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Brooks' Misguided Love Letter To McCain

I’m starting to think the adulation for John McCain among New York Times columnists is making the transition from odd to unhealthy. Last week, Nic

I’m starting to think the adulation for John McCain among New York Times columnists is making the transition from odd to unhealthy.

Last week, Nick Kristof praised McCain for pandering and lying, but only because McCain is bad at it. Yesterday, apropos of nothing, Bill Kristol praised McCain for being patriotic. Today, David Brooks, demonstrating unusually flawed timing, praises McCain for keeping lobbyists at arm’s length, after a week’s worth of evidence proving the exact opposite.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but political consultants are as faddish as anyone else. And the current vogueish advice among the backroom set is: Go after your opponent’s strengths. So in the first volley of what feels like the general election campaign, Barack Obama has attacked John McCain for being too close to lobbyists. His assault is part of this week’s Democratic chorus: McCain isn’t really the anti-special interest reformer he pretends to be. He’s more tainted than his reputation suggests.

Well, anything is worth trying, I suppose, but there is the little problem of his record. McCain has fought one battle after another against lobbyists and special interests.

What on Earth is David Brooks talking about? To hear him tell it, Obama has manufactured a wildly irresponsible charge against McCain that has no foundation in reality.

More accurately, the only analysis that’s wildly off base here is Brooks’.

In just the last week, based on reports that Brooks has no doubt seen, we’ve learned that McCain, the “reform”-minded Republican who decries the power and influence of lobbyists, not only has more lobbyists working on his staff or as advisers than any of his competitors from either party, he actually has a corporate lobbyist doing business directly aboard his campaign bus. The WaPo added, “In McCain’s case, the fact that lobbyists are essentially running his presidential campaign — most of them as volunteers — seems to some people to be at odds with his anti-lobbying rhetoric.” Clearly, “some people” does not include David Brooks.

Better yet, his own newspaper uncovered evidence of McCain’s cozy relationship with a telecom lobbyist. Pressed for an explanation, most of McCain’s story proved to be false.

Indeed, Brooks notes some instances in which McCain challenged lobbyists, without noting that McCain took on the “reformist” mantle after having been caught in the Keating Five scandal, which drew a rebuke from the Senate Ethics Committee.

Worst of all, Brooks simply got some of his facts wrong. He notes McCain’s consistent opposition to ethanol, without noting that McCain flip-flopped on the issue before the Iowa caucuses. He notes McCain’s support for campaign-finance reform, without noting that McCain actually ended up opposing some of the provisions in his own legislation in order to pander to far-right conservatives. He notes that McCain led the Abramoff investigation, without noting that McCain may have used his power to shield fellow Republicans from scrutiny.

Everything in Brooks’ column, in other words, is wrong, misleading, or uninformed. It’s kind of embarrassing to read it, given that an editor signed off on a piece so detached from reality.

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