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Jewish World Review March 7, 2000 /30 Adar I, 5760

Joseph Perkins

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John McCain is a fraud -- JOHN MCCAIN is supposed to be a man of unimpeachable "character" -- a "straight talker" who can do no other than tell the truth; a man in full, who can unite his party as no Republican has since the great Ronald Reagan.

Well, McCain is none of those things. And that is the reason why the Arizona senator has been resoundingly rejected by Republican voters in most of the Republican presidential primaries held so far. The senator's true character first revealed itself after his defeat in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary. Instead of graciously congratulating his opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, McCain decided instead to launch a verbal assault on his fellow Republican.

"I will never dishonor the nation I love," spake McCain, as if Bush had trampled on Old Glory or something offensive like that. "I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way," he continued, as if Bush lied, cheated and stole his way to victory in South Carolina.

Had McCain left it at that, his intemperance could have been chalked up to extreme post-primary disappointment. But the Arizona senator decided to turn it up a notch by exploiting Bush's visit to Bob Jones University, suggesting that by merely appearing at the Greenville, S.C., school, the Texas governor was tacitly endorsing its views on race relations and the Catholic church.

But what McCain neglected to mention is that he, himself, intended to speak at Bob Jones University before Bush beat him to the draw.

Indeed, McCain's South Carolina co-chairman, Terry Haskins, (himself a 1976 Bob Jones graduate and now speaker pro-tem of the state House of Representatives) confirmed to ABC News that the senator's campaign staff had hoped to get him to the campus because "there are a lot of primary voters up there and we thought it would be good to be seen and heard."

Moreover, while McCain claims that, had he gone to Bob Jones, he would have told them how "disgraceful" their views are, Haskins told ABC News that McCain's appearance definitely was not intended to provide a backdrop for a bold statement on race or religious tolerance.

Nevertheless, McCain, who promised that he would "not take the low road to the highest office in the land," decided that he could make political hay in the Michigan primary by playing the religion card,
by attempting to convince Michigan's substantial Catholic population that Bush was somehow antipathetic to their faith.

Indeed, the McCain campaign phoned some 24,000 voters in the Wolverine State with a "Catholic voter alert," advising them that Bush had been keeping company with Christian fundamentalists who accuse the Pope of being the anti-Christ.

When McCain was questioned about these calls, he declared, "I didn't have anything to do with them.... I don't know who paid for them." However, several days later, the "straight talker" finally confessed that he personally approved the calls.

Now McCain has declared a political jihad on the religious right, as personified by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, whom he described as "forces of evil," a label he has since apologized for.

His declaration went over well with his Democratic and independent supporters, but it didn't strike a chord with Republican voters in the Virginia, North Dakota and Washington state primaries, who overwhelmingly voted for Gov. Bush on Tuesday.

So in the face of Super Tuesday, McCain decided to shift tactics: Now he is proclaiming himself the "Reagan Republican" in the presidential race.

Well, he could have fooled Michael Reagan, the former president's son, who hung up on McCain during his talk show this week, after the Arizona senator went on an extended tirade about how the religious right is destroying the Republican Party.

John McCain is hardly a Republican cut from the same cloth as Ronald Reagan. For Reagan welcomed the religious right into the GOP's big tent. Reagan did not pit one Republican constituency against another, as McCain is doing. The former president truly was a "uniter, not a divider."

What amuses is that McCain cannot figure out, for the life of him, why he has fared so badly among Republican voters -- as opposed to Democrats and independents. He suspects that it is because his opponent, Gov. Bush, is the preferred choice of the Republican Party establishment.

Obviously, McCain doesn't get it. The reason the Republican rank and file prefer Dubya over him, by a two-to-one margin, is not because they take their orders from the party "bosses," but because they know which of the men vying to be the GOP standard-bearer in November truly has the party's best interests at heart.

JWR periodic contributor Joseph Perkins is San Diego Union-Tribune columnist and a television commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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