Frank Rich on McCain

Rich has an interesting editorial arguing that the fact that people think they’ve seen to much of Obama has thus far shielded McCain from actual scrutiny. Some excerpts:

With the exception of McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of this profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.

McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didn’t start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after “Mission Accomplished.” By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didn’t get to New Orleans for another six months and didn’t sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.

McCain long ago embraced the right’s agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet. (Once the McCain campaign discovered YouTube, it ditched Hagee.) On Monday McCain is scheduled to appear at an Atlanta fund-raiser being promoted by Ralph Reed, who is not only the former aide de camp to one of the agents of intolerance McCain once vilified (Pat Robertson) but is also the former Abramoff acolyte showcased in McCain’s own Senate investigation of Indian casino lobbying.

Most Americans still don’t know, as Marshall writes, that on the campaign trail “McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries’ names wrong, forgets things he’s said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused.” Most Americans still don’t know it is precisely for this reason that the McCain campaign has now shut down the press’s previously unfettered access to the candidate on the Straight Talk Express.

To appreciate the discrepancy in what we know about McCain and Obama, merely look at the coverage of the potential first ladies. We have heard too much indeed about Michelle Obama’s Princeton thesis, her pay raises at the University of Chicago hospital, her statement about being “proud” of her country and the false rumor of a video of her ranting about “whitey.” But we still haven’t been inside Cindy McCain’s tax returns, all her multiple homes or private plane. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that Hensley & Company, the enormous beer distributorship she controls, “lobbies regulatory agencies on alcohol issues that involve public health and safety,” in opposition to groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The McCain campaign told The Times that Mrs. McCain’s future role in her beer empire won’t be revealed before the election.

Though in general I am of the belief that criticizing a candidate for his age is unnecessary, I do believe that discussions of the symptoms of age are both relevant and important. That is to say, in the words of would-be-pedophiles, “age ain’t nothing but a number.” McCain (or Obama for that matter) could be ninety, but so long as he demonstrated mental acuity, physical vigor, and a general sharpness, his age doesn’t really matter much to me. The reason why people have seized upon his age is because it is often used as a proxy for other ailments- such as confusion, lack of energy and, well, likelihood of dying. However, issues such as confusion, inability to identify important policy points and forgetting the names of countries is a relevant issue- regardless of his age. As president, will he have difficulty remembering the names of countries with whom we seek to curry good will? Will he be as embarrassing (though in a different way) as our current president is on the international scene? Will he be persuasive when dealing with a Congress with whom he will have to cooperate if he wished to lead the country past the situation we find ourselves in now? His efficacy as a Leader may depend upon a level of acuity that he no longer possesses. I am not saying that this is necessarily the case, I only mean to suggest that if it is the case then perhaps it is worth discussing- taboo or not.

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