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“Making A Fetish Of John McCain”: Using The Veil Of Patriotism To Shroud What Is Plainly Partisan Politics

Its futility makes me so weary it’s hard to type the question, but I’ll type it anyway: Why do the elite Washington media, especially the influential Sunday morning shows, continue to pay deference to, and take seriously, the opinions of John McCain?

Put another way: What would it take for the elite Washington media to reconsider their fealty to McCain? What would the Arizona senator have to do to disqualify himself as the authoritative voice on national security issues, military affairs, and patriotism?

I don’t mean to suggest that McCain would have to do something disreputable, like commit a crime. But if I were a producer for one of the broadcast TV shows, like Meet the Press, I’d ask myself: Does the man whose reputation rests on his dedication to duty, honor, and sacrifice deserve such a reputation in light of recent moves to privilege the Republican Party over the United States?

Before I go on, please note this complaint of mine is just one of many — many! — complaints among media watchers. Paul Waldman, over at The American Prospect, has kvetched for years about McCain’s “mavericky maverickness.” He wrote an entire book about it. So don’t take my complaint as new or even influential. My aim is to note merely how this latest episode is a clear example of McCain’s long con on the media. It illuminates his using the veil of patriotism to shroud what is plainly partisan politics.

What episode? You already know. McCain was one of 47 U.S. senators, led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas, to sign a letter to the Iranian government, saying any deal over its nuclear program with the current President of the United States could be — and, by implication, would be — nullified by the election of a Republican president. In other words, the man who represents the United States to the world is not really the man who represents the United States to the world, because he belongs to the wrong party.

This was further complicated when McCain publicly called into question the credibility of Secretary of State John Kerry after news broke of an agreement between the nations over the framework of a nuclear deal. And there’s more! McCain said he trusted the judgment of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over Kerry’s. Clearly, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.

This is in keeping with the regular habit of his fellow Republicans to elevate the interests of party over the interests of country, as Slate‘s William Saletan minutely detailed in an article titled “Why Do Republicans Keep Siding With America’s Enemies?”

I’d add only a representative remark by presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. He recently advised any young person desiring to serve her country in the armed forces to wait until 2017. Why? Because Barack Obama is not a Republican.

“Wait a couple of years until we get a new commander in chief that will once again believe ‘One Nation under God,’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country,” he said.

You might say: Well, McCain signed the letter only because his party wanted him to. That’s not the real John McCain. The real John McCain is an independent voice, a bipartisan figure who often challenges his party. In other words, a maverick.

McCain did memorably use the term “wacko birds” in 2013 to describe Senate Republicans like Rand Paul who were carping about the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. (Paul didn’t like that Obama’s drone policy was Brennan’s brainchild.) And indeed, McCain might place Huckabee in the same “wacko bird” category.

But if McCain’s voting record is any indication — truly, it is the only indicator of a U.S. senator’s character that matters — McCain sides with the Republican Party’s “wacko birds” almost uniformly. And if he sides with the wacko birds almost uniformly, then there’s no significant difference between McCain and the wacko birds.

You might also say: Come on. The real John McCain isn’t a wacko bird. OK, I say, then the real one is feckless. According to Politico‘s Burgess Everett, McCain signed the letter without much thought. “It was kind of a very rapid process,” he said. “Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm. I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.”

In other words, he only did what his party asked of him.

In other words, John McCain is a Republican partisan.

How, then, do we understand the Washington media’s universal portrayal of John McCain as a “maverick”? Waldman says it comes from mastering the art of flattery. McCain, he says, “spent a couple of decades massaging their egos and convincing them that he was their best buddy, an investment that paid off splendidly.”

I don’t doubt it, but I’d add another perspective.

John McCain, I suspect, might be better understood as a metaphor, as a mental projection of what the elite Washington media believes a man dedicated to duty, honor, and sacrifice would look like. And John McCain, knowing that few journalists personally know anyone who served in the military, much less saw mortal combat or, like him, experienced life as a prisoner of war, exploited that mental projection to the hilt. These same journalists, I would guess, are as awed by his biography as they are by anyone who can pull the levers of power in Washington. Put it together, and you have not so much a human being as a fetish: a there that isn’t there.

