John McCain: Son of a Bush

John McCain runs for George Bush’s third term
By Juan Cole

Based on his policies and the company he keeps, this year’s Republican presidential candidate sounds a lot like the guy who ran in 2000 and 2004.

March 12, 2008 | The most important thing about the endorsements proffered to John McCain by George W. Bush and evangelist John Hagee last week was McCain’s reaction to them. The freshly minted Republican nominee for president, who has had harsh words in the past for both Bush’s policies and evangelical “agents of intolerance,” meekly accepted their support. He knows he cannot win in November if the evangelicals and pro-war conservatives stay home. How far will McCain go in presenting himself as Son of Bush in order to energize his party’s base? To date, based on his willingness to embrace the Bush agenda and to associate with religious extremists, the answer seems to be pretty far indeed.

When John McCain went to the White House last week, President Bush seemed to be offering him an out. Bush “welcomed” McCain as “the Republican nominee” in his official statement, but didn’t initially use the word “endorse.” It was McCain who leapt for the e-word. “Well, I’m very honored and humbled,” said McCain, “to have the opportunity to receive the endorsement of the President of the United States, a man who I have great admiration, respect and affection [for].”

McCain’s strategists, meanwhile, are said to be privately plotting how best to deploy the deeply unpopular Bush, perhaps by quietly sending him to host fundraisers deep inside red states where he would not risk alienating the general population from McCain. But McCain is hewing so faithfully to Bush’s legacy he may need no help from the man himself in alienating the population.

Whereas in his 2000 presidential bid, the Arizona senator sharply criticized Bush for appearing at the anti-Catholic Bob Jones University, which at that time also still banned interracial dating, he is less vocal about such matters now. He is himself behaving as Bush did then. McCain once dismissed evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance.” But last week the senator embraced Hagee’s endorsement. Talk about an agent of intolerance! Hagee is like Pat Robertson on steroids.

The Democratic National Committee was quick to point out that Hagee said that Jews have faced persecution “right up to this very day” because they rejected Jesus and so demonstrated “disobedience and rebellion” toward Jehovah. He said that the difference between a woman with premenstrual syndrome and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist. He said that Katrina was divine punishment on New Orleans for its sinfulness, and on gays for planning a parade there. He said that Roman Catholics were linked with Hitler “in a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews,” and called the Catholic Church “the Great Whore.” He suggested a faux “slave auction” as a church fundraiser. He told a startled Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” that the Quran directs Muslims to kill Christians and Jews. (In fact the Quran recognizes Christians and Jews as “people of scripture” and only urges the early Muslims to fight back against the militant “infidels” or polytheists who were trying to wipe them out.)

McCain reacted warmly to Hagee’s endorsement, saying, “I am very proud of Pastor John Hagee’s spiritual leadership to thousands of people and I am proud of his commitment to the independence and the freedom of the state of Israel.” (Apparently for Hagee Israel is good, even if Jews are bad.) Pressed by Roman Catholics and others, McCain refused to distance himself from the pastor, saying only, “In no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee’s views, which I obviously do not.” This non-disavowing disavowal has not satisfied most of the people offended by McCain’s having associated himself with Hagee.

Hagee’s endorsement is McCain’s “Bob Jones moment,” taken from the W. playbook of 2000. In other respects, McCain is trying to repeat Bush’s big win of 2004, when he fended off a near-upset by a weak Democratic candidate by doubling down on fear. McCain has adopted foreign policy and domestic stances similar to those of Bush’s successful reelection run.

In July of 2004, Bush abruptly announced that he was looking into whether Iran played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., and accused the Shiite ayatollahs of Tehran of harboring al-Qaida operatives, who are Sunnis. The whole fantastic set of allegations was immediately denied by Bush’s own intelligence officials. Hawkishness toward Iran was one way for Bush to take the focus off his failures in Iraq. Bush by his belligerence appealed to a combination of evangelical holy warriors and so-called national-security conservatives, and McCain seems poised to move in the same direction.

Echoing Bush’s fear-mongering about the Islamic world, which by August 2006, two years after his reelection, regularly included references to so-called Islamic fascism, McCain maintains that the “transcendent” challenge facing the United States in 2008 is “radical Islamic extremism.” McCain alleges that “al-Qaida in Iraq” will “follow us home” if the U.S. withdraws from that country. McCain takes this line even though most Muslim countries are close allies of the United States and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida has been revealed to be a small fringe, now in disarray.

Hagee’s endorsement, meanwhile, brings more than white Protestant intolerance to the table. The organization he founded, Christians United for Israel, is lobbying for a war on Iran and dismisses last fall’s National Intelligence Estimate finding that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program as “incompetent.” McCain himself has joked about bombing Iran, to the tune of an old Beach Boys song.

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