I thought John McCain couldn't top the insensitivity and tone-deafness of staging a PR event in Memphis, Tenn., on the recent anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. After all, he cast the deciding vote against the 1990 Civil Rights Act, opposed a national MLK holiday and hasn't done people of color and the poor any economic favors.
But he keeps going. And the further he goes, the more he demonstrates that when it comes to working family issues, he just doesn't get it.
McCain went to Youngstown, Ohio, where he praised job-killing trade deals in front of a shut-down factory and claimed to understand working families who are losing homes and jobs and feeling "counted out" -- because for a while he was behind in the Republican polls. McCain himself is the ninth-richest member of Congress and owns several homes worth more than $10 million.
He went to fundraisers in Arkansas, where Carly Fiorina, "victory chairman" for the Republican National Committee, attested that McCain is "very much in touch" with working folks. Fiorina, of course, is the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who laid off thousands of workers. When she herself was shown the door, she left with a $21 million severence package. Nonetheless, in Spring Lake, Mich., McCain called her "one of the great role models and leaders in America."
He went to New Orleans, where he blasted the Bush administration's failures to respond when Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast and devastated lives. Apparently it slipped his mind that while New Orleans was drowning, he was enjoying cake right beside President Bush in celebration of McCain's 69th birthday.
In city after city across the country, McCain is talking the good talk. I challenge him to bring his votes and policies into line with his rhetoric.
He's talking jobs, although he voted to help corporations send them overseas, and about retraining unemployed workers whose jobs, lost to unfair trade, "aren't coming back." But he wants to take money from existing retraining programs to help pay for an unworkable wage insurance proposal. He voted against loans to enable workers in job training or job assistance programs to continue paying their bills. He also voted against extending unemployment assistance for workers who exhaust their federal benefits while looking for new jobs.
He talks about ending "the tens of billions of dollars squandered every year on special favors and corporate welfare." But his tax plan would give tax breaks worth $3.8 billion a year to the top five oil companies, $1.9 billion a year to the top 10 health insurance companies and continue the Bush tax cuts, which give millions more to the richest people in America.
He says, "At a time when many working families can hardly afford their mortgage, their groceries and gas for the car or truck, we need to close the door firmly on corporate lobbyists." But McCain has at least 90 lobbyists as top fundraisers and senior campaign staffers and advisers, more than any other candidate in 2008. Some of the lobbyists represented notorious lenders involved in the subprime mortgage disaster. The Washington Post reported that McCain's campaign has been "guided by lobbyists."
He talks about families struggling in what he still considers a strong economy. But he supports a war that consumes billions we could spend addressing problems here at home. He opposes the minimum wage, wants to tax health care benefits and leave us to battle it out with big insurance companies on our own, refused to protect our overtime pay, didn't bother to vote to protect us from pay discrimination, voted to block health and safety standards and the Employee Free Choice Act...the litany goes on and on. And on.
John McCain is free to believe what he believes and to vote the way he votes. But if he's going to continue trying to gain political points by talking about working family issues, it's time for him to put his votes and policies where his rhetoric is.