August 27, 2004

Busting the McCain 2000 myth
Posted by McQ

I like Rich Lowry's characterization of a trio of Vets we've come to know well here lately:

It is supposed to be a devastating critique of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that John McCain doesn't like their ads. But should we be surprised? McCain knows no party. Instead, together with Kerry supporter Max Cleland, the Arizona senator makes for the smallest caucus in American politics -- Thin-Skinned Vietnam War Veterans Adored by the Media (TSVWVAM).

This is a crew that takes every single little thing said in criticism, no matter how true, to be an attack on their service or their patriotism. We've delt with the Cleland nonsense before, but how about McCain? Just as with Cleland, there's a myth which has grown up about McCain and Bush in South Carolina which has Bush questioning McCain's military credentials and patriotism.

Lowry says, "not true". Consider the context and the situation:

A Kerry ad (now taken off the air) featured a clip from McCain at a 2000 debate in South Carolina excoriating Bush for abiding attacks on his service. It seems devastating, unless you know the context. McCain was furious -- a not-infrequent condition for the Arizona maverick -- that a Bush supporter who is a veteran had stood next to Bush at a rally and complained about McCain's Senate voting record. It wasn't an attack on McCain's service. But both members of TSVWVAM have the same inability to distinguish between criticisms of their records and themselves personally.

"He has always opposed all the legislation," the pro-Bush vet said, "be it Agent Orange or Gulf War health care, or frankly the POW/MIA issue." You don't have to subscribe to every particular of this litany to consider it firmly in-bounds. A McCain vote in 1999 against a Department of Veterans Affairs spending bill, for instance, angered some vets, as did his work to normalize relations with Vietnam. Veterans of Foreign Wars gave McCain a 75 percent favorable rating in 1998, respectable but lower than other senators who scored in the 80 percent to 100 percent range. In 1995, McCain scored a mere 27 percent. So it's not as though his legislative record was beyond reproach.

McCain was rejected by SC voters not because of his service or his "lack" of patriotism, but because he was too liberal when they compared him to Bush. Max Cleland was rejected by GA voters for the same reason. However, to hear McCain whine about it, you'd think they cut the buttons off of his uniform, broke his sword and escorted him to the SC line.

As Lowry points out:

McCain lost in South Carolina because he was too liberal for Republican primary voters and his campaign was considered too negative after he compared Bush's honesty to Bill Clinton's.

So as you can tell, it wasn't exactly all "sweetness and light" from McCain.

As an interesting aside, since we're talking about McCain, the Washington Post is reporting the following:

McCain said that he urged Kerry sometime ago not to talk about Vietnam during his campaign. "I did advise John. I said, 'Look, you shouldn't talk about Vietnam because everybody else will. Let everybody else do it.' His advisers figured that was probably not enough, that he had to emphasize that in his campaign. In my campaign, as you know, I didn't talk about it because I didn't need to."

McCain also said he drew a distinction between the first anti-Kerry ad by the veterans group, which focused on Kerry's Vietnam service, and a second ad now airing that criticizes Kerry for his leadership in the antiwar movement after he returned from Vietnam. McCain condemned the first ad but not the second.

Not condemning the second ad, huh?




'Thin-skinned' is ironic since the Swifts are comlaining about their hurt feelings over taking personally some things not directed at them. I thought McCain was defeated in SC because of the impression he had fathered a black child. And I thought McCain was complaining about the person at the event for things said elsewhere at other times. It sort of like you have to read the next sentence to understand that O'Neill was along the Cambodian border. Or that Kerry said something about what Nixon said at some other time. Frum is obfuscating. McCain knows exactly what that guy at the event had stated at other times and that GW was playing dumb. Frum too, for that matter.

Posted by: Wm D at August 27, 2004 07:40 PM

I thought McCain was defeated in SC because of the impression he had fathered a black child.

Wm D, as has been pointed out before, you apparently think a great deal of things about the 2000 SC primary that aren't actually true.

