No beef and no sanity
By Joe Schembrie
"Where's the beef!" the little old lady yelled when she confronted the fast-food hamburger composed of two giant buns and a microscopic patty.
This old TV commercial was such a hit that presidential candidate Walter Mondale used the line against Gary Hart in the 1984 Democratic Party primaries: "When I hear your new ideas I'm reminded of that ad, 'Where's the beef?'"
Hart, so-called Candidate of New Ideas, truly had no ideas at all. And with a simple question about substance, Mondale demolished the farce.
But today we've got John McCain. He says he's conservative, but his campaign revolves around war records, weeping fourteen year olds, Luke Skywalker, Bob Jones University, and unfair push polls. Great theater, but as for real issues -- "Where's the beef?"
When McCain recently attacked Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "evil influences," "extremists," and "agents of intolerance," his campaign reached a new pinnacle. Now even his personality attacks are beefless. Falwell and Robertson are pro-life, against gay marriage, and favor school choice -- exactly the same as McCain. If they're extremist and he's not, it's because they're sincere and he isn't.
McCain has lost not only the beef but the proportion. He equates Falwell and Robertson (who promote AIDS ministries and crusade against the abortion of black babies) with Farrakhan (who refers to people of European ancestry as 'white devils') and Sharpton (who employs false rape accusations and arson as evangelical tools). And if Falwell and Robertson are McCain's Sister Souljah -- then where are their battle hymns for all-out race war?
McCain was caught unprepared by the backlash in Virginia. He lost big among religious conservatives, not because Falwell and Robertson are so popular, but because other Christian leaders sensed that if McCain could go after those two without honest reason, then anyone could be next. Even Gary Bauer.
Disastrous primaries and crashing polls have awakened McCain to a demographic reality far different than his Inside-the-Beltway delusions. He must win the Religious Right or lose the Republican nomination. His #1 Priority: explain why all other Christian leaders are really quite nice -- but Falwell and Robertson deserve special bashing.
We know the real reason. McCain bashed Falwell and Robertson to butt-kiss the liberal Big Media Establishment. But to admit this is to admit also that those Christian leaders are right -- that McCain will sacrifice them too when ambition (or paranoia) requires.
So McCain must fabricate an alternative explanation for his Falwell/Robertson jihad.
This may account for McCain's obsession with Warren Rudman during his interview on the Michael Reagan talk show. Reagan wanted to focus on issues, McCain on personalities. And the Vital Matter That Concerns America Today? That Robertson the Rotten insulted Rudman the Righteous!
When Reagan steered from Robertson v. Rudman toward substantive issues, McCain snapped: "Could I finish, can I finish . . . can I finish, yes or no . . . can I finish, or not, I mean otherwise . . . ."
Damn you, Son of Ronald, stick to the issues -- er, personalities!
Even after Reagan was finally permitted to ask about education, Senator McCain fired, "By the way, before we go into that, are you -- it doesn't disturb you that Pat Robertson would call up people and say that, that Warren Rudman is a vicious bigot?"
Well, actually -- no. And it wasn't long before Reagan, moments earlier a McCain supporter, knew it was time to say good-bye. The Rudman Defense didn't work with Reagan and it won't work with voters -- most of whom don't know Rudman from a hole in the ground (and don't care to learn).
It's not just that McCain's campaign revels in deceiving and two-timing conservatives at Big Media's bequest. It's how he destroys good reputations with charges unconstrained and specious, and backpedals with silly excuses like the Rudman Defense, and shrilly demands we must believe such nonsense, and then loses control when we don't.
Is this the infamous unbalanced temperament that drives away fellow Senators and Arizona colleagues with barrages of shouted expletives? Presidential aspirations have been quashed for merely shedding tears and misspelling 'potato' -- what happens when McCain finally blows up with red-faced obscenities in front of an unfriendly video camera?
Neo-cons take heed: when you call McCain your 'strongest candidate,' do you mean in terms of electability -- or explosivity?
Mental stability is one issue where it won't help to recollect five years of POW torture. Back in the 1960s, presidential candidate George Romney lost front-runner status by merely joking about being brainwashed in Vietnam.
So here is what you get with the McCain Burger: plenty of cheese and hot sauce, but no beef -- and where's the sanity?
The lady in the TV ad would send it back. And so should we.
Joe Schembrie is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right.
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