Given the state of the Washington media, I suppose a fetish is as good a reason for John McCain’s ubiquity as any other. As I said, nothing is going to change. Just asking why anyone takes him seriously is exhausting. And for that reason, I’ll stop asking.

 

By: John Stoehr, Managing Editor of The Washington Spectator; The National Memo, May 1, 2015

May 2, 2015 Posted by | John McCain, Media, Partisanship | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“McCain And Graham As Obama’s “Lapdogs”: Rand Paul’s Media-Bait Of The Highest Order

If Lindsey Graham is indeed entering the 2016 presidential race to make sure the military-industrial complex’s concerns about Rand Paul are fully and loudly and at every moment placed within sight and sound of media and voters alike, he’s getting a rise out of Paul, all right. Dig this rhetoric from the Kentuckian (per Nick Gass at Politico):

Lindsey Graham and John McCain are “lapdogs” for President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, Rand Paul said Tuesday, at once firing back at recent remarks from the hawkish Republicans and seeking to distinguish his defense credentials.

“This comes from a group of people wrong about every policy issue over the last two decades,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview with Fox News, touting his credentials as the “one standing up to President Obama….”

“They supported Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya; they supported President Obama’s bombing of Assad; they also support President Obama’s foreign aid to countries that hate us. So if there is anyone who is most opposed to President Obama’s foreign policy, it’s me. People who call loudest to criticize me are great proponents of President Obama’s foreign policy — they just want to do it ten times over,” he said.

Putting aside any analysis of the truth or error of what Paul is saying here about Obama, Graham/McCain, or himself, what’s interesting here is that he’s showing every sign of wanting a big debate within the GOP on foreign policy and national security; the “lapdog” line is media-bait of the highest order. I had figured up until now that his strategy would be to get close enough to the rest of the field on international issues so as to take them off the table as “differentiators”–or in other words neutralize them–and then change the subject to topics where his views are more congenial to Republican primary voters. But maybe that’s not it at all.

Whether or not you think it’s fair to call the views Paul articulated above as “isolationist,” they are definitely within the universe of views most Republicans have called “isolationist” since the Eisenhower administration. And Paul is talking this way at a time when the GOP rank-and-file’s support for lashing out at Muslims via military interventions–partly out of genuine if irrational fear of IS and of Iran as well–appears to be back to mid-2000s levels or even higher.

We’ll see if Paul keeps this up. Maybe he’d do better to conjure up a little of the old Cold War spirit by calling his opponents Obama’s “running dogs.”

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 21, 2015

April 22, 2015 Posted by | John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Confused And Bitter Old Man”: Obama Reminds McCain How Foreign Policy Works

Late last week, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei took issue with the United States’ characterization of the recently negotiated nuclear framework, though the White House was dismissive of the Iranian leader’s posturing.

“The test of whether or not that framework can be memorialized in a deal is not going to be a comment on any given day by a particular Iranian leader,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Friday.

But in a bizarre twist, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) seemed to endorse the Ayatollah’s credibility over the U.S. Secretary of State’s. “I think you’re going to find out that they had never agreed to the things that John Kerry claimed that they had,” McCain said Friday. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made similar remarks.

To put it mildly, it was an unexpected development. For months, Republicans insisted, “We can’t trust Iranian leaders.” And yet, on Friday, McCain and Graham suggested rhetoric from Ayatollah Khamenei should be accepted at face value – while arguments from the American White House should not.

During a press conference at the Summit of the Americas, President Obama seemed visibly frustrated by the GOP’s increasingly unhinged approach to international affairs.

“When I hear some, like Senator McCain recently, suggest that our Secretary of State, John Kerry, who served in the United States Senate, a Vietnam veteran, who’s provided exemplary service to this nation, is somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the Supreme Leader of Iran – that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries. And we’re seeing this again and again. We saw it with the letter by the 47 senators who communicated directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran – the person that they say can’t be trusted at all – warning him not to trust the United States government.

