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Jewish World Review March 6, 2000 / 29 Adar I, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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McCain not what he seemed at first -- I'VE LONG BEEN with the folks who believe that character counts, especially in our national leaders. That's why I was dismayed when our president behaved disgracefully and many Americans looked the other way, apparently because their stock portfolios were going up nicely.

Conversely, that's why I was pleased when Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaign began to take off in his battle against Gov. George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. His early success said to me that many Americans rightly value a war hero who served and sacrificed for his country, who showed courage under fire. It showed they do care about honor and want someone in the Oval Office we can hold up as a role model and example of America's best.

I myself wanted to be able to support John McCain. I was concerned that too many Republicans were signing up too early with George Bush, a man whose mettle was seemingly untested, simply because they wanted so desperately to win the White House back. I thought perhaps it was McCain who had the record and the stature to be president. In any event, the early and surprising success of the McCain candidacy suggested to me that many Americans are looking for an "anti-Clinton" after all.

But I've sadly concluded people are wrong if they think they will find this ideal in John McCain. Perhaps, given McCain's string of losses in last Tuesday's primaries, his character flaws are already becoming more evident. They should. For it's becoming more and more apparent that John McCain will do anything to win.

First, it was employing the class-warfare rhetoric of the Left on the issue of tax cuts. But this was nothing next to his negative campaigning, the very campaigning McCain claims to eschew. It began with the demonstrably low-blow of comparing George W.'s integrity to Bill Clinton's. Then there was McCain's gratuitously vitriolic and nasty comments in what should have been a gracious concession speech after his loss in South Carolina, a harbinger of worse to come.

That worse turned up in Michigan with McCain's Catholic-baiting in recorded phone calls to Catholic voters there. Come on. Regardless of the theology of the folks at Bob Jones University, and Bush's campaign stop there in the tradition of almost every Republican pursuing votes in South Carolina, does John McCain truly believe that George Bush is really an anti-Catholic bigot as the phone calls clearly implied?
On the road to nowhere fast?

Most audaciously, the McCain campaign, the "Straight Talk Express," denied making the calls. Until, of course, the polls closed in Michigan, at which point the campaign finally admitted the calls had come from them after all.

Hmm. Haven't we just been there/done that with the current occupant of the Oval Office? (Nor was this about-face from "Straight Talk" an isolated incident. Maybe it should be the "Doubletalk Express"?)

But Virginia is where he pulled out all the stops. McCain decided the day before the primary there to attack conservative Christian leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, both of whom enjoy a substantial following among evangelicals, as being at the "outer reaches of American politics."

He was responding to Robertson's own attacks on McCain (not associated with the Bush campaign) in which some of Robertson's rhetoric was over the top. But McCain didn't have the guts to address what might be considered legitimate policy or tactical differences with Robertson and Falwell. No. McCain himself called these successful Christian Right activists "agents of intolerance," comparing them to Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton --- men who quite effectively really do preach and incite widespread racial hatred.

But even this wasn't enough for McCain. He had to ratchet it up a day later, going on to call Robertson and Falwell an "evil influence" in the Republican party. "Evil?" The murderers at Columbine were evil. Whatever McCain's differences with Robertson and Falwell, whatever political miscalculation made him think he could win with such gratuitous attacks, it is a sign that he has gone nuclear for him to apply such an appalling epithet to these men. And this from a guy who if elected to the presidency really could go nuclear.

None of this means that suddenly George W. Bush is the perfect presidential candidate. But it does mean that if Republicans really do believe that character matters, they will dump John McCain as a presidential contestant.


JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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