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Jewish World Review Feb. 18, 2000/ 12 Adar I, 5760

Larry Elder

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"Maverick" McCain -- A TRIFECTA!

Following Republican presidential candidate John McCain's unexpectedly large New Hampshire primary victory, he appeared on the covers of all three major national news magazines -- Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Of McCain's victory, one cover screamed -- the "McCain Mutiny."

The mainstream media loves John McCain. For a Republican, that is. He's been on the "Today Show" more times than the lead detective in the JonBenet Ramsey case.

A "maverick," they call him. Good term, "maverick." Conjures up images of independence, you know, a guy who can't be bought. In short, "maverick" is the media's term for "Praise the Lord, he doesn't think like Ronald Reagan."

Last year, "60 Minutes'" Mike Wallace re-broadcast a piece on McCain. After acknowledging receiving criticism for treating McCain too gently, Wallace said, "With that out of the way, John McCain is, first of all, a maverick, a conservative, a Vietnam POW who survived five bitter years in prison in Hanoi, and he wants to be president of the United States. It is the 'maverick' part that makes McCain a long shot for the GOP nomination he seeks." Wow, that makes two "mavericks" in just one paragraph. Impressive.

Last year, talk show host and columnist Christopher Matthews wrote about McCain's years as a POW and how the senator's experience shaped his quest for the presidency: "Maybe that explains it, why McCain carries on his maverick campaign ... "

A recent Chicago Tribune article notes, "Yet John McCain, war hero and political maverick ... "

Four theories on the media's embrace of "Maverick" McCain.

First, some media watchers attribute the press' excitement to McCain's "accessibility." You want a quote? The "straight-talking" John McCain will, by G-d, say something colorful for deadline.

Second, McCain, a Vietnam vet and prisoner-of-war, benefits from Vietnam "guilt." Many media members, like President Bill Clinton, loathed the Vietnam War, some perhaps taking measures to avoid or finesse the draft. At the very least, the media baby-boomers recall their dissing returning Vietnam vets, blaming the foot soldier, rather than Washington for the war and its mismanagement.

Third, boredom. Face it, Republicans scared the media by immediately offering up George W. Bush, the "compassionate conservative," as their anointed candidate. Thus, Republicans left the media staring face-to-face against its biggest enemy -- boredom. No plot twists, no sub-plots, no ratings.

But reason number four most accurately explains this McCain fever. McCain's politics. For what the media call "maverick," true conservative Republicans call liberal. The American Conservative Union gives McCain a score of 68 on a scale of 100, placing him solidly in the moderate, decidedly sub-Reagan range. And, true conservatives who worked under "The Gipper" say McCain is nobody's Reagan.

Would Reagan seek to increase the role of federal government in education by expanding the ineffectual but popular Head Start program? No.

Would Reagan seek to save "Social Security," by allowing Washington to keep the money, and dole it out with less interest than had the government allowed people to manage the money themselves? No.

McCain favors "campaign finance reform." He argues that money corrupts politics, and, thus, seeks to diminish its influence by campaign restrictions. Democrats positively drool over McCain's campaign finance rhetoric. After all, under McCain's campaign finance reforms, Republicans' ability to generate money takes a big hit, while Democrats stand to benefit. Thus, "You da man!" cries the media.

McCain's budget proposal "gives taxpayers back" about as much money as would a Clinton budget. McCain even attacked George W. Bush's budget proposal as "taxing the rich!" Close your eyes, and you can almost hear Ted Kennedy.

McCain seeks to "strengthen" Medicare, rather than reject as unconstitutional the federal role in health care in the first place. And McCain helps lead the charge against cigarette manufacturers, punishing a legal business that has been both taxed and subsidized by the federal government.

McCain supported Clinton's war in Kosovo, a humanitarian mission, rather than a mobilization based on national security interests.

Ed Crane, president of the libertarian CATO Institute, put it this way, "McCain is a guy who thinks the federal government should solve every problem and that's a dangerous thing to have in a president."

Syndicated columnist Donald Lambro interviewed Lyn Nofziger, Reagan's former political director: "I don't think (McCain's) a Reagan conservative. I don't think he knows where he is. I think he's evolving and he's evolving leftward."

Remember, in 1992, according to the Roper Center for the Freedom Forum, 89 percent of polled Washington, D.C., journalists voted for Bill Clinton, with only 7 percent voting for George Bush. Ninety-one percent describe themselves as moderate to liberal, while only 2 percent are self-described conservatives.

Liberal reporters do not call true conservatives "mavericks." Right wing, yes. Extremist, certainly. But "maverick," uh-huh. When in doubt, remember this: A conservative to a liberal reporter is like daylight to a vampire.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate