Vermonter at Large10/16/08

Oct. 16, 2008

By Mal Boright

Missing in action: the 2008 Straight Talk Express

A confession: During the 2000 Republican primary season, I became an unabashed and enthusiastic McCainiac.

Here was a uniquely open and accessible presidential candidate who would actually try to reform the utterly corrupt system of campaign financing. Here was a longtime officeholder talking of ethical standards before party loyalty. Here was straight talk instead of the usual pandering to the whims of the particular audience of the hour. Here was a candidate who earned a solid victory in the tough retail, person-to-person test that sets New Hampshire apart from many other early primary states.

Then, the George W. Bush-Karl Rove machine ambushed McCain in South Carolina with some of the most despicable, dishonest, underhanded campaign tactics ever witnessed.

And while he made nice with Bush after the campaign was over, McCain nevertheless continued on his chosen path of calling his own shots. He fought the huge Bush tax cuts for the rich, calling them unfair. He was one of very few Republicans in Congress to call for official inquiries into the Sept. 11 attacks, inquiries the Bush Administration virulently opposed before finally bowing to pressure from, among others, the families of the victims.

Yes, he voted for the Senate resolution that allowed Bush to invade Iraq. But while supporting the effort, he was very critical of the way the administration pursued the war and subsequent occupation while most other Republicans (Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel an exception) and many Democrats were silent.

(A point of order here. Candidates McCain and Barack Obama, along with most of official and unofficial Washington, persist in referring to the Iraq situation as a war. Folks, the war is over and won. Just a few weeks after the invasion was launched, Saddam’s regime was overthrown, the Iraqi military defeated and disbanded, and a new government and constitution were brought into being. That is called victory. What we have had for the last five years is an occupation, but that o word apparently is repellant in the White House and Congress.)

But I digress. A question that arises in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign concerns the lack of sightings of the Straight talk Express of 2000. The captain of that noble vehicle has morphed into just another candidate willing to mislead, obfuscate and hang untruths on his opponent, despite promising at the beginning of the race that he would be above all of that.

His campaign in serious trouble early this year, McCain, the victim of the South Carolina debacle in 2000, brought aboard his bus some of the Rove acolytes who were principals in that political slaying. As he made his way to the nomination, more former Bushies signed on.

Thus the sleazy 30-second commercials that accuse Obama of promoting sex education in kindergarten, favoring tax increases for all, and in general of being too inexperienced to visit the White House, much less lead it.

The inexperience claim is laughable. The sitting president had as experience one full term as Texas governor, a failed oil business and ownership of a major league baseball team before winning a second gubernatorial term. Then, in the first year of the new term, he raised enough presidential campaign money to scare off all other contenders except McCain.

But with Alaska’s first term Gov. Sarah Palin now McCain’s running mate, the inexperience factor is a non-starter.

McCain’s slog through the slime had unforeseen ramifications late last week and finally brought back at least a spark of the old straight talker. The senator’s — and especially Palin’s — frequent digs at Obama’s alleged relationship with a former 1960s radical (“terrorist,” Palin said) was raw meat for some of their more partisan supporters, and resulted at some events in mass revulsion and even death threats toward their Democratic rival.

Finally, in response to these outraged supporters, McCain was moved to acknowledge that Obama is indeed a respected foe and they (Republicans) do not have to be afraid if he should win the White House.

By week’s end, McCain was talking of getting back on higher ground for the final weeks of the campaign.

Obama has had his own moments of slippage from the straight and narrow. Commercials about McCain votes are occasionally misleading, and pointing out his well-known lack of computer skills seems a waste of commercial time when serious issues require attention.

If the candidates cannot or will not base campaigns strictly on facts and truth (straight talk), why should voters expect facts and truth about serious issues after they are elected?

If lack of trust is responsible for the financial crisis facing the country, and it is, trust is also fading in the political campaign realm.

Williston resident Mal Boright has been an editor, columnist and reporter for several Vermont newspapers. When he’s not musing about politics, he covers local sports as a correspondent for The Charlotte Citizen and the Williston Observer.