Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Company They Keep

Steve Benen summarizes it so well in Judging them by the company they keep that I'll just quote from him.

The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman posed an interesting question in his column over the weekend about John McCain having a Bill Ayers-like problem of his own. [...]

What McCain didn’t mention is that he has his own Bill Ayers — in the form of G. Gordon Liddy. Now a conservative radio talk-show host, Liddy spent more than 4 years in prison for his role in the 1972 Watergate burglary. That was just one element of what Liddy did, and proposed to do, in a secret White House effort to subvert the Constitution. Far from repudiating him, McCain has embraced him.

How close are McCain and Liddy? Pretty close. Liddy hosted a McCain fundraiser in ‘98 at his home. When McCain appeared on Liddy’s show in November, Liddy greeted him as “an old friend,” and McCain gushed like one. “I’m proud of you, I’m proud of your family,” McCain told Liddy. “It’s always a pleasure for me to come on your program, Gordon, and congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great.”

Given Liddy’s “principles,” McCain’s praise seems more than a little out of place.

Which principles would those be? The ones that told Liddy it was fine to break into the office of the Democratic National Committee to plant bugs and photograph documents? The ones that made him propose to kidnap anti-war activists so they couldn’t disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention? The ones that inspired him to plan the murder (never carried out) of an unfriendly newspaper columnist?

Liddy was in the thick of the biggest political scandal in American history–and one of the greatest threats to the rule of law. He has said he has no regrets about what he did, insisting that he went to jail as “a prisoner of war.”

All this may sound like ancient history. But it’s from the same era as the bombings Ayers helped carry out as a member of the Weather Underground. And Liddy’s penchant for extreme solutions has not abated.

In 1994, after the disastrous federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, he gave some advice to his listeners: “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests. . . . Kill the sons of bitches.”

He later backed off, saying he meant merely that people should defend themselves if federal agents came with guns blazing. But his amended guidance was not exactly conciliatory: Liddy also said he should have recommended shots to the groin instead of the head. If that wasn’t enough to inflame any nut cases, he mentioned labeling targets “Bill” and “Hillary” when he practiced shooting.

McCain doesn’t distance himself from this guy; he embraces him, accepts his campaign donations, appears on his show, and praises his “principles.” And yet, McCain still feels perfectly comfortable demanding that Obama “apologize” for knowing Bill Ayers.

(On a related note, the NYT’s Frank Rich over the weekend highlighted the story that political reporters are reluctant to touch: McCain’s ties to bigoted televangelist John Hagee.)

To clarify, I’m not necessarily arguing that I want more guilt-by-association attacks in the presidential campaign. Major political figures meet and know plenty of people, some are going to be controversial, and some are going to be unsavory. In an election this important, there are far more important things to cover.

I do care, however, about consistency, hypocrisy, and fairness. If Wright is a reflection on Obama’s judgment and character, it’s incumbent on the media to take McCain’s suck-ups to Hagee, Parsley, and Falwell seriously. If it’s important that Obama knows Ayers, it has to be at least as important that McCain has picked G. Gordon Liddy as one of his buddies.

And if McCain is going to go after Obama directly over his associations, as he did last week, then McCain should expect similar questions about the company he keeps.

Why did McCain seek and accept the support of an anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic televangelist? Why did McCain cozy up to a preacher who blamed 9/11 on Americans? Why did McCain praise the principles of a right-wing shock jock who instructed his audience on where to shoot federal officials?

I really don't want a political campaign that consists of guilt-by-association accusations flung ad infinitum throughout the media. But as Steve said, let's be consistent and fair about this. If those types of questions and attacks are deemed appropriate for one candidate, then they're appropriate for all. So why isn't the corpmedia pursuing John McCain?


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