed as a Democrat in Republican clothing.]

    Either of these scenarios seems more likely to me than your suggestion that he did it for the campaign funding. Though I agree with you that the venom of the Bush attacks against him and his family are [or should be] unforgiveable. And I am disappointed, as the card-carrying thoroughly un-reconstructed New Deal Yaller Dawg Democrat that I am, that McCain thinks — for whatever reason — otherwise.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    July 14, 2004

    Those are plausible scenarios as well. I was going to write more about possible motivations, but I just presumed it was to preserve his place in the party and regardless of what the reasons are, I don’t think they’re worth it given what Bush did to him in 2000. Short of “they’re holding my daughter hostage and will kill her if I don’t do this”, there is pretty much nothing that would justify it, in my opinion.

  3. #3 Lynn
    July 14, 2004

    Given a choice I feel that McCain was picking what he felt is the lesser of 2 evils.
    I don’t support either party myself so I view Kerry no better than Bush. I have yet to see Kerry make any sense. Bush got us into this mess but Kerry has no clue as to how to get us out of it. He flip flops on every issue.
    I have no confidence in either candidate so I couldn’t care less what McCain says or does at this point.

  4. #4 Cara
    July 15, 2004

    Lynn, your comments remind me of how I felt in 2000; that the two candidates were largely interchangeable. My perspective has definitely been radicalized by living under the Bushies for 4 years, but I remind myself frequently that neither party is in line with what I truly believe. Still, I fervently hope Kerry wins.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCain get a Cabinet position. But I also think that he’s been very…coddled, mythologized almost, by the chattering classes. Though that doesn’t make what Bush did in SC in 2000 any better.

    Thanks for the link, Ed!

  5. #5 Aaron
    July 15, 2004

    If flatlander’s first scenario is true, McCain should know better. Bush has already screwed him on a deal before.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    July 15, 2004

    Good catch, Aaron. I had forgotten about McCain coming out and publicly saying that Bush lied to him about the campaign finance reform rules and the FEC.

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