WASHINGTON -- The presidential campaign of John McCain has taken several hits of "friendly fire" lately after a series of statements by the Republican candidate put him at odds with his own political base. But now some of his most prominent supporters say the intramural sniping has gone too far, and are fighting back on his behalf.
"All this flip-flop, sell-out, back-track, run-to-the-center stuff is mostly garbage," said Coriolanus Murkin, who runs the influential "Murkin Dream" blog. "McCain is doing what he needs to do to get elected. He's a politician, not a comic book hero, and that's how the game works. If you thought he was some kind of saint or saviour and are now all disappointed – well, you need to grow up and get real. Politics ain't beanbag, as they say. I'm glad we've got somebody on our side who's willing to do whatever it takes to win."
McCain rattled supporters by announcing his opposition to the FISA bill, which expands presidential authority to wiretap Americans without warrants and grants immunity to telecom companies which assisted the Administration's illegal surveillance program. "This bill guts our essential liberties, and I will do everything in my power to defeat it, everything in my power to defeat it, everything," McCain told the ACLU last month. He has reportedly been undergoing intense physical training to prepare himself for a lengthy filibuster against the bill.
However, last year McCain forthrightly declared that he would support the FISA bill and would never "hold up this essential security measure" with a filibuster. His reversal sparked a good deal of anger, especially in the "blogosphere," but McCain backer Luke Ripcord, of JustWar.com, who has long supported the FISA measure, said McCain's new stance was "a reasonable approach to an ambiguous bill."
"Purists can throw hissy fits all they want, but the bottom line is getting John McCain into the White House and keeping the other side out," said Ripcord. "Once McCain is in office, he will almost certainly address this surveillance business again. Anyway, we don't have to march in lockstep on every single issue – but we do need to keep our eyes on the prize. McCain can't implement his vital agenda of reform, prosperity and peace if he doesn't make it to the Oval Office. So no, I'm not bothered by tactical political moves on minor issues like this at all."
McCain also shocked many of his followers by apparently "refining" his stance on Iraq. Last week, the Arizona senator said he now favored an immediate and complete pullout for all American forces from the war-torn country. "I mean there won't a be a single soldier, a single plane, not even a single hubcap from a single Humvee left over there when I'm through," McCain said. "Pull the whole thing out like a rotten tooth, safely and carefully like any good dentist would, then give the Iraqis reparations so they can rebuild their own country as they see fit. That's my plan." In the ensuing uproar, many McCain supporters denounced this "shift" from his previous position – which envisaged an American military presence in Iraq for the next century or more – while others said the apparent "flip-flop" was just media hype, fanned by the political opposition.
"If you look at what McCain has said all along, you'll see there is no real difference in this new statement," said Murkin. "Obviously American forces are going to leave Iraq at some point in time. I mean, everything comes to end eventually. Even the sun is going to burn out in a few billion years, OK? And withdrawing 'safely and carefully' means only withdrawing troops when Iraq is politically stable. What's controversial about that? It's even Barack Obama's position! And any fool can see that Iraq has not been stable for the past century and it sure as hell won't be stable for the next century. So where's the big flip-flop then? This is just the biased media parroting the opposition's line and trying to create a controversy where none exists."
McCain has also confused or disappointed some supporters with other recent announcements, including: his support for the Supreme Court ruling outlawing capital punishment for child rape ("A heinous crime, yes, but the expansion of capital punishment for non-capital crimes is a slippery slope that no civilized nation should set foot upon"); his call to lift the Cuban embargo ("ordinary Cubans have suffered long enough for the tyranny of their masters"); his declaration that mental distress "is of course a vital element in the health of a mother and should be given great weight in granting exception to bans on late-term abortions"; and his announcement this week that as president, he will frequently "take options off the table."
"There is entirely too much ordnance 'on the table' of American foreign policy these days – and not enough room for the fruits of peace," McCain said in a landmark speech at a national gathering of Quakers in Philadelphia.
Those remarks sparked a heated debate on the starboard side of the political spectrum. Jethro Grissom, who writes the "Rebel Yell" blog, led the attack: "Hell, if I wanted to support some kind of peacenik anti-war candidate, I could vote for -- well, not Obama, because he insists on keeping all options on the table -- but you know, somebody else who gets all queasy at the smell of napalm in the morning. We've got a global frontier to defend, and right now Obama looks more like the sheriff than McCain. The old guy better get his act in gear soon before it's too late."
Yet despite the grumblings, McCain looks likely to hold the majority of his supporters, even the most disaffected, when the election rolls around.
"I'm not afraid to criticize McCain when he's wrong, and Lord knows, I do it often enough," said Luvvy Smith of Shindig.org, whose blog alternates between hard-hitting critiques of the McCain campaign and urgent, ardent calls to support his candidacy. "He's a very imperfect candidate – but it's a very imperfect world. You have to take what you can get, not dream of what's not there. In the end, McCain is the Republican nominee and he's a far more conservative, traditional, tough-minded leader than Barack Obama could ever be. So I'm proud to support him, despite his campaign's decision to use some moldy old PC tropes just to off-set the liberal media's mistrust of an older man from a different cultural era. I'm sure that once he's in office, he will act according to the values that we know he has in his heart, and not by the political posturing he's been forced to adopt in our corrupt and distorted campaign system."
CHICAGO -- Obama campaign officials have strongly denied reports that the Democratic candidate intends to co-pilot a jet fighter and land it on the 50-yard-line in Denver's Mile-High Stadium when he accepts the party's nomination on August 28.
"This story is completely and utterly false," said campaign spokesman Taylor Barnum. "That's the kind of empty, gestural politics that Barack Obama has left behind. Barack Obama believes that the American people are mature enough for a serious, sober engagement with the issues that affect their lives and reflect their values. Barack Obama doesn't need bells and whistles to bring hope and change."
Instead, said Barnum, who coordinates Obama's public appearances, Obama will descend from one of the stadium skyboxes – where he will hold a pre-speech fundraiser with top donors – in a special "winged chariot" designed by Industrial Light and Magic.
"And Barack Obama certainly won't be wearing a flight suit," said Barnum. "Barack Obama has made it abundantly clear that Barack Obama will not allow Barack Obama to be associated with the crude media manipulation we have seen for years from the current administration."
Barnum said the Illinois senator will instead be clad in a plain black business suit and a stovepipe hat, "with a little surprise in the chin whisker department. We don't want to give it away, but we think the addition will underscore the gravitas of Barack Obama's crusade for hope and change, with malice toward none and with charity for all." A young girl who met Obama on the campaign trail suggested the change, Barnum added.
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This story was published on July 7, 2008.