Posted by: Lance Jonn Romanoff at August 27, 2004 08:19 PM

Hey Lance, buddy, quit pretending to be naive.

Posted by: Wm D at August 27, 2004 09:49 PM

I do not consider it naive to choose not to believe claims that lack the benefit of any evidence. If your standards are lower that's your business.

Posted by: Lance Jonn Romanoff at August 27, 2004 10:26 PM

Cleland was the senior Senator from Georgia, not South Carolina. Cleland lost his re-election bid in 2002 to Saxby Chambliss.

Posted by: The Monk at August 28, 2004 01:36 AM

Monk: Where did anyone say Cleland was from SC? Ah... "just like Cleland ...". Well poorly phrased. What I should have said was "Just like the voters in GA rejected Cleland for being too liberal, SC voters ... yatta, yatta, yatta. In fact, I think I will. ;)

Posted by: McQ at August 28, 2004 08:50 AM

The Bush/Rove slime machine goes all the way back to the Texas Governor's race. Rove put together campaign to spread the rumor that Ann Richardson was a lesbian. The proof? She was unmarried.

There isn't any question about Bush and Rove being behind the McCain rumors about an illegitimate black baby, mental instability and his wife being on medication. That's the reason for the animosity that McCain has managed to overcome. After Bush lost to McCain in New Hampshire Rove kicked into gear and set up a "push poll" operation to spread the rumors.

A new movie is coming out based on the book "Bush's Brain" by James Moore. If anyone would like a preview check out those dirty rotten liberals at:

Posted by: Gary Boatwright at August 29, 2004 03:20 AM

Well, yeah Gary, there is some doubt. As far as I've been able to tell, there are allegations that somebody--but we don't know who--did a push poll, calling some people--though, we've got no evidence of that--and telling them something about McCain, on behalf of the Bush campaign--except there's no evidence to tie them together.

So, I'd be curious to know where the proof is.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 29, 2004 07:03 AM

Gary, where's your evidence?

Posted by: Lance Jonn Romanoff at August 29, 2004 09:13 AM

This post at Salon is the most recent summary of the Bush/Rove slime machine:

Look, I'm not any kind of big Kerry fan. The reason I'm so disgusted with the Swiftboat vet smear is that I was a huge McCain supporter and I was puzzled by the media buzz about McCain's "temper". It wasn't until after the election that I found out about the push-pull voter manipulation. I've heard this discussed and acknowledged without any details on Fox News several times, though not recently. There is no doubt that McCain was very bitter after the election.

Is the Salon article rock solid proof? Probably not. Is there a documentary trail that proves the Bush/Rove connection to the McCain smear? I don't know. After avoiding all the Bush liar, liar books I finally broke down and ordered "Bush's Brain" so I'll be better able to evaluate it soon.

What I do know is that the parallels cannot be dismissed. There is no doubt that Bush stood on a stage with Ted Sample while his vet group smeared McCain and Bush stated that McCain had an honorable record. Sample's Vietnam Vets Against Kerry group is a morph of his vets group that smeared McCain by accusing him of turning his back on Vietnam vets and being a Manchurian candidate who had been brainwashed during his POW imprisonment. Ted Sample is an unprincipled scumbag.

I'm listening to Ralph Reed on CNN right this second defending the Cleland/Osama ads. According to Ralph, just because Max and Osama's image both appeared on the screen at the same time that wasn't what the ad actually said. I'm sorry, but that's the worst kind of dissembling. That ad was a smear pure and simple.

I remember the unanimous agreement after 911 that we were fortunate to have Bush as president instead of Gore. These days I dream of what the war on terror would look like if McCain had won instead of Bush.

