At last night’s third and final (thank God!) presidential debate, John McCain attempted to answer Barack Obama’s claims about McCain’s “Bushiness”, and turn the tide of the campaign back in his favor, with the retort: “Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.” Wonderful comeback; probably McCain’s best of the evening. Obama’s response… Well, there was no response because Bob Schieffer went to the next question. What Obama should have said, and what his campaign will no doubt begin to say in the coming days, is along the following lines.
Yes, Senator McCain, you were not born to George Herbert Walker and Barbara Bush, and your brother’s name is not Jeb, but your lineage is not at issue here. What is at issue is that your fundamental policy proposals, your vision for guiding our economy and for managing our foreign policy, your perception of the relative merit of truly helping the working poor and middle class in America, are fundamentally in line with Bush’s policies over the last eight years. And these are not my words, they are yours. In a 2005 Meet the Press interview, you responded to Tim Russert’s charge that you were “different than George Bush” by saying:
No. No…. I have agreed with President Bush far more than I have disagreed. And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I’ve been totally in agreement and support of President Bush…. and I will also submit that my support for President Bush has been active and very impassioned on issues that are important to the American people. And I’m particularly talking about the war on terror, the war in Iraq, national security, national defense, support of men and women in the military, fiscal discipline, a number of other issues. So I strongly disagree with any assertion that I’ve been more at odds with the president of the United States than I have been in agreement with him. (emphasis added)
What is at issue, Senator McCain is that, since that statement, your support for President Bush’s policies has increased dramatically, to the point that, by last year, Senator McCain – last year – you voted in line with President Bush’s position 95% of the time. That nearly unqualified support is reflected in your tax proposals, which the independent Tax Policy Center confirmed would “continue major themes of the Bush Administration”, giving “the largest tax cuts to high-income taxpayers” while practically ignoring the fiscal needs of the working poor and middle class.
That support is further buttressed by your campaign team, Senator McCain, which The Washington Post revealed is “now run largely by skilled operatives who learned their crafts in successive Bush campaigns and various jobs across the Bush government over the past eight years.” This, Senator McCain is a move that has caused even some in your own party to “question whether [you and your running mate] are well served by strategists so firmly anchored in the Bush establishment when [you] are presenting [yourselves] as a ‘team of mavericks’ and agents of change.”
What is at issue, is that your desire to be just like Bush is so manifest that you’ve even determined to run a campaign based on Bush-style character assassination tactics, a fact made troublingly clear by your selection of Tucker Eskew to lead the team of Sarah Palin’s handlers. Tucker Eskew, whom I needn’t remind you, Sen. McCain, is the man who, while an operative for Bush’s 2000 campaign, launched a vicious and reprehensible rumor that your adopted Bengali daughter was actually a “black baby” – the product of a made-up extra-marital affair with a black woman, with the implication that an interracial affair that spawned a black baby was something you should ashamed of. Tucker Eskew, whose ilk you lamented would have a “special place in Hell”, has now been enlisted by you to aide Gov. Palin in waging similar attacks against me.
And finally, Sen. McCain, what is at issue is that you have the same “good and evil” outlook on foreign policy that led Bush to engage our country in a costly, foolhardy and fraudulent war. A war that to this day, Sen. McCain, notwithstanding the weight of evidence demonstrating that the American people were lied to and that the alleged justification for entering the war – Iraq’s illicit possession of WMDs – did not exist, you still think was a good idea. A war that has cost of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. A war that has caused us to lose footing in the true war on terror, the front line of which is and has always been Afghanistan.
Perhaps in this regard, Senator, you are correctly stating that you are “not Bush.” Indeed, you are worse than Bush. For while Bush at least has acknowledged the time-tested benefit of diplomacy by engaging Iran and North Korea, and has even removed North Korea from the “Axis of Evil”, you remain alone in your staunch desire to engage a militaristic foreign policy – capped by your singing embrace of a policy to “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” – that will lead this country to indefinite occupation of Iraq and to additional, more costly wars.
These are the issues that are important to the American people, Senator McCain. And on these issues, “the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day”, your promise is nothing more than four more years indistinguishable from the past eight. So, Senator McCain, it’s nice to hear you finally say that you’re not George Bush. It would be even better if you meant it.