by Alexander Cockburn
Every timesomeone steps up and says that Sen. John McCain is an ill-tempered phony, big-time pundits race to his rescue. Hardly had the Arizona Republic published a stinging editorial savaging McCain for his filthy temper than Maureen Dowd and Carl Bernstein both published friendly pieces about him. Bernstein's was in Vanity Fair, and obviously written months earlier, but it offered the standard pro-McCain strategy, which is to ignore the well-documented specifics about McCain's numerous failings, and dwell on the war hero who is not afraid to offend the Senate club.
Take McCain's well-known implication in the S&L scandal that put Charles Keating in prison. The usual technique of the McCain puffers is to quote the senator to the effect that it was "the worst period of my life," etc., etc., and then, move hastily on. This is what Bernstein does, throwing in a couple of sentences to the effect that McCain did nothing much for Keating in return for the $112,000 in campaign contributions, and in fact, threw him out of his office when the banker turned up asking for a quid pro quo. Like many other pro-McCainites, Bernstein passes in silence over McCain's nine trips to Keating's place in the Bahamas, plus the fact that it was only when the muck began to rise that McCain threw Keating over the side, hastily reimbursed him for the trips, and developed a profound interest in campaign finance reform.
The pundits love McCain because he handles them well and has assiduously cultivated a rep for himself as the lone just man in the Sodom of Capitol Hill, railing against soft money's baneful role in politics. His colleagues in the Senate take a harsher view, regarding him as a mere grandstander. They know that he already has a big war chest left over from his last senatorial campaign, plus torrents of PAC money from the corporations that crave his indulgence as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Communications companies (US West, Bell South, AT&T, Bell Atlantic) have all been particularly effusive to McCain, shoring up his high-toned rhetoric with cold cash. Banks, military contractors and UPS have also been kind. McCain also has a rich wife, and the certain knowledge that his supposed hopes for an end to soft money spending will never receive any practical legislative application.
McCain is the kind of Republican liberals love: solid military credentials as a former POW, ever-ready with acceptable sound bites on campaign finance reform and other cherished issues. It was thus that McCain drew enthusiastic plaudits last year when he rose in the Senate chamber to denounce the insertion of $200-million worth of pork in the military construction portion of the defense authorization bill.
Eloquently, McCain spoke of the 11,200 service families on food stamps, the lack of modern weapons supplied to the military, the declining levels of readiness in the armed forces. Bravely, he lashed out at his colleagues, in a manner calculated once again to present him as an apostle of integrity: "I could only find one commonality in these projects, and that is that 90 percent of them happened to be in the state or districts of members of the Appropriations Committee." Sternly, in tones befitting a Cato or a Cicero, he urged his colleagues to ponder their sacred duty to uphold the defense of the Republic against any threat, rather than fritter away the public purse on frivolous expenditures: "I know that what we are doing with this $200 million will not do a single thing to improve our abilities to meet that threat."
This was vintage McCain. Had the senator from Arizona wished to follow words with deeds, he could have called for a roll call on the items he had just denounced so fervently. That way, the porkmeisters and looters of the exchequer would have had to place their infamy on the record. But no, McCain simply sat down and allowed the offending expenditure to be authorized in the anonymous babble of a voice vote (all those in favor say "aye"). Had McCain really had the courage of his alleged convictions, he could have filibustered the entire $250-billion authorization bill, but inevitably, no such bravery was in evidence. Instead, when the $250 billion finally came to a vote, he voted for it." When the crunch came, he simply wasn't prepared to be truly a pain in the neck and truly inconvenience his colleagues or the harmonious rhythms of pork-barrel politics.
Andrew Cockburn assised with this column
December 2, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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