Pre-emptive disclaimer: I was with the microscopic demographic of Bush 41 democrats when he ran against Reagan in the 79? primary. I never bought in to supply side economics. While not enthusiastic about Reagan I didn't have any major complaints and I was furious when Bush 41 lost to Clinton because Republicans didn't like his minor tax hike. The most recent books I've read were "Wealth and Democracy" by Kevin Phillips, "America Alone" by Halper and Clarke and "Running on Empty" by Peter Peterson. Solid conservatives one and all, with legitimate critiques on what passes for current day conservatism. My fear is that Bush and today's crop of Limbaugh conservatives is doing to the good name of conservative what the Democrats did to the term liberal. Does Conservative now mean big government spending, huge deficits and being a Wilsonian policeman to the world? Where the hell are the fiscal conservatives? Bush is going to be the first president since Garfield to never veto a single bill, and Garfield died after six months in office and that prescription drug bill was a travesty.

My vote here in California is largely a metaphysical exercise anyhow, but I'll be voting a straight Democratic ticket at the federal level and a straight Republican ticket at the state level for pretty much the same reason. I'm not voting for Kerry, I'm voting for divided government and gridlock. Republicans will filibuster Kerry's spending programs and Kerry will veto fiscally disastrous extensions of the Bush tax cuts. Democrats at the state level in California and Republicans at the federal level have demonstrated that they both lack the capacity for responsible governance.

On foreign policy grounds, I just read Podhoretz's "World War IV" article in Commentary. Podhoretz accuses Brent Skowcroft of giving "aid and comfort to the hard left" for his Wall Street Journal editorial opposing the Iraq war. If Brent Skowcroft and Kevin Phillips are red diaper doper babies then you can count me in too. The neo-cons are a radically dangerous group. Over at the libertarian/Goldwater Republican? site at they call them neo-crazies. That site may be a little "strident" as they say at the N.Y. Times, but Halper and Clarke make pretty much the same case. Pat Buchanan says that if Bush loses there will be a neo-con purge in the Republican party and I'm looking forward to reading "Where the Right Went Wrong".

Sorry for drifting more than a little off topic. This appears to be a rational conservative site, but I've found that there are certain areas of cyberspace that are somewhat hostile to RINO views.

Posted by: Gary Boatwright at August 29, 2004 01:51 PM

A reasonable comment, Gary. First, the areas in which we agree:

1: I would have preferred a President McCain, too. I think he wouldn't have been any worse than Bush economically/fiscally, and he would have been as proactive--perhaps better--than Bush in the war on terror. What's more, he would be essentially unassailable by the Democrats in a reelection bid.

2: Bush's fiscal policies leave a great deal to be desired.

However, I have to disagree with a few things, too...

1: We're not conservative. We are Neolibertarians...or, pro-war and pragmatic libertarians. Essentially, it means we bitch about everybody, but we bitch about Republicans a little less.

2: I find the Salon article surprisingly fact-free. The argument seems to be that Rove=evil, so whatever bad things happen must be Rove's doing. I find that unconvincing.

3: As Lowry's article points out, the SC accusations against Bush/Rove are almost entirely unsubstantiated. It's not even entirely certain they occurred, though they certainly seem to have entered the national consciousness.

4: I'm no Neo-conservative, but I find some aspects of the "Democratic Globalism" foreign policy construct fairly in line with a modern Realist POV.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 29, 2004 02:31 PM

You got me with neolibertarian Jon. I was just getting up to speed with paleo-conservative and neo-conservative. Pragmatic libertarian sounds like a sound philosophical paradigm. Libertarians have always lost me with their insistence on philosophical purity, i.e. all roads should be privately owned toll roads.

The pro-war libertarian part seems a little strained, but I'll accept it on good faith. I suspect that puts you at odds with the libertarians at :-) The distinction between Democratice Globalism and Modern Realist I'll have to look into. Any references or think tanks you can offer would be appreciated.

I'm willing to admit that Salon doesn't offer direct evidence. It's pretty much all hearsay. It's not likely that there is a case that would be acceptable in a court of law. The problem with the collaboration standard for 527's is that it would take a letter from one of the political parties, on their letterhead and a signed receipt of delivery from the 527 to prove collaboration. The law is unenforceable and that's probably a good thing.

