As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Howard Dean HAMMERS McCain on honesty and ethics

Right now we have two candidates in the middle of campaigning. They can't pay attention to the Republican opponent just yet. Someone needs to step in and fill the breach in the light of this brewing John McCain story. Unfortunately, the traditional media filled its rostrum with the usual wingnut welfare recipients and conservative standard bearers. No Democrat was brought on to discuss or describe the Iseman and Maverick scandal at all.

In case that ever changes, Howard Dean today, on the National Journal's radio show On the Air, offered the definitive template on how to handle this.

Q: So there is big news about John McCain -- the story that is in the New York Times, raising questions about his relationship with a lobbyist. This is a story the McCain people are saying is unfair and untrue. What do you think?

Dean: I have no idea whether the affair story is true or not, and I don't care. What I do care about is John McCain -- and this has been well-documented -- is talking all the time about being a reformer and a maverick, and in fact, he has taken thousands of dollars from corporations, ridden on their corporate jets, and then turned around and tried to do favors for them and get projects approved. He has tons of lobbyists on his staff. This is a guy who is very close to the lobbyist community, a guy who has been documented again and again by taking contributions and then doing favors for it. This is not a guy who is a reformer. This is a guy who has been in Washington for 25 years and wants to give us four more years of the same, and I don't think we need that.

First off, decouple the sex story (which is unsourced, lacking in merit and at this point a cheap shot) from the larger story. This is a scandal about a candidate who goes around with the patina of a reformer and a straight-talker, yet has spent 24 years inside Washington engaged in the same corrupt activities that have defined the Republican Party for a generation. Do that immediately. In the first sentence.

Second, connect the dots. The lobbyists on the staff (like his campaign manager), the lobbyists raising money for him, the corporate donations, the quid pro quo relationships, all of it needs to come out. Note that Dean doesn't get too far into the weeds, doesn't overwhelm with details, but he is extremely direct and clear and he never says "alleged." He says that the story on McCain is well-documented and it's sleazy.

Third, hit your opponent right at his strength. The Rove team attacked John Kerry on his national service. McCain uses his "straight talk express" image more than anything else. Go after that. Take him down. Because it's not like he has command of policy details to fall back on. He has 100 years in Iraq and that's it.

Let's look at some more of this interview:

Q: So are you saying that McCain, by virtue of what is spelled out in this story, has somehow suffered a hit in terms of his own legitimacy on the campaign finance and ethics issue?

Dean: Yes, he certainly has. This goes all the way back to the Keating Five Scandal and the S & L scandals, where he took a hundred thousand donations, rode on corporate jets and then intervened on Charles Keating's behalf -- and again and again we see this. We even saw -- it's so hypocritical -- we even saw that he is trying to harass Barack Obama about whether he's going to take public financing in the campaign, and he forewent his own public financing in the primaries after getting a loan, based on the idea that he might take public financing.

This is not a guy who is a reformer. He talks about change, and he makes a big deal about not being like Bush when in fact he is Bush. He voted for Bush's tax cuts after saying he didn't, and has been responsible for a $6 trillion national debt that our children are going to have to pay. He thinks we ought to stay in Iraq for 100 years. He thought it was great that the president vetoed health care for our kids under 18. This is four more years of George Bush, and I don't think the American people are going to buy it.

Now he's folding other elements of McCain's story - the Keating 5 scandal, the public financing double-dealing, the Iraq/100 years comment, the Bush tax cuts, S-CHIP - into this central critique of him being a phony, being more of the same we've seen from Republicans that has made us retch. This is so disciplined and on-message I can hardly even believe it. Dean managed to pack about 6 really good points into one or two paragraphs, and he wasn't overly detailed, he explained them succinctly and truthfully but never lost sight of the main point.

Q: Do you think that running against John McCain -- the Democratic Party -- that ethics is going to be an issue for him in this campaign?

Dean: Yes, because ethics is a huge issue anyway. People are tired of the incredible lack of ethics in the Bush Administration -- what we call the culture of corruption. I think they want somebody who is not going to do that any more, who is not going to mislead the American people -- whether it is on Iraq, or on lobbying or on taking public financing of campaigns, and who is not going to say one thing and do another.

Q: This whole matter, actually though, seems in a funny way to be helping Senator McCain, because the conservatives who were so skeptical about him now are rallying around him and saying he is a victim of the liberal New York Times. Isn't this a development that could actually wind up helping John McCain?

Dean: The conservatives are part of this culture of corruption that the Republicans have brought to Washington. Think of the Scooter Libby problem, the Alberto Gonzales problem, the Doug Feith problem. Think of all of the people in the Bush Administration that have had to leave office under a cloud -- Randy Cunningham, the Republican congressman.

Well, now it looks like John McCain is part of the corruption problem in Washington. He has done things that are legally questionable -- the Keating Five business back in the '90s -- but he doesn't seem to really have an ethical compass. He doesn't seem to have an instinct about what is the right thing to do and what isn't the right thing to do. He talks a good game, but he's just like all those Republicans in Washington have been for all these years, and I don't think the American people want a president like that.

Bush=McCain. That's what a lot of this was leading up to. McCain is running like somebody different, but he's really more of the same. And he's anything but a reformer; in fact he's caught up in the same culture of corruption that Abu Gonzales and the Duke-Stir and Doug Feith and Scooter Libby were caught up in.

"He doesn't really seem to have an ethical compass." That's the take-away.

This is maybe the best five-minute interview I've ever seen in my entire life. I think it's reasonably certain that... well, that no traditional media outlet is going to be booking Howard Dean to talk about this anytime soon. Because he's got McCain nailed. Dead to rights.
UPDATE: And the traditional media borrows the Dean narrative. A1 of the WaPo tomorrow.

Anti-Lobbyist Candidate Is Advised by Lobbyists

For years, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has railed against lobbyists and the influence of "special interests" in Washington, touting on his campaign Web site his fight against "the 'revolving door' by which lawmakers and other influential officials leave their posts and become lobbyists for the special interests they have aided."

But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JP Morgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O Lakes, the UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.

That's like a kick to the throat. McCain is getting defined before our eyes.

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