Sen. John McCain's reputation as a so-called political "maverick" has taken a beating lately, and it's about time. The GOP presidential contender's "maverick" reputation, tirelessly promoted by the media for the past 15 years or so, was only marginally true to begin with, and by now has become a bad joke on the American public.
It's true that at one time, McCain bucked his party's ultra-conservative establishment by supporting campaign finance reform, occasionally working with Democrats in the Senate, and talking a lot about the bad influence of lobbyists in Washington. Take those three things, and add McCain's habit of joking around with the press on his bus 24/7, and voila! -- instant "maverick."
But until recently, the press hasn't been keeping up with the real McCain. Since he had his butt handed to him by the Bush dirty-tricks machine in the 2000 primaries, McCain has veered sharply to the right to curry favor from Bush-supporting conservatives. The move has earned high ratings for McCain from right-wing watchdog groups, but in the process, Senator Integrity has reversed himself on previously held positions -- most notably, Bush's tax cuts for the filthy-rich, which McCain originally opposed but now says should be made permanent. Hey, nothing says "Republican running for office" more than giveaways to the party's major moneybags.
Where McCain has run into trouble lately is his brazen use of a small army of lobbyists to run his campaign, even though he still portrays himself as the candidate who will "fight special interests." The truth -- as documented and pointed out by progressive bloggers until the mainstream press couldn't ignore it anymore -- is that McCain has been dependent on, and literally surrounded by (some would even say "run by") lobbyists and former lobbyists for years. His Presidential campaign merely continued his Congressional modus operandi: talk the talk of a maverick, walk the walk of an entrenched D.C. sleazebag.
Last week, McCain finally acknowledged that his campaign had a "perception problem," i.e., the press that he thought he held in his back pocket started telling the truth about his ties to lobbyists. In response to reports on just how deeply McCain's campaign depends on those representatives of "special interests" -- some of these guys were conducting their lobbying business on McCain's campaign bus! -- Sen. War Hero installed new rules prohibiting registered lobbyists or foreign agents as campaign staffers. Immediately afterward, McCain's national finance chairman, former Texas Rep. Thomas G. Loeffler, who runs the lobbying business The Loeffler Group, resigned from the campaign.
The question now is this: How many high-level officials will even be left in the McCain campaign if and when all the lobbyists are gone? So far, McCain has lost key adviser Doug Goodyear, who was set to run the Republican convention until it was revealed he'd been working for DCI Group, a consulting firm hired by the Myanmar military junta; and Doug Davenport, McCain's regional campaign director for the Mid-Atlantic states, who also worked for DCI Group. And there's Eric Burgeson, McCain's energy policy adviser; it turns out he was a chief lobbyist for big energy companies, so he was fired last week as the new campaign policy was announced.
There's no telling how far the bloodletting will go -- McCain has to have someone to run his campaign, after all -- but it's not looking good. Several of Sen. Straight Talk's top advisers are lobbyists who are merely on leave from their jobs while trying to get their buddy elected. Let's see, there's campaign manager Rick Davis, whose lobbying has put him in close contact with Russian industrialists -- and who is supposed to enforce the new conflict-of-interest policy (try to figure that one out). Then there's Christian Ferry, a lobbyist for Davis's firm and McCain's deputy campaign manager. And don't forget Charlie Black, Wayne Berman and Randy Scheunemann, all of whom have lobbied for various foreign clients and governments. Did I mention that Scheunemann is McCain's chief foreign policy adviser? Or that Berman is deputy finance chairman? And of course, there's campaign finance director Susan Nelson, who worked for the Loeffler Group. Nelson's work, according to the Los Angeles Times, included lobbying "for companies, including AT&T, that have had business before McCain on the Commerce Committee." The list goes on and on, but that's enough.
The point is this: McCain's carefully cultivated image as Mr. Integrity, Mr. Straight Talk, Mr. Above The Fray, Mr. Independent? It's all bullshit, plain and simple. McCain probably was more of a straight shooter earlier in his career, even when he got involved in the S&L scandal 20 years ago. But today, he's firmly entrenched in the vile Washington, D.C. culture of back-scratching and corruption. Now that the press has finally decided to pay attention to McCain's record and friends, rather than his press bus chats, it's going to be hard for him to wriggle his way out of the lobbyist mire. Or to wash off the stink of corruption that's radiating from his campaign.