Thursday, January 31, 2008

McCain gets ugly

John McCain is ugly in attack mode. In last night's debate, he kept insisting that Romney had advocated a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq, using a Romney statement that signified the opposite. Was he deliberately distorting Romney's words, or is he just stupid?

When Romney denounced McCain's claim that he had advocated timetables as a lie, McCain said:

Well, of course, he said he wanted a timetable...April was a very interesting year (sic) in 2007. That's when Harry Reid said the war is lost and we've got to get out. And the buzzword was "timetables, timetables."Governor, the right answer to that question was "no," not what you said, and that was we don't want to have them lay in the weeds until we leave and Maliki and the president should enter into some kind of agreement for, quote, "timetables."

Anderson Cooper read Romney's actual statement:

COOPER: So, Senator McCain, the quote is from Governor Romney on GMA that you've been quoting. The actual quote is, "Well, there's no question that the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones"...

MCCAIN: Timetables and milestones.

COOPER: ... "that they speak about, but those shouldn't be for public pronouncement. You don't want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you're going to be gone."

MCCAIN: You don't have to...

COOPER: He does not say he is supporting a withdrawal.

MCCAIN: ... wait until the enemy lays in the weeds until we leave. That means that we were leaving.

Obviously, Romney said the opposite, that if there were a timetable for troop withdrawal, "the enemy" would understand how long to wait in the weeds before attacking. McCain here sounds like Bush in 2000, dismissing Gore's clear exposure of the false premises behind his proposed tax cuts as "fuzzy math"over and over. (Like Gore confronting Bush, Romney did not quite know how to deal with such mulishness. While Romney did make clear that the "timetables and milestones" he had referred to were not for troop withdrawal, he never managed to spit out that his "wait in the weeds" comment was a rationale for not having a timetable.)

I have admired McCain for taking stands against torture and punitive approaches to illegal immigration. I even sent him money late last year because I regard his Republican opponents as dangers to the future of democracy, given their support of torture, suspension of habeas, and Bush's insanely overreaching assertions of the powers of the commander in chief. But my impression from several debates is that McCain is just not that bright. He is capable of taking a principled stand, and on some fronts his judgment is clear enough to recognize dangers to democracy and indeed to the planet, e.g., destruction of civil liberties, a corrupting campaign finance system, global warming. But that head-down repeat-my-mantra stubbornness in the face of a clear refutation of of what he's saying at the moment suggests a Bush-like lack of mental dexterity. His confession that he doesn't understand economics was real straight talk but not particularly reassuring. Then there's the poor grades he got at West Point that he likes to joke about. It's not uncommon for bright people to get bad grades. But it's more common for not-so-bright people to get them.

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