Monday, April 21, 2008

Won't Get Fooled Again?

From today's editor's column in Failure magazine: Brace yourselves, Democratic supporters. The American populace appears poised to elect another Republican — Arizona Sen. John McCain — as our next president, this in spite of the public's strong dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.

Of course, if Americans want to go with John McCain as president, that's their prerogative. But one can make the argument that the American people will be getting a McCain that is much different than the one they are bargaining for. Recall that George W. Bush was packaged and presented to Americans as a "uniter," a compassionate conservative, and someone who could relate to the average American. (Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans would characterize Bush as a "divider" and a man completely out of touch with the problems faced by ordinary Americans.)

Now consider McCain, typically defined by the media as a "maverick" and a straight talker, an affable "moderate" Republican who is sometimes at odds with his own party. But this is, at best, a woefully incomplete characterization of McCain.

For starters, the media has somehow overlooked McCain's notoriously bad temper, which remains unknown to most Americans outside Arizona. In a March 2000 article entitled "Free Ride," Pat Murphy of the Arizona Republic wrote: "If McCain were to become president, Americans would wake up to more than a commander-in-chief with a prickly temperament and a low boiling point. McCain is a man who carries get-even grudges. He cannot endure criticism. He threatens. He controls by fear. He's consumed by self-importance…."

Meanwhile, Americans also don't seem to be aware that McCain makes it a habit of making vicious, insensitive comments (about everyone from Chelsea Clinton to Vietnamese people) that get little or no play in the national media. Some might argue that we should give him a pass for making disparaging, racist remarks about the Vietnamese; after all, he did spend five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But at the very least this would seem to be relevant in terms of his fitness for the presidency, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs.

And speaking of foreign policy, McCain might be no more capable of understanding and handling foreign affairs than president Bush. In 2006, speaking about the sectarian violence in Iraq, McCain said, "One of the things I would do if I were president would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, "Stop the bullshit.' " Not exactly the measured analysis one should expect from the president of the United States.

Never mind the fact that not long ago that McCain responded to a question about Iran by singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of "Barbara Ann," an unsettling display conveniently overlooked by the major media.

It should be interesting to see if the national press continues to soft-pedal McCain once the Democratic presidential candidate is selected and the race becomes a one-on-one affair. Will McCain's foreign policy positions come back to haunt him? Will he say something so inappropriate that it is impossible for the media to ignore? Will he be exposed as being further "right" than is commonly assumed?

Bottom line: It is perfectly reasonable for Americans to prefer McCain over Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But let's hope they do so for the right reasons. Much as was the case with George W. Bush, it seems the American people are being sold a candidate who is not what he seems. And Americans seem more than willing to buy.

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