“We have Mitch McConnell trying to tell the world, ‘Oh, don’t have confidence in the U.S. government’s abilities to fulfill any climate change pledge that we might make.’ And now we have a senator suggesting that our Secretary of State is purposely misinterpreting the deal and giving the Supreme Leader of Iran the benefit of the doubt in the interpretations.”

Obama added this isn’t how the United States is “supposed to run foreign policy, regardless of who’s president or secretary of state.” The president concluded that this is “a problem” that “needs to stop.”

I think even the most ardent Republicans, if they were to pause and think about this objectively, would be hard pressed to disagree with the underlying principles Obama presented. Put aside the GOP’s bitter, often ugly, contempt for the president and consider a more fundamental question: has American foreign policy ever worked this way?

Is there a scenario in which it can work this way? What signal does it send to the world when the legislative branch of the United States tries to undermine the executive branch of the United States on matters of international affairs?

For his part, McCain expressed a degree of dismay over Obama “attacking” him. I suppose that’s one way to look at it. The other way is that the president defended American foreign policy and America’s chief diplomat against ridiculous criticisms from a confused senator.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 13, 2015

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, John McCain, President Obama | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Holding The Boston Bomber As An Enemy Combatant?”: Would Tsarnaev Be Convicted Under President McCain?

That was justice at work. It took a week less than two years, an impressively brisk time window, for federal prosecutors in Massachusetts to deliver justice to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the jury needed just 11 hours to deliberate. We didn’t waterboard him or send him to Gitmo, his jailers didn’t make him strip naked and get down on all fours while they led him around on a leash; and still, miraculously, despite these failures of our resolve, the people of the United States got a conviction.

I say “failures” above, obviously, in an ironical kind of way. But I wrote it like that because it strikes me that this is a day more than most other days to take stock of such matters and to remember that in this case, if John McCain and Lindsey Graham had had their way, some of those things could conceivably have happened to Tsarnaev. You might be tempted to say, so what, he’s a mass murderer. And that he is. But he’s a citizen of the United States, and citizens of the United States, no matter how despicable, have rights.

But in April 2013, right after the bombing, when the demagogue needle was way over in the red, McCain and Graham were leading the call for Tsarnaev to be detained as an enemy combatant. Not to be tried as one—even they understood that that would be crossing the line when it came to a U.S. citizen. But they wanted him held and questioned as an enemy combatant—thrown in a military brig and then questioned by military and CIA personnel rather than the FBI, a process that would have stripped him of his right to legal counsel and other basic rights to which any citizen is entitled.

McCain and Graham were joined by their usual compatriots in these crusades, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and New York Congressman Peter King. Their argument was that holding Tsarnaev as a combatant for a certain period of time would allow the government to ascertain things like whether he had any al Qaeda connections. Graham said at the time that being able to question Tsarnaev without a defense lawyer present was his whole point. That might sound reasonable, if it weren’t for, you know, the Constitution.

I don’t doubt that there was some measure of sincerity in McCain’s and Graham’s belief at the time, but even if it was quasi-sincere, it was just the worst kind of demagoguery. This did not happen in a vacuum, of course, but was yet another instance in a long chain of McCain-Graham demagoguery that went back to the very beginning of the Obama administration, when the new president was trying to close Gitmo, and Republicans—Graham was particularly noxious, as I recall—were running around charging that Obama was trying to release Gitmo prisoners onto the American mainland so they could live among us.

The reality, of course, is that the Gitmo detainees would by and large have been transferred only to the most secure Supermax prisons in the continental 48. But the reality didn’t matter, see, because what was important was to establish the narrative that this new president, with his suspicious name and questionable provenance and terrorist-palling-around and so on, didn’t want to defend America the way you and I did.

Then came the uproar over the administration’s plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian New York court. Now to be sure, the administration botched that one in p.r. terms, by not reaching out in advance to then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and to Senator Chuck Schumer to make sure they’d both be on board. It wasn’t the first time or the last that the administration has aimed the revolver at its own foot.

