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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On McCain and Georgia Bull

by bert
John McCain’s supporters are spinning his stance on the Russian invasion of Georgia as if it proves that McCain owns Barack Obama when it comes to world affairs.

In fact, pundits and party operatives are so eagerly deploying this talking point that it suggests that many are giddy about the death and pain inflicted over the last week on thousands of mostly civilians in the Caucasus.

But, really, let's step back and look at this a minute.

First of all, McCain's camp is making a lot of the fact that he knows well the Georgian leader Mikheil Shaakshvili. Hell, the two even went jet-skiing together on the Black Sea. This is actually a blemish, because McCain’s ties to Georgia are spawned by the lobbying work of his campaign aide Randy Scheunemann on behalf of Georgia. This isn't foreign policy, it's political prostitution; Georgia is paying the McCain campaign to turn a trick. Some also question whether it wasn't largely Scheunemann who egged Shaakshvili on to needlessly provoke Russia.

Like McCain, I blame Russia for this. But I'm not trying to lead a superpower nation, and we have to expect a world leader to effectively mediate a crisis without standing openly in the corner of one of the combatants.

Second, McCain's handlers crow that since the invasion a week ago McCain has been in contact with Mikheil Saakashvili daily, and is now sending a delegation of senators over to the area. What a take-charge guy, hey? But let’s recall that McCain and his posse roughed up Obama for his European trip, as if Obama was acting too much too soon like an actual president. McCain is trying to make political hay while the sun is up, but he is doing damage to the U.S. by muddying its message and overstepping his role.

That said, I realize that President Bush was, in the crucial moments of the crisis, oggling Olympic beach volleyball players in China while French President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped everything and started shuttling diplomacy to Tbilisi. It's interesting that the right-wingers, including our own Charlie Sykes and even the Wall Street Journal, have had to force themselves to at least mildly criticize Bush in recent days in order to burnish their boy McCain.

The portrayal rattling around the pundit’s echo chamber contrasts a forceful, manly McCain with a girly, equivocating Obama. It turns out the two candidates' positions in their specifics are largely the same. But we're not talking about specifics here, or facts.

Sykes, for example, riffed away yesterday in the realm of hyperbole, unmoored by even a thread to anything Obama actually said or did, that Obama’s position was “can’t we just all get along.” And in the Journal Sentinel this morning columnist Kathleen Parker also worked entirely in fiction when she invented a wimpy letter from Obama and then said McCain would instead say: “hey Putin, don’t make me come over there.”

So, third, the strategy is to show McCain has bigger gonads. Predictable, eh?

Note that nothing is being made of McCain’s knowledge and wisdom regarding world affairs here. And I don’t know whether that’s because his handlers – true to columnist Paul Krugman’s sense that the GOP likes know-nothing messages -- figure that intellect and restraint don’t sell.

Or is it because they realize McCain is just not knowledgeable? After all, McCain is the guy who can't keep Iran and Sunnis straight, or thought that Iraq and Pakistan share a border. It certainly is not reassuring to know his speeches, as Keith showed us here, are lifted from Wikipedia.com. Maybe McCain's campaign knows you can’t put enough lipstick on that pig. Rattle a saber instead!

McCain's bellicose instincts seem stuck in the Cold War to me. And he too closely resembles all these cockeyed geezers such as Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld who wanted the power so they could settle their Captain Ahab-type scores.

I know saber-rattling works in politics, but shouldn't it be less effective after what we've been through lately?

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