A Crusade To Nowhere
John McCain hit the "reform" theme hard in his speech last night, and it sounds warm and fuzzy, but I wonder: What does McCain actually plan to change about government? I get that Sarah Palin is a nice person and doesn't like sleaziness"um, except when she's hitting up corporate donors on behalf of Ted Stevens or hiring earmark lobbyists for Wasilla... No, but seriously: Back in 2000, McCain could reasonably claim to be a "change" candidate by touting campaign finance reform"he had a specific proposal to fix a concrete problem. As it turned out, McCain-Feingold didn't transform the role of money in politics in any fundamental way, and the issue's still there for the tweaking, but the conservative base is intransigent on this subject, and McCain's not poking that bear again. So what does that leave? What's he going to change?
Okay, he hates congressional earmarks, and he promised to veto the first bill with pork in it. Except that, as Jon Chait pointed out, when McCain's been challenged on specific earmarks in the past that are actually popular, he's backed off"as when he met an ovarian cancer patient in Pennsylvania being treated in an earmark-funded clinical trial program funded. And his campaign has suggested he wouldn't even necessarily object to that much-mocked bear DNA project in Montana, as long as the "process" is clean. So he'll veto a few earmarks"the "bad" ones"with a modest effect on less than 1 percent of the federal budget. (Indeed, opposing earmarks doesn't necessarily save taxpayers money, since it just means that federal agencies, rather than Congress, decide how the funds are allocated.)
What about cleaning up the executive branch? One could look at all the ways in which the Bush administration has allowed hacks, cronies, and industry lobbyists to infiltrate every level of government. Would McCain chart a different course? How? Is he going to fire every single one of Bush's appointees? McCain doesn't seem to have trouble letting lobbyists run his campaign"and he only started scuttling some of the more inconvenient aides when the press pointed out that he was being a wee bit hypocritical. More broadly, does McCain think it was inappropriate for Bush to appoint drug-industry lobbyists to key positions at the FDA, HHS, and elsewhere (to take one example)? Would McCain, too, stock key regulatory positions with people plucked from the very industries that are supposed to be overseen? His website is maddeningly vague about all this, except insofar as McCain doesn't like the "revolving door" whereby lawmakers leave their posts and join lobbying firms. Oh, and he wants an independent ethics office for Congress and more disclosure of travel receipts"noble, but minor.
Or how about this: Charlie Savage had another crucial bit of reporting in The New York Times last week about how the White House's political affairs office recently told the rest of the executive branch to find jobs for 108 "priority candidates" who had "loyally served the president." The Justice Department, meanwhile, has been stocked with unqualified movement conservatives, and its internship program was illegally politicized by Monica Goodling. Are McCain and Palin going to grab by the "scruff of their neck" all of the Republican loyalists who got hired by the federal government because of their fealty to Bush rather than their competence? As far as I can tell, McCain has never promised anything of the sort.
Maybe he'll change the way government helps people. In his speech last night, McCain mentioned wage insurance as a way to cushion the blow for dislocated workers affected by globalization: "For workers in industries that have been hard-hit," he said, "we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one, while they receive re-training that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage." That's a solid, liberal idea. Except that McCain has never mentioned it before, the proposal doesn't appear on his website anywhere, as far as I can tell, and it's exactly the sort of thing that would require new government spending, not the budget cuts he's promising. Odds are this isn't even a real proposal at all.
-- Joe Lieberman, listing McCain's bona fides as a maverick, noted his stance on immigration reform, but that's something that you won't hear McCain mention in his acceptance speech (except, perhaps, in passing), because McCain has repudiated his previous position on immigration and the GOP base still distrusts him on that issue.
RIECKHOFF: I think honestly that backdrop, whether it was Walter Reed medical center or Walter Reed middle school " that’s about as close as Sen. McCain got to veterans issues last night. He didn’t mention the word veteran once during his entire speech, didn’t talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, didn’t talk about veterans funding. I think he really forgot where he came from last night.
Rieckhoff also mentioned McCain’s opposition to the 21st Century GI Bill. “We told America that if Sen. McCain was on the wrong side of the G.I. Bill, it would hang around his neck for the election. That’s exactly what’s happening now,” Rieckhoff said.
McCain’s opposition to the GI Bill is just one aspect of his abysmal record on veterans issues. It’s no wonder, as Rieckhoff said, that we saw “a deliberate attempt by the RNC not to put Iraq and Afghanistan vets out in front.”
Also forgotten were the veterans.
I predicted this bump.