I'm just wondering. Which of these affiliations is worse: Barack Obama and his pastor...or John McCain and his president?
The 24/7 story du jour continues to be Obama-Wright, but let us at least briefly pause to ponder the McCain-Bush connection. Because I would argue that McCain's fealty to the lame-duck Decider who launched a needless war based on false premises (at a current cost of 4000 American dead and three quarters of a trillion dollars) is at least as worrisome for America as Obama's fealty to a preacher who talks fast and loose.
And yesterday, buried beneath the news about Obama's speech, we got a vivid reminder that when McCain opens his mouth about Iraq, Bushspeak dribbles out.
Bush's penchant, over the past few years, has been to characterize all anti-American combatants in Iraq as "al Qaeda" - even though, as has long been documented, only a fraction of those combatants have any ties to Osama bin Laden's organization. Bush's conflation of all fighters into "al Qaeda" has allowed him to maintain the implicit link to 9/11 (a falsehood still embraced by a healthy minority of credulous Americans), and has enabled him, with some success, to paint all Democratic dissenters as soft on Osama bin Laden, thereby forestalling any fundamental change in America's overall strategy.
McCain worships in the same church, where fact-averse sermons have become commonplace these past eight years. Yesterday in Iraq, McCain stated: "Well, it's common knowledge, and has been reported in the media, that al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training, and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That's well known."
OK, here we go, just as we always do with Bush: It's actually not common knowledge, it has not been reported in the media, and it is not well known. Because McCain's whole statement was false.
Iran is a 90 percent Shiite nation. The al Qaeda organization is Sunni. Iran, according to the U.S. government, is indeed making mischief across the border by sending in Shiite extremists (thanks to the war we launched, which toppled the Sunni dictator who had kept the Iranian Shiites at bay), but that has nothing to do with al Qaeda.
Note the certitudes in McCain's remark, about how it's "well known" and "common knowledge." That's the way Bush's mentor, Dick Cheney, and Bush's chief war planner, Donald Rumsfeld, used to talk when they would claim that there was "bulletproof" incontrovertible evidence of Hussein-al Qaeda-WMD complicity.
It speaks volumes about the strength of the Bush-McCain mind meld that McCain had to be corrected, on the spot, by, of all people, uber-hawk Joe Lieberman. Lieberman whispered in McCain's ear, whereupon McCain said, "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda." And shortly afterwards, a McCain spokesman said, "John McCain misspoke and immediately corrected himself."
The problem is, McCain said the same thing this week on conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt's radio show: "As you know, there are al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq." Hewitt, naturally, didn't question this remark; talk-show hosts on the right have long been acclimated to accept Bushspeak as synonymous with empirical truth.
And McCain used the same rhetorical conflation on Monday, when he assailed Hillary Clinton for daring to suggest in a speech that perhaps a new Iraq strategy might be worth trying. Referring to her speech, he said: "So I just think what that means is al Qaeda wins...And their dedication is to follow us home."
That's verbatim from the Bush playbook - the idea that all new ideas must be summarily shot down, lest we give aid and comfort to "al Qaeda"; the implication that any Democrat who dares discuss a pullback of troops is enabling "al Qaeda."
All this Bushspeak from McCain, despite the inconvenient fact that the offshoot group known as al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist until Bush's invasion gave it a reason to be formed. All these Bush echoes from McCain, despite the documentation that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda never had traction under Hussein; indeed, as the Republican-run Senate Intelligence Committee concluded back in September 2006, Hussein was "distrustful of al Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al Qaeda to provide material or operational support."
Perhaps McCain's verbatim allegience to Bush - and its core relevence to the '08 election - is dismissed merely as an old story, lacking the visceral power of the race issue. But I have yet to hear Barack Obama utter so much as a single verbatim phrase from the reverend's incendiary playbook.