"You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but political consultants are as faddish as anyone else. And the current vogueish advice among the backroom set is: Go after your opponent’s strengths. So in the first volley of what feels like the general election campaign, Barack Obama has attacked John McCain for being too close to lobbyists. His assault is part of this week’s Democratic chorus: McCain isn’t really the anti-special interest reformer he pretends to be. He’s more tainted than his reputation suggests.
Well, anything is worth trying, I suppose, but there is the little problem of his record. McCain has fought one battle after another against lobbyists and special interests. And while I don’t have space to describe all his tussles, or even the lesser ones like his fight with the agricultural lobby against sugar subsidies, I thought that, amidst all these charges, it might be worth noting some of the McCain highlights from the past dozen years.
In 1996, McCain was one of five senators, and the only Republican, to vote against the Telecommunications Act. He did it because he believed the act gave away too much to the telecommunications companies, and protected them from true competition. He noted that AT&T alone gave $780,000 to Republicans and $456,000 to Democrats in the year leading up to the vote.
In 1998, McCain championed anti-smoking legislation that faced furious opposition from the tobacco lobby. McCain guided the legislation through the Senate Commerce Committee on a 19-1 vote, but then the tobacco companies struck back. They hired 200 lobbyists and spent $40 million in advertising (three times as much as the Harry and Louise health care reform ads). Many of the ads attacked McCain by name, accusing him of becoming a big government liberal. After weeks of bitter debate, the bill died on the Senate floor.
In 2005, McCain led the Congressional investigation into the behavior of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The investigation was exceedingly unpleasant for Republicans, because it exposed shocking misbehavior by important conservative activists.
Over the past few years, McCain has stepped up his longstanding assault on earmarks. Every year, McCain goes to the Senate floor to ridicule the latest batch of earmarks, and every year his colleagues and the lobbyists fume. For years, McCain has proposed legislative remedies — greater transparency, a 60-vote supermajority requirement — that were brutally unpopular with many colleagues until, suddenly, now."
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David Brooks: The Real McCain
(The New York Times 2/26)
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