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February 7, 2008

A Harbinger?

Critics of John McCain complain that the Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination attacks his friends with more vigor than his opponents. It certainly seems that way at times, especially during the debates over immigration and the BCRA. However, McCain has gone after Democrats with only the thinnest veneer of comity in the recent past -- and especially after one in particular, as CapQ reader Stefan Claypool reminds.

In fact, two years ago yesterday, McCain wrote an open letter to Barack Obama regarding his participation in McCain's lobbying-reform efforts. Obama had publicly and privately assured McCain of support, but then Obama abruptly withdrew from the discussions. An incensed McCain fired this shot across the freshman's bow:

I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere. When you approached me and insisted that despite your leadership’s preference to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions with your letter to me dated February 2, 2006, which explained your decision to withdraw from our bipartisan discussions. I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won’t make the same mistake again. ...

But I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party’s effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness. Again, I have been around long enough to appreciate that in politics the public interest isn’t always a priority for every one of us. Good luck to you, Senator.

The entire letter derisively chastises Obama for double-talk about being an agent of change. McCain had wanted to build a bipartisan solution for what the Democrats eventually forced through on their own -- and the result was a reform bill that didn't reform much. Obama had campaigned on this very issue and at first wanted to participate, but it became clear that Democrats wanted to ride the "culture of corruption" theme to victory in 2006. Obama withdrew, and McCain made an early diagnosis of Obama's commitment to change in politics.

The condescension and scorn McCain uses may sound familiar to conservatives, but in this instance employed in a different direction. If nothing else, this letter shows that McCain can attack Democrats when prompted. And it could provide some answer to Obama's soaring but intellectual anemic oratory about "change" in a general election.


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