Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye

Earlier today my esteemed colleagues gave you The Politial Decathlon, where Mr. McCain was rated along a number of dimensions and Um, Yeah... wherein it was suggested that the electorate may make decisions along a number of rational dimensions. Having recently read this Amy Silverman piece about the John McCain that she covered for a number of years, I think the real problem is that the electorate does not know who John McCain is.

Ms. Silverman covered Arizona politics for the Phoenix New Times for 15 years and during that time she had a lot of exposure to Mr. McCain. I want to just send you to read the piece but it is long and I know you have lives. So a few facts and a few anecdotes. Perhaps I can convince you to read it all.


You may be surprised to know that in 1987 and 1988, McCain voted against federal legislation reforming the campaign finance system. It was only in 1990, in the aftermath of Keating and the shadow of an upcoming re-election campaign, that he started supporting reform. Ditto for his efforts to cut government spending. And I've got to pause to say something about both of those efforts. In a word, they're a farce. McCain famously sponsored a law designed to control special interests' grip on Washington, but at the same time, he took money from those interests.

Original anecdote revelatory of his character:

In Arizona, when a governor leaves office early, the secretary of state ascends. In this case, that was Rose Mofford, an old-school Democrat from the small mining town of Globe, a lady with a bright white beehive that Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson once famously drew as a cone-full of Dairy Queen.

Mofford had served as secretary of state for decades. She'd never aspired to the state's top spot. But she accepted graciously and agreed to serve out the remaining 2 1/2 years of Mecham's term. She never showed interest in running for another term after that, although she was enormously popular.

As the story goes, John McCain and his friends wanted her out immediately. And, they figured, they had the mechanism in place to do it. Mecham was gone, but the recall effort was still in place. Why not shift gears and target Mofford instead?

The Democrats didn't like that one bit and asked the Arizona Supreme Court to consider the legality.

In mid-April 1988, Mofford and some staff flew to Washington for, as one former aide puts it, the "perfunctory wet kiss" meeting with the Arizona congressional delegation. Even in mean old D.C., there's such a thing as protocol, and the tour was expected to go along without incident.

At 10 in the morning on April 12, Mofford testified before the Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on Appropriations on the topic of the Central Arizona Project.

Now, Mofford had been governor for only eight days. Before that, her main task had been running the state's elections department. This appearance (there was a similar one, later that day, before the House) had been billed as ceremonial. She was not familiar with the particulars of federal water law. Nor did her staff think she'd be expected to be — just then.

But, apparently, Senator James McClure, a Republican from Idaho, did. After a lot of looking, that librarian and I (actually, it took three librarians) tracked down the testimony from that day. McClure asked Mofford a series of questions that would leave any water expert's mouth dry. Her staff jumped in to try to answer, but even so, ultimately they had to file an addendum to the testimony.

Word spread quickly about what had happened.

Coincidentally, that very same day, Pat Murphy, then publisher of the Arizona Republic, was also in Washington to meet with the delegation. He and his wife had lunch plans with McCain, and as Murphy recalls, they went to the hearing room where Mofford was testifying, to meet up with him. Murphy had written glowingly of McCain and considered him a personal friend.

As Murphy recounted in an e-mail recently (he left the Republic many years ago, and now lives in Idaho), the incident crushed him. He says it was the beginning of the end of his respect for and friendship with McCain.

"We peeked in the room," wrote Murphy. "McCain saw us, excused himself, and we three went to the Senate dining room for lunch.

"During lunch, McCain said, almost with mischievous glee, that he had slipped some highly technical questions to [James McClure] to ask Mofford — questions she wouldn't be prepared to answer or expected to answer.

"Flabbergasted, I asked McCain why would he want to sabotage Mofford's testimony, when in fact the CAP was the nonpartisan pet of Republicans and Democrats — such as far-left Udall and far-right Goldwater — since its inception.

"His reply, as near as I remember, was, 'I'll embarrass a Democrat any time I get the chance.'

The nicest thing she can say:

He does deserve credit for the time he spent with Udall during his final years. "There was no steadier visitor," Bob Neuman (Udall's aide) recalls of McCain's visits to his old boss' bedside during Udall's very long struggle with Parkinson's disease. And for that, Neuman says, McCain earned his "respect and admiration and affection."

Until McCain went public with it.

In 1997, Michael Lewis profiled McCain for the New York Times Magazine. Lewis' piece was well-written, and he did get great access to McCain. In fact, the senator even took the journalist to the veterans hospital in Washington, D.C., for one of his visits with Udall. According to Lewis, McCain tried in vain to wake Udall that day.

Yes, people, he brought a reporter with him. He chose to expose Mo Udall to the indignity without his consent for his own benefit.

Please go and read the piece. Over and over we see folks who are terrified of John McCain, who see him as a mean bully, who are terrified that he will find out that they told the truth about who he is. His nasty jokes, the way he treats his wife, and the crumbs of nastiness we have seen are only the tip of the iceberg.

The way to beat McCain is to tell the truth. Teach people who he is. Let them see the man behind the curtain. If they do, he is toast.

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