The political nasty season has arrived in America.
In a climate in which Barack Obama has been taunted as "pallin' around with terrorists" by the Republican Party's Vice-Presidential nominee, a well-organized Democratic counter-assault appears to be materializing.
And in a stark contrast to the ill-fated John Kerry campaign of 2004, the Democrats have immediately moved to the offense at the first indication of concerted Republican attacks.
I'll highlight a couple of examples of the current themes, beginning with excerpts from Make-Believe Maverick, a brutally hard-hitting piece on John McCain by Tim Dickinson in the current Rolling Stone:
The myth of John McCain hinges on two transformations — from pampered flyboy to selfless patriot, and from Keating crony to incorruptible reformer — that simply never happened. But there is one serious conversion that has taken root in McCain: his transformation from a cautious realist on foreign policy into a reckless cheerleader of neoconservatism.
...Indeed, McCain's neocon makeover is so extreme that Republican generals like Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft have refused to endorse their party's nominee. "The fact of the matter is his judgment about what to do in Iraq was wrong," says Richard Clarke, who served as Bush's counterterrorism czar until 2003. "He hung out with people like Ahmad Chalabi. He said Iraq was going to be easy, and he said we were going to war because of terrorism. We should have been fighting in Afghanistan with more troops to go after Al Qaeda. Instead we're at risk because of the mistaken judgment of people like John McCain."
In the end, the essential facts of John McCain's life and career — the pivotal experiences in which he demonstrated his true character — are important because of what they tell us about how he would govern as president. Far from the portrayal he presents of himself as an unflinching maverick with a consistent and reliable record, McCain has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to taking whatever position will advance his own career. He "is the classic opportunist," according to Ross Perot, who worked closely with McCain on POW issues. "He's always reaching for attention and glory."
...Throughout the campaign this year, McCain has tried to make the contest about honor and character. His own writing gives us the standard by which he should be judged. "Always telling the truth in a political campaign," he writes in Worth the Fighting For, "is a great test of character." He adds: "Patriotism that only serves and never risks one's self-interest isn't patriotism at all. It's selfishness. That's a lesson worth relearning from time to time." It's a lesson, it would appear, that the candidate himself could stand to relearn.
Similarly, a Monday L.A. Times article, Mishaps mark John McCain's record as naval aviator, casts doubt on the Republican nominee's vaunted military prowess, noting "McCain's commanders sarcastically dubbed him Ace McCain,'" after a series of pre-Vietnam accidents:
The 23-year-old junior lieutenant wasn't paying attention and erred in using "a power setting too low to maintain level flight in a turn," investigators concluded.The crash was one of three early in McCain's aviation career in which his flying skills and judgment were faulted or questioned by Navy officials.
In his most serious lapse, McCain was "clowning" around in a Skyraider over southern Spain about December 1961 and flew into electrical wires, causing a blackout, according to McCain's own account as well as those of naval officers and enlistees aboard the carrier Intrepid. In another incident, in 1965, McCain crashed a T-2 trainer jet in Virginia.
After McCain was sent to Vietnam, his plane was destroyed in an explosion on the deck of an aircraft carrier in 1967. Three months later, he was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi and taken prisoner. He was not faulted in either of those cases and was later lauded for his heroism as a prisoner of war.
As a presidential candidate, McCain has cited his military service -- particularly his 5 1/2 years as a POW. But he has been less forthcoming about his mistakes in the cockpit.
The Times interviewed men who served with McCain and located once-confidential 1960s-era accident reports and formerly classified evaluations of his squadrons during the Vietnam War. This examination of his record revealed a pilot who early in his career was cocky, occasionally cavalier and prone to testing limits.
In today's military, a lapse in judgment that causes a crash can end a pilot's career.
The Associated Press contribution to the theme is McCain linked to group in Iran-Contra case - Organization had ties to former Nazi collaborators, right-wing death squads:
WASHINGTON - GOP presidential nominee John McCain has past connections to a private group that supplied aid to guerrillas seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua in the Iran-Contra affair.
McCain's ties are facing renewed scrutiny after his campaign criticized Barack Obama for his link to a former radical who engaged in violent acts 40 years ago.
The U.S. Council for World Freedom was part of an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America. The group was dedicated to stamping out communism around the globe.
The council's founder, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, said McCain became associated with the organization in the early 1980s as McCain was launching his political career in Arizona. Singlaub said McCain was a supporter but not an active member in the group.
"McCain was a new guy on the block learning the ropes," Singlaub told The Associated Press in an interview. "I think I met him in the Washington area when he was just a new congressman. We had McCain on the board to make him feel like he wasn't left out. It looks good to have names on a letterhead who are well-known and appreciated.
Finally, the Obama campaign, in its own right, yesterday released Keating Economics: John McCain and the Making of a Financial Crisis, a video documentary on Mr. McCain's role in the notorious 1989 "Keating Five" savings and loan scandals:
Isn't it interesting how all these stories have appeared simultaneously, on the eve of tonight's second Presidential debate?
Not a coincidence, I am sure.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto