John McCain makes a play for Latino voters on patriotism.
John McCain is in an interesting period. But not an especially good period. Today, as yesterday, when they were both in New Mexico, the Arizona senator showed the obvious, that he will contest the Mountain West with Barack Obama. He gave a speech in Denver, where he somewhat defensively began with talking about the spirit of youth carrying on in America, notwithstanding the fact that it is now an old country. Funny, I can think of some countries whose citizens still view America as a very young country. (Incidentally, I’m hearing a cable news host in the background talking knowingly about the West and repeatedly mispronouncing “Nevada.”)
McCain’s speech, on stopping nuclear proliferation — can you say “Iran,” Barack? — was interrupted four times by anti-war protesters — and was not one of his better performances.
On Monday, not long after I praised him to the skies in my Memorial Day column, McCain was in Albuquerque where he declared that Obama “has wanted to surrender for a long time” in Iraq.
Aside from the fact that that sounds a lot more like the Dick Cheney of 2008 than the John McCain of 2000, it’s not the sort of thing you say on Memorial Day. Clearly, McCain and Obama disagree about Iraq. McCain supported the war from the get-go; Obama opposed it. To his credit, when McCain saw that the early forecasts about Iraq were, not to put too fine a point on it, flat wrong, he urged a different approach. Which has met with some notable success, though nowhere near ultimate to date.
Incidentally, with McCain having floated January 2013 as the date by which most US troops will be out of Iraq and those left in-country will not be engaged in combat operations, perhaps he and Obama don’t differ so much as either would have us believe.
Last Thursday, I followed McCain around as he campaigned in California. He was not an ebullient figure. The Vietnam War hero spoke condescendingly about the tyro Illinois senator, repeatedly describing him as a very young and very inexperienced man who had no standing to criticize him for his views on veterans affairs, since Obama “never bothered to serve.” Here he was referring to Obama’s rather cheeky criticisms of McCain for opposing Virginia Senator Jim Webb’s new GI bill, which would increase educational benefits for veterans. Webb, a former Navy secretary described by many as the best Marine company commander of the Vietnam War, saw his bill — backed by Obama — pass the Senate on a bipartisan 75-23 vote.
McCain says he opposes the Webb bill because granting the benefits too soon would discourage service personnel from continuing their tenures, thus depriving the Armed Forces of needed non-commissioned officer cadre. Webb’s view is that the benefits are owed to veterans for serving throughout a very long war, and to make sure that the military can get the highest quality volunteers. Standards have recently been dropped to maintain recruitment quotas.
John McCain is very much in this race, as the Democrats may end up with too exotic a candidate, even in this bad year for Republicans — Obama is clearly an exotic figure, and Hillary Clinton, in the unlikely event she were to somehow become the nominee, is also exotic and carries historic amounts of baggage — but he seems off-key to me.
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