But where are we now on that front? KSM still sits down in Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial. He’s been ping-ponged from the military court system to the civilian and back again. He purports in more recent years to have had a change of heart, bless him, regarding the whole wholesale slaughter of innocents business. Whatever the case on that front, the core fact remains that the families who lost loves ones on 9/11 have not seen any resolution with regard to the legal fate of the mastermind of those attacks.

The families of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, on the other hand, got justice in two short years. And this civilian-court efficiency is no aberration. Up through 2011, according to Human Rights First, federal civilian criminal courts had convicted around 500 terrorism suspects. Military courts had convicted eight, and three of those were overturned completely and one partially. It’s hard to find more recent precise numbers, but it’s not exactly as if military tribunals have caught up since then. The bottom line is clear. Civilian prosecutions work, and they live up to (well, more or less—Tsarnaev was questioned before being read his Miranda rights) constitutional standards.

And yet the snarling from McCain and Graham and their amen corner never ends. Obama/Democrats soft on terror is too tantalizing a story line, a toothsome steak that they can’t help but bite into. One of Obama’s more admirable attributes, in fact, is the way he has stood up to this bullying. He’s tried (without always succeeding) to bring our terrorism policies more in line with our stated values while at the same time still prosecuting actual terrorists. If you lament Obama’s shortcomings, just stop today and ask yourself where you think we’d be on these fronts if President McCain had been elected in 2008. His fomentations tell us all we need to know.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, GITMO, John McCain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Option Behind Door #3”: McCain, Rand Paul Roll Out New Excuses For Sabotage Letter

After putting his signature on the Senate Republicans’ infamous sabotage letter, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) started hedging Tuesday night, saying the GOP’s missive to Iranian leaders may not have been “the best way” for his party to achieve its goals.

By late yesterday, the longtime senator offered an entirely new rationale.

Some Republican senators admitted Wednesday they were caught off guard by the backlash to a letter warning Iranian leaders against a nuclear agreement with President Barack Obama. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Republicans – many of whom blessed the missive during a brisk signing session at a Senate lunch a week ago, as senators prepared to flee a Washington snowstorm – should have given it closer consideration.

“It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm,” McCain said.

McCain went on to tell Politico that he and his colleagues “probably should have had more discussion” about the document, “given the blowback that there is.”

Note, this appears to be the third excuse Republicans have come up with for the letter intended to derail American foreign policy. The first rationale was that the 47 GOP senators were kidding, and this was all an attempt at being “cheeky.” The second was that Republicans tried to undermine international nuclear talks, but this is all President Obama’s fault.

And here’s John McCain rolling out the option behind Door #3: Republicans were concerned about snow, so they rushed.

Oddly enough, that’s probably slightly better than the rationale Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) came up with.

On NBC’s “Today” show yesterday morning, the Kentucky Republican told Matt Lauer that he signed on to the sabotage letter because he wanted to “strengthen the president’s hand.”

If there’s a way to see this as a coherent argument, I can’t think of it. Rand Paul thought it would strengthen Obama’s hand at the negotiating table if Republicans told Iranian officials not to trust or cooperate with Obama?

In the larger context, let’s not forget that Republicans tend to consider foreign policy and national security as their signature issues, and polls, reality notwithstanding, generally show Americans trust the GOP more on matters of international affairs. Credibility on foreign policy is generally seen as a birthright throughout the Republican Party.

And yet, consider what we’re seeing from Republican senators right now and the degree to which it’s amateur hour within the GOP.

At a certain level, the fact that so many in the GOP are scrambling to address the scandal they created is itself a heartening sign. All things considered, it’s better to hear Republicans making bizarre excuses than to hear then boast about how proud they are of their sabotage letter. Senators like McCain and Paul aren’t defending the letter on the merits so much as they’re looking for excuses to rationalize their participation in a dangerous stunt.

But I’m nevertheless reminded of Fred Kaplan’s assessment from earlier this week: “It is a useful thing when a political party reveals itself as utterly unsuited for national leadership.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 12, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | Iran, John McCain, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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