In another sign of the media's sheepish acceptance of the Barack Obama "elitist" story line, the New York Times on Tuesday described the Illinois Senator as "tagged as elitist." But just as disturbing as the Republicans' apparent success in establishing the "out of touch" narrative as a fixture in campaign coverage is John McCain's seeming inoculation from it.
After all, John McCain isn't merely fabulously well off, courtesy of his wife Cindy's $100 million beer distribution fortune. At almost every turn, the Republican presidential nominee has shown almost a total ignorance of – or yawning disinterest in – the real lives of American voters. From the growing financial hardships of the economic slowdown and the foreclosure crisis to the disintegrating American health care system and the dangers U.S. troops face on the streets on Baghdad, it is John McCain who is truly "out of touch." Yet voters and pundits alike agree that the supposed maverick is treated with kid gloves by the press, an elitist masquerading as a man of the people.
Here, then, are John McCain's Top 10 "Out-of-Touch" Moments:
1. Economic downturn is "psychological." Having on multiple occasions admitted his limited understanding of the economy, Senator McCain instead turned armchair psychologist to diagnose the U.S economic slowdown. In April, McCain told Fox News' Neil Cavuto that "a lot of our problems today, as you know, are psychological." Apparently, four months of job losses, oil at $120 a barrel, record gas prices at the pump, 47 million uninsured and a devastating home foreclosure crisis are merely figments of Americans' imaginations.
2. "Great progress economically" during the Bush years. If Americans' financial woes are all in their heads, John McCain's assessment of George W. Bush's economic leadership is pure hallucination. Asked by Bloomberg's Peter Cook on April 17 if Americans would say they are better off today "than before George Bush took office more than seven years ago," McCain replied:
"I think if you look at the overall record and millions of jobs have been created, et cetera, et cetera, you could make an argument that there's been great progress economically over that period of time."
Mugged by reality, McCain's firm response to the classic Ronald Reagan question ("are you better off now?") lasted exactly 24 hours. The next day on April 18, the so-called maverick acknowledged Americans are "hurting badly" and concluded, "Americans are not better off than they were eight years ago."
3. eBay is the answer for poverty and recession. During his so-called "Forgotten Places" tour last month, John McCain offered the people of the economically devastated regions in Martin County, Kentucky and Youngstown, Ohio a path out of financial desperation: eBay. "Today, for example," McCain said, "1.3 million people in the world make a living off eBay, most of those are in the United State of America." If that sounds like something McCain's national campaign co-chair and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman might say, it's because she did. In March, she told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, "We have about - around the world, about 1.3 million people make most, if not all, of their living selling on eBay." (It should come as no surprise that President Bush, too, extolled the virtues of Americans' economic futures as sellers on eBay.)
4. "Tear down" New Orleans? McCain kicked off his tour in New Orleans, where he lambasted George W. Bush's handling of the Katrina disaster. (As it turns out, McCain's criticism was choreographed with the White House as part of a coordinated effort to create the facade of distance between McCain and President Bush.) There, McCain would not commit to the future of the city's devastated 9th ward:
"That's why we need to go back to have a conversation about what to do about it. Rebuild it? Tear it down? Ya know, whatever it is."
Just three days later, McCain claimed selective amnesia about his New Orleans comments, saying, "I don’t remember ever saying it." Perhaps John McCain remembers celebrating his 69th birthday with President Bush on August 29, 2005, just as Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore.
5. Irresponsible, undeserving homeowners. In his widely panned March 25th address on the economy, John McCain essentially blamed American homeowners teetering on the brink of foreclosure for their plight, insisting "any assistance must be temporary and must not reward people who were irresponsible at the expense of those who weren't." Facing a backlash, McCain just two weeks later on April 11 rolled out new proposals, claiming his "priority number one is to keep well meaning, deserving home owners who are facing foreclosure in their homes." As the New York Times concluded:
In both tone and substance, Mr. McCain's remarks were something of a departure from a speech the senator delivered last month in California in which he warned that "it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers."
6. Work a second job, skip a vacation. In that same March 25, 2008 speech, the Republican nominee made it clear that selling Barbie dolls or Hummel figurines on eBay isn't John McCain's only prescription for Americans facing economic difficulties. The other? Just work harder. McCain encouraged Americans to emulate the 51 million homeowners "doing what is necessary -- working a second job, skipping a vacation, and managing their budgets -- to make their payments on time."
7. "Protect the privacy" of Cindy McCain's tax returns. Asking cash-strapped, over-worked Americans to labor harder is easy to say for John McCain. After all, his beer heiress second wife Cindy has a fortune estimated at $100 million, more than enough to provide the candidate with private jets and still fund the McCain's 8 homes and the charitable contributions funneled to the elite private schools attended by their children.
But asking John McCain to release his wife's tax return is another matter. His campaign claims, "Cindy McCain will not release her tax returns to protect the privacy of her four children; details of their wealth are included in her filing." Of course, in 2004, then RNC chairman and current Bush counselor Ed Gillespie insisted that the content of Theresa Heinz Kerry's tax filings was "a legitimate question." By a whopping 64% to 22% margin, Americans believe that John McCain should make public his wife's tax information.
8. Opposed to SCHIP expansion, McCain speaks at children's hospital. Last October, John McCain joined George W. Bush in opposing the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), calling Bush's veto a "right call by the president." Of course, that didn't stop McCain from rolling out his health care proposals last week at Miami Children's Hospital, a Florida medical institution which last fall publicly supported the S-CHIP expansion he opposed. In a further irony, while McCain decried "new mandates and government regulation," 9 year-old Jake Bernard who was spotlighted at the event received treatment for his cleft palate thanks to a statute passed by the state of Florida. So much for McCain's pledge to "work to eliminate the worries over the availability and cost of health care."
9. Baghdad safer than some American neighborhoods. John McCain's isn't merely out of touch when it comes to Americans' real lives at home. He is consistently nonchalant about the dangers – and casualties – U.S. troops face in Iraq.
Wearing a bulletproof vest and guarded by "100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships overhead," McCain on April Fool's Day 2007 briefly toured a Baghdad market to demonstrate that the American people were "not getting the full picture."
McCain recently claimed that there "are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods, today." In a press conference after his Baghdad tour, McCain told a reporter that his visit to the market today was proof that you could indeed "walk freely" in some areas of Baghdad.
In March 2008, Senator McCain returned to a tried and untrue Republican talking point: Iraq is no more dangerous than most major American cities. McCain announced, "There's problems in America with safe neighborhoods as we well know." In this case, at least, even McCain realized his statement was nonsensical on its face and sounded the retreat. "I'm not making that comparison, because it's much more deadly in Iraq obviously," he said, adding, "But it's kind of the same theory." Apparently, McCain's theory applies whether the United States maintains a permanent military presence in Iraq for 100, 1000 or even a million years.
10. "I'm not running on the Bush presidency." On April 1, 2008, John McCain offered Americans another April Fool's joke, proclaiming "I'm not running on the Bush presidency." McCain might want to check his campaign's position papers. After all, in his eternal quest for the Republican nomination, McCain has adopted virtually the entire Bush agenda, often reversing long held positions and compromising supposed core principles. From Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthy, broken promises on the deficit to opposition to SCHIP, tax credits for health care, overturning Roe v. Wade and a right-wing Supreme Court, John McCain represents a third Bush term. It's no wonder Mr. Straight Talk said in February:
"I would be proud to have President Bush campaign with me and support me in any way that he feels is appropriate. And I would appreciate it."
So would we.