McCain's Double-Standard on Campaign Slurs
Last week, Americans learned about John McCain's latest double-standard. Push-polls that slander his opponent Mitt Romney's Mormon faith are "disgraceful" and "outrageous"; a McCain supporter's inquiry featuring the "bitch" slur of Hillary Clinton is "an excellent question." Of course for McCain, his responses pose no contradiction. Each is designed to win the backing of Republican primary voters.
McCain's outrage over the New Hampshire push polls attacking Mitt Romney is understandable. McCain, after all, was savaged by the Bush campaign during the 2000 South Carolina primary. As Ron Suskind detailed in 2003, the dirty tricks of clandestine Bush supporters were essential in McCain's crucial defeat in the Palmetto State:
Bush loyalists, maybe working for the campaign, maybe just representing its interests, claimed in parking-lot handouts and telephone "push polls" and whisper campaigns that McCain's wife, Cindy, was a drug addict, that McCain might be mentally unstable from his captivity in Vietnam, and that the senator had fathered a black child with a prostitute. Callers push-polled members of a South Carolina right-to-life organization and other groups, asking if the black baby might influence their vote.
But McCain's moral indignation over the latest Republican hate fest isn't just a matter of bitter personal experience or unshakeable principle. With the clock running out on his flagging New Hampshire campaign, McCain's pushback on push-polling is a heaven-sent opportunity. Decrying as "especially shameful" and "despicable tactics" the polling firm's description of Mormonism as a cult while praising the Arizona Senator, McCain could be seen taking the high-road. The corollary, of course, is that one of his opponents' campaigns, including that of Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee or even a sympathy-seeking Mitt Romney, is responsible. Clearly, smearing a candidate over his or her religious beliefs is beyond the pale for John McCain.
But not calling her a bitch. While John McCain declared his "respect" for Hillary Clinton, he never used the same shocked, moralistic and uncompromising language to denounce a Republican supporter's slur of her. In the GOP primaries where the hatred of Hillary and the caricature of the aggressive, successful professional woman is broadly shared, McCain apparently concluded (once he finished laughing) that scolding his supporters would not have been good politics.
Which is about all John McCain seems to care about now. Since his failed 2000 presidential run, McCain the 2008 hopeful courted the same George W. Bush political machine and moneymen that called his wife a drug addict. He reached out to the religious right he once called "agents of intolerance" and denounced push-polling against people of faith. And the same iron laws of the Republican primaries dictated that he laugh off a supporter calling a U.S. Senator and former First Lady a bitch.
As George W. Bush famously told him during the South Carolina primary in 2000, John McCain can't "take the high horse and then claim the low road."