McCain Was Just as Cynical as Trump Is Now

John McCainI have a bone to pick with Brian Beutler. He wrote, Trump Is Far from the Only Republican to Let Supporters Spout Crazy. It’s in reference to a Trump event last Thursday where an audience member said, “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims.” He went on to say that the president was one and that there were “training camps” where “they” want to kill us. Trump didn’t counter him, and instead talked in general terms. Beutler is right that this is a general problem with politics — most especially with Republicans.

The problem I had was that he contrasted it with McCain’s famous moment in the 2008 campaign when he too was confronted with a crazy person saying that then Senator Obama was an Arab. McCain countered her, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.” Beutler noted, “The only reason anyone remembers the altercation is because we expect Republican politicians to behave the way Trump did.” That’s true. But if the same interaction had taken place on 17 September 2007, McCain would not have answered that way.

And so you have to wonder: what is that constant cynicism from the media good for?

That townhall was from 10 October 2008 — less than one month before the election. By that time, it was clear that McCain was going to lose the election. The issue at that point was not winning — it was saving his reputation. He ran a terrible campaign. He was a demagogue. He brought us Sarah Palin. I know that McCain was looking for just such an opportunity. And I’ve long figured that it was largely orchestrated by the campaign. People don’t just happen to find themselves in front of the mic at that point in the general election.

Of course, Beutler is not alone in this. CNN is using the same example. So is ABC News. Even CBC is reporting it that way, Donald Trump, Unlike McCain, Doesn’t Reject Statement From Obama Birther. And I suppose, as a way to blast Trump, this is a good thing. But the two things are totally different. Trump is horrible. He just isn’t much different from John McCain.

Donald TrumpWhat really bugs me is that pretty much every reporter who is willing to lay praise on McCain for that successful bit of political theater is also deeply cynical about politics in a general sense. And so you have to wonder: what is that constant cynicism from the media good for? It clearly doesn’t stop them from totally falling for the most cynical political theater of the 2008 presidential campaign. All that cynicism does is poison the nation into its own dangerous casual cynicism.

But Beutler did make a comparison that is particularly good. When Trump was talking nonsense about vaccines at the Republican debate, neither of the medical doctors on stage were willing to correct him. In fact, the meek and mild PolitiFact rated Carson’s apologia for Trump pants on fire. But this is a point that no one made at CNN or ABC News or even CBC. So as usual, Brian Beutler is an insightful commentator, even if he is wrong to give John McCain any credit for his cynical ploy.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

7 thoughts on “McCain Was Just as Cynical as Trump Is Now

  1. “He’s not an Arab.” Because that would be the Worst Thing, Ever. Oh, for the halcyon days of 2008, when bigots thought it was unacceptable to attack African-Americans publicly and instead decided calling Obama an Arab or Muslim made irrational hate OK. They are unfettered from the surly bounds of Earth, now; Trump’s given them free rein to go batshit on anybody not a White Hetero Male. It’s all over the place. It was toxic before, it’s brain-jarringly toxic now.

    Like phone videos have awakened many of us to the rampant racism every black person faces every minute of every day (I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was this bad) — Trump’s illuminated some dark specter of the American soul many of us chose to write off as marginal. I’m guessing none of his demagoguery targets ever assumed this hatred was marginal. The rest of us who weren’t active enough are getting one brutal bastard of a wake-up call.

  2. “No matter how cynical you are,” Lily Tomlin has said, “it’s never enough.”

    Don’t you think the audience member, called on by Trump right off the bat, was planted there specifically to ask a highly controversial question that would instantly pull all attention back from Carly Fiorina? To Trump’s supporters, it was a double espresso of exactly what they want to hear. To the media, it was a new Trump rabbit to chase all weekend. This question felt much more like a plant than the question to McCain, which really could have come from some of my neighbors. Yes, with the stock market crashing that day, McCain surely knew his dream was doomed and that he should salvage whatever semblance of honor he had left, but I doubt he needed to stage it. Trump, on the other hand, desperately needed a huge distraction after that second debate, and … presto!

    • This isn’t verifiable . . . but it rings true with what we know about how “town hall” appearances are managed by campaigns. I believe it.

    • You may well be right about Trump. As for McCain, I hedged on that. What I think is that they were looking for someone to ask that question and so they pushed some crazies to the front of the line — not that they hired someone. But I’m afraid that the guy who asked Trump the question is not all that unusual. As it is, roughly half the Republican Party still thinks that Obama is a Muslim. And most of what he said seemed pretty Alex Jones boilerplate. But again: they wouldn’t need to create the man, just make sure that he was at the head of the line.

  3. I enjoy tormenting my Republican colleagues with the question about how many decades a man must be a Christian before it sticks. They hem and haw then start talking about anything else.

    One day though, the media will stop giving the Republicans a pass on their lying ways.

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