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February 03, 2005

McCain in action

John McCain was the driving force behind one of the most blatantly unconstitutional laws passed by Congress since it segregated the D.C. public schools. (The Supreme Court upheld the law. -- Ed. And your point is?) He's drawn to the establishment media as a moth is drawn to light. (Moths are usually killed by getting too close to the light; McCain thrives on it. -- Ed. Will you stop interrupting me, please?) While McCain deserves credit for generally supporting the War, he is a showboater. Also, not to be unduly petty, he has a very annoying voice, and I shut off the radio whenever I hear him on Imus in the Morning.

Well, read what Jay Nordlinger reports from Davos. It's very discouraging, even if it's in keeping with my complaints.

Speaking before a huge room of journalists at a final-night dinner is John McCain, and I've really looked forward to hearing from him. As I've said — this year and in the past — Sander Levin, Ed Markey, and Barney Frank can look like George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, and Curtis LeMay at Davos. How about John McCain?

What a letdown. I'll provide a few excerpts from McCain's performance, starting with the issue of Iran's nuclear facilities.

One barrier to going after them, McCain says, is that we said there were WMD in Iraq, and there were not. Therefore, the administration would have to make extra sure that people were convinced of Iran's capabilities.

This is a fair point, but I wish McCain hadn't given up so easily on the Iraq/WMD issue. There is more to the story than that. And he has unfortunately buttressed a general Davos line. (The invasion was proven unnecessary and wrong.)

And how about the Guantanamo Bay prisoners? They are, of course, a hot topic at the Annual Meeting (have been from the beginning — you never hear about innocent, democratic prisoners in Cuba, chained by Fidel Castro). McCain is a "try 'em or release 'em" man. How you try terrorists nabbed on the Afghan battlefield, he does not venture to say. He does say, "Even Eichmann got a trial," which is one of the cheapest things I have ever heard out of a politician's mouth.

(For one thing, no one proposes to execute the Guantanamo Bay prisoners — so far as I know.)

But it gets worse. The word "neocon," as you know, is a great bogey, in Davos and elsewhere, and an Arab journalist gives McCain a golden opportunity: She says, "Are the neocons still controlling policy in Washington?" I repeat: What an opportunity! McCain has a chance to dispel a pervasive, somewhat sinister myth, before an important audience. He can do some real good. As respected as he is, he can administer some sanity.

But instead of dispelling the myth — that Bush is a puppet of wily neocons — he more like reinforces it. He says, There are always power struggles in Washington; sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down; if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog. What's more, Bush is feeling "more secure" in this second term — which implies that an insecure Bush could have been manipulated by others in the first.

McCain concludes, "Have I done a good enough job ducking that question?"

The questioner has a look that says, "I am vindicated in my suspicions." It's plain.

The senator then goes on to talk about himself. Without prompting, he brings up his loss to Bush in the 2000 primaries ("not that I'm not over it or anything"). He uses the old politician's line about sleeping like a baby the night of his ultimate defeat: "I woke up every few hours, crying." No one asks whether he'll run for president in '08, so he poses the question himself. And his answer: "Anyone who's a U.S. senator or governor, and not under indictment or in detox, thinks about running for president." Then he does his riff on how Arizonans can't grow up to be president (given Goldwater, Udall, etc.).

I will say this for McCain, however: A journalist stands up and discusses what he considers atrocities committed by Americans in Iraq. McCain responds that we regret every loss of life — but that perhaps our journalist should think about those tortured, raped, and killed under Saddam. This is pretty elementary stuff, but, at Davos, it can seem Churchillian.

There is much to admire in McCain, and I don't scoff at his supporters — far from it. But, as I leave this dinner, I think of Bush's critics in general: Sure, the president has made mistakes, as anyone would in a job so big (and as we all do, in jobs much smaller). But I believe that history will remember him as a man who did miraculous things for liberty — and hence for the well-being of the world — in the first decade of the 21st century. And his critics will seem like so many gnats around the ankles of a great, beneficent beast.
I, for one, do not regret my vote for Bush and against McCain in 2000.