Out here in California, the energy companies and Larry Elder were denying any collaboration long after it was a well known fact that they had collaborated. It was only with the discovery of the "Grandma Millie" tapes that collaboration was finally accepted by FERC. Those tapes were only kept as a result of regulatory requirements. We're not likely to find that kind of evidence.

What we do have is a "pattern and practice" case. I had never heard of the lesbian rumors against Ann Richardson until I read the Salon article. Maybe they're true and maybe not. Did Rove coordinate a push-poll to slime McCain? Push-polls are a tactic used by desperate politicians. Bush was deperate after the New Hampshire loss. Maybe it's just me, but Rove does not seem to have a reputation for being a fastidious campaigner.

I don't believe there is direct evidence that the Bush 41 campaign was behind the Willie Horton ad, but I don't think anybody questions it.

We do know that Bush made a campaign appearance with Ted Sample and Ted was sliming McCain. George Bush also spoke very highly of McCain's honorable service. There is no doubt that McCain was furious for quite some time after the election and his relationship with the White House was chilly to say the least.

The lack of hard evidence may just a result of a failure to investigate. This is just dirty politics, not a crime. No prosecutor, independent or otherwise, is going to get assigned to dig up evidence of push-polls in SC. Who's was going to ask Ashcroft to assign an independent prosecutor? McCain? The Dems to investigate a Republican primary?

Complaints have been submitted to the FEC about the swiftboat vets and move on, but I doubt they will approach it with the same budget or enthusiasm that Ken Starr demonstrated.

It looks to me like the swiftboat vet campaign has Carl Rove written all over it and I see no reason not to believe that Rove ran a similar campaign against McCain. It strains credulity to believe that a long string of coincidences don't add up to arms length complicity. Carl Rove doesn't need to call Perry or Spaeth and give them marching orders. These things are like a lot of "wink and a nod" wall street deals.

Posted by: Gary Boatwright at August 29, 2004 07:14 PM

re: Neolibertarians....

My definitions are many:

  • pragmatic domestic libertarian, hawk on defense.

  • Hobbesian libertarian (it's actually a perfect description, if only anybody understood it)
  • non-ideological libertarian.

  • realistic libertarian.

For more, I recommend doing a search on our lefthand sidebar for "neolibertarian", and read some of the entries.

And yes, I regard the people at as moonbats of the first order. I've criticized Raimondo a time or three.

re: the SBVs....without actual evidence of coordination, it seems to me a very natural, even expected, thing. It's not hard to recognize that there would be Vietnam vets, and especially those who served with Kerry, who would:

1: Still be mad about what he did after the war.
2: Find quite a bit of fault with the Brinkley hagiography.

If there's coordination, I'll need to see a lot more than "well, you know, F*ing Rove, man". :)

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 29, 2004 08:08 PM

I'm familiar with about 1/3 of the links on the left. Under priority blogs you have the Washington Monthly and Glen Reynolds; two of my favorites, but hardly a consistent philosophy. Under blog roll you have Michelle Malkin and Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. hmmmmm

The pragmatic domestic libertarian is good. Hobbesian libertarian and hawk on defense I'll have to consider. I'm having some difficulty with the global imperialism of the neo-cons. Not the least of which is that they appear to have led us down a primrose path without giving us a program.

Even giving them the benefit of the doubt on execution, which seems to one be Fukuyama's complaints (I'm picking up the summer National Interest issue later this week), I think they owed us an honest explanation of their global ambitions. Of course, if they had done that we probably wouldn't be in Iraq.

If Global Realism is part of the neo-libertarian philosophy I'm going to have to agree to disagree. Frankly, I just think we lack the wisdom to promote democracy with military intervention. General Zinni's biography "Battle Ready" suggested that "operations other than war" could be succesful with significant force restructure, but I don't see public support for that kind of effort. It seems to me the "war on terrorism" requires similar if not greater force restructure.

