The Prostitution of John McCain
In case you missed it, this past week completed the transformation of John McCain from GOP maverick to Republican prostitute. In his no-holds barred pursuit of the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, the Arizona Senator has exchanged his seething hatred of George W. Bush for a fawning courtship and high-profile bootlicking of the Bush political machine.
McCain's toadying started at last weekend's 2006 Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Facing certain defeat in the SRLC straw poll to hometown favorite Bill Frist, McCain asked the delegates to throw their support to President. Bush. He used the venue to offer a full-throated support of President Bush and his Iraq policy, proclaiming "We elected him, we need him, he needs to do well and the country needs him." McCain turned his vitriol towards the President's critics, claiming that anyone who said Bush lied about WMD in Iraq "was lying."
Just days later, McCain continued his pursuit of the Bush team and establishment, announcing Saturday that his Straight Talk America PAC had hired Terry Nelson, the national political director for Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. Nelson, described as the "best bricklayer in the business," will help McCain strategist John Weaver woo the Bush donor network of Pioneers, Rangers and Super-Rangers.
McCain's laser beam focus on the White House apparently enables him to forget the painful memories of character assassination, smears and lies the Bush camp dished out during the 2000 campaign. After McCain's upset win in the New Hampshire primary, Bush operatives during the critical South Carolina contest phoned voters with push polls implying McCain was anti-Catholic, his wife Cindy a drug addict, and that he had fathered an illegitimate black child with a prostitute. (In reality and quite admirably, they'd adopted a baby from an orphanage in Bangladesh) McCain even received an early version of the Swift Boat treatment, with allegations that his Vietnam War captivity in Hanoi left him mentally unstable. All of these slurs came as candidate Bush chastised McCain that he couldn't "take the high horse and then claim the low road." It's no wonder he angrily rejected Bush's feigned attempt in 2000 to bury the hatchet, with McCain telling candidate Bush, "Don't give me that shit. And get your hands off me."
But McCain's presidential ambitions let him forgive these sins in order to rebuild relations with Bush and the Republican establishment. McCain's long road back began during election 2004. McCain not only stumped for George W. Bush, but joined the disgusting chorus of the Swift Boat hacks by stating that "what John Kerry did after the war is very legitimate political discussion." Only the previous month, McCain himself called the attacks on Kerry "dishonest and dishonorable."
John McCain has been playing the game ever since. While McCain butted heads with the White House on his anti-torture amendment, he remained silent as President Bush issued a signing statement in essence announcing his intent to ignore the McCain law as he saw fit. As The New Republic detailed, McCain's Indian Affairs Committee passed up the opportunity to destroy his long time foe and conservative consigliere Grover Norquist (who had called McCain "the nut-job from Arizona") for his role in the Abramoff scandal. And as part of his tune-up for the 2008 Republican primaries, McCain blessed South Dakota's draconian new abortion restrictions (though he noted he would have added exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother).
In October 2004, Saturday Night Live animator Robert Smigel offer "John McCain's Speech," a cartoon that comically depicted McCain's anguish in stumping for Bush after all the slurs he had endured at Bush's hands. As it turns out, the only thing John McCain hates more than George Bush is the thought of not being president himself in 2008.
Update: Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post jumps into the McCain fray ("Maligning McCain") and claims "the left is trying to rough him up a bit." And over at The New Republic, Ryan Lizza offers subscribers his theory that Bush sees McCain as the choice in 2008 to continue his legacy on Iraq.