19 jul. 2008

John McCain’s Fake Town Halls

It’s always nice to hear both sides, so we have to hear what a McCain admirer has to say about her beloved candidate. If I should try to be objective, you will never believe me anymore, but we have Mayhill Fowler who can do the word. Well I’ve read the article before passing it through to you, thus I know that nothing good can be said about McCain, at least not without lying, but she tries to be kind.
The John McCain town hall meeting is a fraud. Unlike other writers at HuffPost, I want John McCain to do well this summer, so it pains me to report this. "I believe the town hall meeting is the most important element of democracy," Senator McCain said last week in Portsmouth, Ohio. I wouldn't go that far, but I would hate to see one senator hand the election to another. It's not good for Senator Obama, who already exudes enough confidence to power a wind turbine; it's not good for us, because we profit from spirited debate. And isn't that what a town hall meeting is supposed to be?
The town hall meeting yesterday in Albuquerque, New Mexico is typical in that the real action is not on the ground in the small conference room of Hotel Albuquerque but in the internet air war waged at the same time. There's an old-fashioned quaintness to John McCain's insistence on the centrality of the town hall meeting -- even he doesn't really believe in it, for he always shapes his meetings not to the locals and their concerns but to the action taking place in the campaign email and conference call skirmishes over the addled attention of the press that particular day. McCain, for example, gives his Albuquerque supporters a speech on Afghanistan (much to the surprise of some, who had been hoping to hear about social issues and the economy) because that very day Obama delivers his major foreign policy speech, "A New Strategy for a New World," at the same time in Washington, D.C. Obama is setting the pace elsewhere, far from New Mexico. The McCain Campaign is as usual playing catch-up in Albuquerque, for Obama has been warning about the need to win the war in Afghanistan at least as far back as his Pennsylvania speeches before that state's primary.
Beyond the illusion of locality, there's the atmosphere to these meets. Despite the crackle in the air war, the town hall meetings themselves are soporific. Sometimes we begin with the hagiography of American patriotism: the trooping of the colors, the singing of patriotic hymns, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem. That was the drill in Portsmouth. But then quickly, and without fanfare, Mrs. Cindy McCain, as she's called, is giving a two-line introduction of her husband, and there's something about her soft voice -- I'm ready for a nap. Maybe because Cindy McCain is absent, Albuquerque isn't such a yawner. For one thing, the air war is heated, especially over what Senator Obama did or did not say about "the surge." For another, there is a plethora of security -- in addition to the usual suspects, five state troopers standing and staring, perhaps because most of New Mexico's Republican Party poobahs are seated in the small conference room. (A fillip to the unusual drama is that Governor Bill Richardson is holding an Obama fundraiser nearby at the same time.)
The absence of Mrs. Cindy McCain may be significant, for John McCain does not begin well, delivering his "Comprehensive Strategy for Victory in Afghanistan" speech haltingly. And he had spoken so beautifully just the day before at the La Raza convention in San Diego! I know the Senator is having an off day when he leans on the phrase "my friends" too often. (The McCain Campaign has tried to put their candidate on a "friends-free" diet.) From there Albuquerque descends into gaffe-querque, with poor John McCain stumbling through a series of verbal missteps.
Picked up ad nauseam by the national media is John McCain's calling the Czech Republic "Czechoslovakia" for the second time in two days. In answer to a question about buying gas, the Senator typically ranges far afield and wanders (no surprise) into one of his favorite topics, Iran. "As you also know, in recent days they [the Iranians] have tested missiles which could probably, in some ways, deliver a nuclear weapon, so it's very serious, a very serious situation. Now I believe that we are seeing a positive response from our European friends. I suggested a long time ago a League of Democracies, and it's very clear that Russia and China, especially Russia, will veto significant measures which will impact the behaviour of the Iranians. Now I regret that. And I regret some of the recent behaviour that Russia has exhibited, and I will be glad to talk about that later on, including the reduction of oil supplies to Czechoslovakia after they [the Czechs] agreed with us on missile defense system, etc."
It's too bad John McCain doesn't confine himself to a "talk about that later on." And what's up with the missiles that could probably, in some ways, deliver a nuclear weapon? Shouldn't Senator John McCain be able to speak more to the point than "in some ways?" He has a problem with vagueness all morning long, but it is this first question, the one on buying gas, that is most illustrative. A gentleman suggests that, as a way to help with the gas price crisis, "we first list the people who are selling us gas and doing us harm," like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Then, according to this man, we should have "a good list and a bad list" and buy only from the good.
In reply John McCain says, "I think that you are right. I think that the American people are beginning to understand more clearly that this huge transfer of $700 billion a year of your money is one of the greatest transfers of wealth in history. And it is a national security issue, my friends. It is an environmental issue, clearly an economic issue. But we can't afford this as far as our national security is concerned -- that money goes -- you mentioned a couple of them, Venezuela, ah, some other countries that -- that are clearly not our friends, and there is compelling evidence that some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations. So it is a national security issue. And I would be glad to identify them, although the American people, whom we tend sometimes to underestimate, have figured a lot of this out."
Who are the "we" who "tend sometimes to underestimate?" Aren't all of us in the room in Albuquerque Americans? Besides the condescension in we v. the people, what's clear is not that "some other countries" are our enemies but that John McCain cannot think of them. This is the third thing that is wrong with the town hall meetings: John McCain is no longer able to muster the facts necessary for spirited discourse. He is not the master of policy detail that is required now, in 2008, to make a credible run for the presidency. Ironically, we have George Bush to thank for raising the bar. The American people are no longer willing -- at least, I believe this to be so -- to proffer their trust to a candidate merely because of his good humor and personality. From what I've seen of John McCain in the summer's town hall meetings, he relies entirely too much on jokes and bonhomie to slide past the specifics he may not be able to recall quite in the moment.

Well, you do know now how it goes but that’s not all.
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