Liberally Speaking (Aug. 28, 2008)

Campaign letdowns

Aug. 28, 2008
By Steve Mount

I feel let down by Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

To be fair, though, I also feel let down by the Democrats on two points, so let me get those out of the way.

First, I signed up to be “one of the first” to know about Barack Obama’s choice for a vice presidential candidate, the message to arrive on my cell phone before even the cable news networks were told.

I got the message, but at 3:29 a.m. last Saturday morning; before I checked my inbox, I saw the morning news telling me about Joe Biden. So much for being one of the first.

Second, I was disappointed that the Democratic National Committee decided to let Florida and Michigan off the hook for their disobedient behavior during the primary season. Having held primaries earlier than the rules allowed, they were stripped of their convention delegates.

After negotiations between the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns, the states were granted half their delegates, and now, this past weekend, the DNC decided to seat both states’ full delegations. As any parent will agree, you have to follow through on your punishments or they mean nothing.

These letdowns, though, are minuscule compared to those of McCain.

I had a lot of respect for McCain, but daily it’s being chipped away. I will always respect his times of service, both in the military and in the Senate, but his run for the presidency has rubbed off the gloss.

For example, McCain’s stuttering confession that he was unsure about how many houses he owns certainly was not endearing: “I’ll have my staff get back to you,” he told reporters. To have so many that you lose count does not make me feel like he and I have the same concerns. The count, by the way, turns out to be eight.

I’ll get back to McCain himself in a moment. His staff, however, deserves mention here. They seem to forget that the way things work is that the principal spokesperson for a presidential campaign is the candidate himself.

When McCain details some of his economic plans on the campaign trail, his budget policies end up nearly $3 trillion out of line with his published plans. McCain’s chief economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, was questioned about the discrepancy by online magazine Slate. Reported Slate blogger Christopher Beam, “‘This is parsing words out of campaign appearances to an unreasonable degree,’ Holtz-Eakin said. ‘He has certainly I’m sure said things in town halls’ that don’t jibe perfectly with his written plan. But that doesn’t mean it’s official.”

This has widely, and not inaccurately, been paraphrased as “John McCain does not speak for the McCain campaign.”

And it happened again, a week later. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, McCain said that in discussions about saving Social Security, “nothing is off the table,” specifically including payroll tax increases.

The next day, one of McCain’s spokesmen corrected the candidate, saying that a payroll tax increase was “absolutely out of the question.” Again, McCain does not speak for the McCain campaign. Troubling.

Back to McCain himself: In a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, McCain criticized Obama’s positions on Iraq, saying that they called into question the judgment he would need as commander in chief: “Behind all of these … positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president.”

Maybe it is fair to criticize a presidential candidate for having ambition to be president, maybe not. But McCain should be careful of throwing stones. In 2002, McCain wrote a book about his 2000 run for the presidency, noting that he hadn’t run for president to solve any particular problems.

“I wanted to be president,” he wrote, “because it had been my ambition to be president.”

Look, we all misspeak. But in this day and age, when the lies told by “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” are perceived as truth, one must be especially careful about what one says. Failure to do so is, in itself, a black mark against you.

I leave you this week with a McCain gaffe that I found amusing but which may have made McCain’s home life a bit awkward for a few days.

At the beginning of August, when McCain and his wife, Cindy, were attending a motorcycle rally in South Dakota, McCain told the crowd that he had encouraged Cindy to enter the “Miss Buffalo Chip” contest held at the rally.

Perhaps he did not know (or, worse, perhaps he did) that the contestants for the Miss Buffalo Chip contest dress scantily, if at all, and dance lewdly in front of the hooting audience. For John’s sake, let’s hope Cindy has a good sense of humor.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at