The Mushrooming Clouds That Hang Over McCain


Until last week John McCain’s political handlers had been complacently sketching out their basic strategy: to portray Obama as a mere novice in statecraft, devoid of those powers of mature wisdom and sober judgment with which the seasoned McCain is so richly endowed.

The problem here for McCain is that he’s a dunderhead in statecraft, devoid of self control, capricious in moral standards and an imbecile in his lack of political judgment. Across the past four days these deficits have all come home to roost. Often, the deadliest wounds a scandal can inflict are on the second, third and fourth days, as the follow-up stories disclose ” troubling new disclosures”, “apparent contradictions” and the like. True to this pattern, each successive day since the New York Times finally disgorged ­ at least partially — its story last Wednesday, has brought fresh disasters, particularly as the Washington Post and Newsweek play catch-up. As it progresses, the Iseman affair scandal discloses him as an idiot (the view of his horrified staff in 1999 as McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee paltered with the attractive 32-year old communications lobbyist), a liar (in his denials he met with Lowell “Bud” Paxson, the media operator for whom Iseman was working) and a hypocrite (in thundering against lobbyists and their employers, while traveling in their private planes, taking their money and doing them favors).

The better people get to know McCain, the less they care for him. This even seems to be true of Paxson, for whom McCain wrote his infamous letters to the FCC, and who now rewards McCain by flatly contradicting to the Washington Post statements from McCain’s presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two of those letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson’s behalf. McCain claims that the letters merely urged the FCC to hurry up and issue a decision on whether Paxson could invade the Pittsburgh radio market in a tricky maneuver that involved the FCC okaying the sale of a public affairs frequency to a Christian broadcaster who was in cahoots with Paxson. So, you’re the chairman of the FCC and you get a kick in the ass from the head of the powerful senate committee that runs your budget, and you don’t figure out how you’re meant to click your heels? The FCC, shortly after McCain’s letters kicked it in the ass, did duly click its heels, just the way McCain and Paxson desired. In the end the Christians queered the deal, for rather principled reasons.)

Was McCain so blinded by desire for Ms Iseman he didn’t see that this behavior, from a man thundering against corrupt lobbyists, would remind people of the Keating scandal that nearly destroyed him at the dawn of his career in the senate. I certainly hope so. That at least would be a more estimable motive than wanting Paxson’s money and trips on his campaign plane. At all events, the man obviously can’t control himself, just like Bill.

In 1999, when McCain was battling George Bush for the nomination the Arizona Republic, one of the most conservative dailies in the country, editorialized about “less flattering” aspects of the senator’s character “worthy of voter attention and consideration….Many Arizonans active in policymaking have been the victim of McCain’s volcanic temper…McCain often insults people and flies off the handle.” There is reason, the editorial concluded bleakly, “to seriously question whether McCain has the temperament, and the political approach and skills, we want in the next president of the United States.”

Though the same paper has offered demure support for McCain this tine around, Democratic campaign commercials in the fall will surely be citing the paper’s 1999 verdict, along with the considered judgment a few weeks ago of Thad Cochran, the Republican senator from Mississippi and a man who’s known McCain for thirty years, that “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. ”

There was a famous fight in Arizona that went on for years about Mount Graham, on which the federal government wanted to put a telescope. Indians said it was sacred. Greens said its slopes sheltered the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis). In 1992, a couple of well-respected physicians, Robin Silver and Bob Witzeman, went to meet McCain at his office in Phoenix to discuss Mt. Graham. At the time of McCain’s 1999 run the doctors told CounterPunch co-editor Jeffrey St Clair that at the mention of the words Mount Graham McCain erupted into a violent fit. “”He jumped up and down, screaming obscenities at us for at least 10 minutes.”, Silver said. “He shook his fists as if he was going to slug us. It was as violent as almost any domestic abuse altercation.”

Witzeman told Jeffrey that he left the meeting stunned: “I’m a lifelong environmentalist, but what really scares me about McCain is not his environmental policies, which are horrid, but his violent, irrational temper. I think McCain is so unbalanced that if Vladimir Putin told him something he didn’t like he’d lose it, start beating his chest about having his finger on the nuclear trigger. Who knows where it would stop. To my mind, McCain’s the most likely senator to start a nuclear war.”

The last time anyone made that sort of charge against a senator from Arizona and presidential candidate, it was about Barry Goldwater, who ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1964. A famously effective campaign ad showed a little girl picking a daisy, which then mutated into a mushroom cloud. Painted as a potential nuker of the planet, Goldwater lost in a landslide.

The US press has fawned over McCain the “maverick” for years, but his colleagues in the Senate have long regarded McCain as a mere grandstander, posturing for C-SPAN’s camera and microphone about wasteful spending, then meekly voting for the pork barrel items he’d been denouncing half an hour earlier. They snicker at his Cato-like affectations of moral purity, noting such seamy episodes as McCain’s imprudent association in his early years in Congress with Charles Keating, an Arizona bank swindler, ultimately convicted and sent to prison. They point to the torrents of PAC money pouring into McCain’s campaign treasury from the corporations that crave his indulgence as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Communications companies (US West, Bell South, ATT, Bell Atlantic), have been particularly effusive in topping up McCain’s treasury, as have banks and military contractors.

For such reasons it is foolish to think McCain will find it easy to put a shrewd debater like Obama on the defensive. And beyond such biographical impedimenta, the 71-year old Arizona senator totters towards the fall campaign under one huge burden which is not his fault. This week George Bush’s approval rating sank to the lowest in the history of such polls, 19 per cent. There is abundant evidence that a very large number of Americans have simply had it with a Republican president. McCain has already attempted political suicide on the campaign trail at least twice, telling Michigan voters the US would be in Iraq for a hundred years, that they’d never get their jobs back and that he didn’t understand anything about the economy. My man! A Republican debacle of Goldwater proportions could be in the offing.


Back to the New Frontier, Back to 1933!

A Republican debacle, amid an economic debacle. This week the crystal gazers of capital really started to tremble at the size of the rats coming out of the woodwork. Open up any of the financial pages or websites ­ or better still, read Mike Whitney’s bulletins on this website ­ and you can really smell the panic. Of course crisis is endemic to capitalism. Just read the historian of booms and busts, Charles Kindleberger, in his Manias, Panics and Crashes”, available in many editions. After Kindleberger, read Marx. But the balloon of fake credit is bigger and so the bang is bigger. In the end the state will pony up for the bail-out, but the way it’s done will affect the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people. Obama had better start assembling the A team of advisors, not the rather drab, second-tier lot he’s presently relying on.

Yes, I do assume, like most people, including the Clintons, that Obama will be the Democratic nominee. Hillary Clinton’s campaign reminds me of Teddy Kennedy’s run against Carter in 1979. Back then the press hailed the Kennedy machine as though it was a sleek locomotive, and not a rusting piece of equipment abandoned in a shed since the late 1960s. In a matter of two or three short months it had blown up. Same with Hillary’s. No locomotive, but the Titanic, with the senior campaign personnel like Mark Penn ­ CEO of Burson-Marsteller up on the bridge, counting their millions in campaign disbursements while in whole counties in Ohio you can’t see a Hillary sign in any front yard.

The Obama campaign, by contrast, has been brilliantly conducted. What Obama will actually do if elected is another matter. I doubt he knows. The main thing is to preserve a sense of realism. From the point of view of the well-being of the American Empire, a change in presidential image is certainly desirable, and from this point of view Obama fits the bill.

Change may be the mantra, but continuity is the undertow. Just look at Obama’s recent remarks about Fidel Castro or about Afghanistan. In rhetorical invitation, though not in concrete matters such as prison sentencing, Americans believe in the possibility of turning to a new script and throwing the old script one away. But of course the ball and chain of history is clamped to every ankle. Has Obama made any mistakes? Not many, so far. That’s the beauty of talking vaguely about the audacity of hope and the need for change. But even the word “change” has the sentries of the status quo shifting nervously as they peer out into the darkness. “All the talk about change, but without defining what that change should be is an opening for all kind of mischief,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at a press conference in Jerusalem recently. Hoenlein told the Israeli press he’s ‘concerned’ by the atmosphere surrounding Obama campaign, though he hastily stressed he has no problems with Obama himself. Already the Wall Street Journal is starting to fret about troubling signs of “populism” in Obama, particularly about his proposals on keeping manufactures in the US, as discussed on this site by Paul Craig Roberts this week.

In a Sixties essay about Martin Luther King, Andrew Kopkind wrote, “In spite of King’s famous sincerity and the super-honesty he exudes, there is something disingenuous about his public voice He is not really telling like it is, but as he thinks his audience wants it to be Though he speaks of structural changes, he assumes structural preservation.”

Remind you of anyone? It’s not Obama’s mistake if you believe what he says. Obama reminds me a bit of Jimmy Carter in 1976, talking about the need for a government as good as the American people. They both have the same national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski. There’s structural preservation for you.

Talking of continuity, a notorious scandal of the Kennedy years was JFK’s defense secretary, Robert McNamara, overruling all expert review and procurement recommendations and insisting that General Dynamics rather than Boeing make the disastrous F-111, at that time one of the largest procurement contracts in the Pentagon’s history. The suspicion was that Henry Crown of Chicago was calling in some chits for his role in fixing the 1960 JFK vote in Cook County, Illinois, to the impotent fury of the teenage Hillary Clinton, who was a poll watcher for Nixon. Crown, of Chicago Sand and Gravel, had $300 million of the mob’s money in General Dynamics’ debentures, and after the disaster of the Convair, General Dynamics needed the F-111 to avoid going belly-up, taking the mob’s $300 million with it.

Henry Crown has passed on to the great pork barrel in the sky, but his descendants in the Crown clan are devoted contributors to Obama, giving him tens of thousands of dollars, as a glance at the website of the Center for Responsive Politics swiftly attests. The Crown family is still deeply involved in the affairs of General Dynamics. Lester and James Crown have both had seats on the company’s board in recent years. General Dynamics has ties to Israeli military contractors. A 2003 General Dynamics corporate handout cited by Chicago Indymedia proclaimed “a strategic alliance with Aeronautics Defense Systems, Ltd.,” an Israeli firm based in Yavne. Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. is the firm that developed the Unmanned Multi-Application System (UMASa) aerial surveillance tool which the Israeli military uses to “provide a real-time ‘bird’s eye view’ of the surveillance area to combatant commanders and airborne command posts.” The Indymedia story quoted then-Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert,as saying the agreement between General Dynamics and Aeronautics Defense Systems to bring together “both companies’ state-of-the art technologies in defense and homeland security” was “additional proof of the technological and commercial benefits that alliances between industries from the U.S. and Israel can produce.” An eye in the sky over Gaza ends up as a dollar in Obama’s war chest.

On January 11 of this year, hot on the heels of an editorial praising Obama as a Friend of Israel in the rabidly Zionist New York Sun, Lester Crown circulated a testimonial through the Jewish community, expressing his eagerness “to share with you my confidence that Senator Barack Obama’s stellar record on Israel gives me great comfort that, as President, he will be the friend to Israel that we all want to see in the White House-stalwart in his defense of Israel’s security, and committed to helping Israel achieve peace with its neighbors. Few public figures inspire as much hope and optimism as Barack Obama. Please pass on this message to all who are interested.”

There isn’t much of a left now, There was a one in the New Frontier years, including — in my opinion — Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed JFK to take the heat off Castro. Back then assassins thought the leaders were worth shooting. Assassins believed they could change things, or at least stop them in their tracks. Maybe that’s why we don’t have them the way we did in the Sixties. The would-be shooter puts his Mannlicher-Carcano back in the box, mumbling sadly, “What’s the use?” As Michael Neumann remarked to me recently, “There is plenty in the historical record to support the claim that Oswald was a lefty. Something that is not so much in the historical record: I remember vividly how often in the months and years before the assassination, it was commonplace on the left to wish death on JFK – like getting shot, for instance. People weren’t too big on his Latin American policies and, if they were paying attention, on how he escalated in Vietnam. The other thing I vividly remember is how lickety-split that talk not only vanished, but was purged from memory.”

Brooding more generally on the Sixties, Michael went on, “the big difference from today was that for young people, of all classes, getting ahead was hard but getting a job was and always would be trivial. “They felt economically secure so they got into recreation, that is, into politics. The big scares were theoretical; no American had actually got nuked or had their freedom crushed by the commies. So people weren’t cowardly, they were ambitious about what they could achieve.”

Now, Neumann Neumann continued, “people feel that foreigners will come to kill them. They’re paralyzed. The left feels, darn it, America does need to be protected-they’re not into burning it down any more-which means they want America to end the wars it can’t win, but not to be defeated. This absurdity explains why they do nothing.” In the 1960s, leftists were very happy to contemplate the prospect of American defeat, so they didn’t have to hate the war and love the troops. This was a lot less confusing. Even the left just can’t imagine leaving those crazy A-rabs to their own devices. Ho Chi Minh projected competence and control because he was something recognizable in the West, a dirty commie. As Neumann concluded, “The Americans, having excised the secular left-wing rulers from Afghanistan and Iraq, now have to deal with … foreign ways. As true Americans, left and right, they just can’t hack that.”





Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.