General Shelton's comment that "the military is a great hammer, but not every problem is a nail" would seem to apply to Iraq as well as the war on terrorism, which I see as entirely distinct problems. Aside from the god awful strategic decisions, Bush and the neo-cons need to level with the public about their global ambitions. Taking them at their word in "An End to Evil" those ambitions are grandiose. I'm not enough of a biblical scholar to say whether even God promises an end to evil this side of the Rapture.

I understand the anti-Kerry passion, I just don't share it. Without getting submersed in the details of the Winter Soldier controversy, it does seem that Kerry's statement has been somewhat mischaracterized as an accusation against "all" Vietnam vets. I had two older brothers who went to Nam and one didn't make it all the way back. PTSD or something.

Vietnam was America's longest war. It looks to me like we had a similar problem with Vietnam that we do with Iraq. We weren't fighting Vietnam then, we were fighting communism. We aren't fighting Iraq today, we're fighting terrorism. In both cases we're trying to attain a political victory with military might. How do you define victory and what are the metrics for success?

The whole Swiftboat/Rove sideshow is interesting and even amusing in a sick twisted way, but I don't think it's particularly relevant to the election. Is it possible to change anybody's mind? I doubt it. Does Kerry owe Vietnam vets an apology or do LBJ and Nixon? I know McNamara pissed off a lot of vets with his "apology" such as it was. Was victory right around the corner in 1975 or would we have been there another five or ten years?

Regardless of how you or anyone else feels about Iraq today, how do you think you'll feel about it ten years and 57,000 lives from now? In retrospect Vietnam looks like a pretty supid ass exercise in military power executed by a bunch of idiots in the political arm of the Defense Department for undefinable political aims. It's not much of a stretch to make the same accusation against the Iraq war and the current bunch of political operatives.

I haven't read General Franks book yet, I ordered another book that was recommended over at the Intel Dump, but I'm sure he had very good reasons for calling Feith the stupidest f***ing man on the face of the earth. The neo-cons are brilliant theorists, but their policy execution has been horendous.

Posted by: Gary Boatwright at August 29, 2004 09:10 PM

I think I was unclear on the lefthand sidebar thing. I mean that you should do a search with the search button.

Just use this link, and read what we've written about it.

As regards foreign policy, I'd highly recommend this speech by Charles Krauthammer.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 29, 2004 09:32 PM

I'm willing to admit that Salon doesn't offer direct evidence. It's pretty much all hearsay.

Interesting how quickly one goes from "There isn't any question" to "It's pretty much all hearsay."

Posted by: Lance Jonn Romanoff at August 29, 2004 11:23 PM

Hey Lance,

How about weighing in on the Swift Vets?

Posted by: Wm D at August 30, 2004 12:21 AM

Thanks for the link and the clarification Jon. As for Krauthammer, I'm picking up the summer issue of National Interest and looking into his disagreement with Fukuyama. I suspect I'll tend to side with Fukuyama from my initial take based on what I've read.

I'd like to recommend "America Alone" by Halper and Clarke, a couple of CATO Institute types.

Don't read too much into a casual comment conceding a lack of hard evidence Lance. Hearsay can be admissible in a court of law. I'm just conceding that I'm still reserving final judgment until I see what they have to say in "Bush's Brain". I've seen and heard enough that I'm still personally convinced, but I completely understand why others can question the evidence and draw a different conclusion.

Posted by: Gary Boatwright at August 30, 2004 01:40 AM

I'm just conceding that I'm still reserving final judgment until I see what they have to say in "Bush's Brain". I've seen and heard enough that I'm still personally convinced, but I completely understand why others can question the evidence and draw a different conclusion.

Again, that's a much more moderate position than the one you were taking just a day before. Are you now retracting your earlier claims?

Posted by: Lance Jonn Romanoff at August 30, 2004 08:01 AM