Tuesday, February 07, 2006

McCain "Straight Talks" Obama

It seems that John McCain is becoming John McCain again. This man, once a reliable conservative is using his current popularity to make life difficult for the equally popular, punishing them for political maneuvering on lobbying reform.

Howard Dean has already unequivocally declared that the Abramoff scandal is a 100% Republican affair. We also know that Harry Reid categorically rejected the notion that he would ever work for a bipartisan solution to lobbying reform because he wants this to be a Republican scandal with a Democrat solution. But given that Reid's hands may not be the cleanest in this regard, and that Dean had no idea about it when others clearly did, it's safe to assume that the Democrats are trying to create a smokescreen to shield themselves from self-inflicted embarrassment and to preserve this as an election issue, which is an increasingly weak proposition. Enter the skillful politician, Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL).

Obama expressed in interest to McCain's invitation to take part in reform. But when it came time for him to put his words into action, he revealed that his words were little more than window dressing. He was with Harry Reid's proposal all along. So to that end he sends this letter that ends with the typical Washington blow-off of "Thank you again for your interest in this important matter."

But McCain's response, rather than chastising Obama, flagellated himself.

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. [snip]

As I explained in a recent letter to Senator Reid, and have publicly said many times, the American people do not see this as just a Republican problem or just a Democratic problem. They see it as yet another run-of-the-mill Washington scandal, and they expect it will generate just another round of partisan gamesmanship and posturing. Senator Lieberman and I, and many other members of this body, hope to exceed the public's low expectations. We view this as an opportunity to bring transparency and accountability to the Congress, and, most importantly, to show the public that both parties will work together to address our failings.

As I noted, I initially believed you shared that goal. 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.

Translation: Shame on me for believing you.

And with a letter like that, accusing Obama and his leaders of caring more about temporary political advantage rather than accountability of elected officials, and playing to the very reasonably low expectations of the public, McCain committed a much needed and refreshing breech of Washington etiquette. Obama's response is contained in his posting, which apparently contains all of the correspondence between these two, but it does little more than splash the same varnish on the matter and blow the same smoke that the original letter did, and if anything, confirms McCain's allegations.

It is candor like this that does much to cut through the really unhelpful dialogue that has for too long allowed slippery politicians to escape scrutiny, simply because they choose their words (if not actions) very carefully.

And for Obama, his veneer may be getting a little scuffed by this exchange.


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