What John McCain Told Me, and What it Says About How Far He's Fallen

At a dinner party in Los Angeles not long after the 2000 election, John McCain admitted to me that he hadn't voted for George Bush.
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Most Recent News: Brad Whitford and Richard Schiff corroborate my post in Friday's New York Times piece by Elisabeth Bumiller.

Update: Through a spokesperson with the colorful name Tucker Bounds, McCain has denied telling me he didn't vote for Bush in 2000. "It's not true," Bounds told the Washington Post, "and I ask you to consider the source."

My sentiments exactly -- because John McCain has a long history of issuing heartfelt denials of things that were actually true.

He denied ever talking with John Kerry about his leaving the GOP to be Kerry's '04 running mate -- then later admitted he had, insisting: "Everybody knows that I had a conversation."

He denied admitting that he didn't know much about economics, even though he'd said exactly that to the Wall Street Journal. And the Boston Globe. And the Baltimore Sun.

He denied ever having asked for a budget earmark for Arizona, even though he had. On the record.

He denied that he'd ever had a meeting with comely lobbyist Vicki Iseman and her client Lowell Paxon, even though he had. And had admitted it in a legal deposition.

And those are just the outright denials. He's also repeatedly tried to spin away statements he regretted making (see: 100-year war, Iraq was a war for oil, etc.).

So, yes, by all means, "consider the source."

Original Post: At a dinner party in Los Angeles not long after the 2000 election, I was talking to a man and his wife, both prominent Republicans. The conversation soon turned to the new president. "I didn't vote for George Bush" the man confessed. "I didn't either," his wife added. Their names: John and Cindy McCain (Cindy told me she had cast a write-in vote for her husband).

The fact that this man was so angry at what George Bush had done to him, and at what Bush represented for their party, that he did not even vote for him in 2000 shows just how far he has fallen since then in his hunger for the presidency. By abandoning his core principles and embracing Bush -- both literally and metaphorically -- he has morphed into an older and crankier version of the man he couldn't stomach voting for in 2000.

McCain's fall has been Shakespearean -- and really hard to watch for those, like myself, who so admired and even loved him. His nobility and his true reformer years have given way to pandering in the service of ambition.

But a large portion of the electorate hasn't noticed the Shakespearean fall. How else to explain The 28/48 Disconnect -- wherein only a die-hard 28 percent of voters still approve of Bush, but 48 percent say they'd vote for McCain, who is running on the "more of the same" platform?

The thing is, these voters clearly still think of McCain as the maverick of 2000, a straight shooter who would never seek the embrace of a man he couldn't bring himself to vote for, nor accept the regular counsel of Karl Rove, the man behind the vile, race-baiting attacks on him during the 2000 campaign.

And the main reason for The 28/48 Disconnect is the mainstream media's ongoing membership in the John McCain Protection Society. They too continue to party -- and report on McCain -- like it's 1999.

Look at the slack they cut him after his infamous stroll through a Baghdad market was revealed as an utter sham. James Frey was eviscerated for far less. Or the slack they cut him after his repeated confusion of Sunni and Shia. Or the slack they cut him when his promise to run a "respectful" campaign ran aground on his sleazy attempt to connect Barack Obama and Hamas.

Every time McCain screws up, the media jump all over themselves to make it better, as if grandpa had said something embarrassing at the dinner table and it needed to be smoothed over as quickly as possible.

The latest example came late last week when the Straight Talk Express hit an oil slick and skidded off the road. Click here for the blow by blow, but, in short, McCain implied that Iraq is essentially a war for oil, then tried to take it back, explaining that he was actually talking about the first Gulf War, then, when pressed, denied that he was actually talking about the first Gulf War.

And, by and large, the media gave him a pass. Chris Matthews called the original war for oil comment "an astounding development," but most everyone else was too busy picking over the bones of the Wright/Obama carcass to give it much play.

Interestingly, McCain's mental meltdown over the reason we invaded Iraq was prompted by a comment from a McCain supporter who said he hoped a group called "Swift Boats for McCain" would be formed to help McCain in the campaign.

The gentleman needn't worry. The group already exists. It's called "the media." And they are very well-funded, and highly motivated. The Swift Boat Media for McCain are, for instance, going to make sure that we hear a lot more about the nuances of Obama's decision to not wear a flag pin on his lapel than about McCain's ideas on a little thing like the Iraq war.

Witness the reaction to McCain's repeated declarations that he thinks we should be in Iraq for "100 years." The DNC had the gall to use McCain's own words in an ad, causing McCain to flip out: "My friends, it's a direct falsification," he said, "and I'm sorry that political campaigns have to deteriorate in this fashion."

So, to review: using a candidate's own words against him is off limits, but making disgraceful insinuations about Hamas and Obama isn't.

But instead of nailing McCain on the "deterioration" of his ethics -- to say nothing of his logic and reasoning -- the Swift Boat Media dutifully repeated his talking points, as in this AP lede claiming, without reservation, that the DNC ad "falsely suggests John McCain wants a 100-year war in Iraq."

McCain tries to wriggle away from his "100 year" comment by saying that he wasn't talking about a hundred year war, but a very long term commitment of U.S. troops, like we have in Germany or South Korea. Maybe so, but the last time I looked no one was blowing up American soldiers in Wiesbaden.

The New Yorker's Rick Hertzberg, a writer who hasn't drunk the It's Still 2000 Kool-Aid, sums up McCain's Strangelovian "vision": "McCain wants to stay in Iraq until no more Americans are getting killed, no matter how long it takes and how many Americans get killed achieving that goal -- that is, the goal of not getting any more Americans killed. And once that goal is achieved, we'll stay."

The John McCain the media fell in love with in 2000 isn't on the ballot in 2008. And the proof has all but jumped up and grabbed the media by the throat: the ring-kiss of "agents of intolerance" Falwell and Robertson; the decision to make permanent tax cuts he twice voted against, saying he could not "in good conscience support" them; the campaign finance reformer replaced with a candidate whose campaign is run by lobbyists and fueled by loophole rides on his wife's jet; the hard-line stance against torture replaced by a vote allowing waterboarding; the guarded-by-a-battalion stroll through the "safe" neighborhoods of Baghdad; the use of Karl Rove as an advisor... and the embracing of the disastrous policies of a man he so abhorred he would not vote for him.

What will it take for the Swift Boat Media to realize that John McCain jumped the shark a long, long time ago?

For more coverage of John McCain, go to HuffPost's John McCain page.

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