Tuesday, August 19, 2008

McCain's third wise man

If John McCain really plans on consulting U.S. Rep. John Lewis (pictured at left) should he become president, he probably should tell Lewis first.

Lewis seemed as baffled as everyone else after McCain dubbed him one of the "three wisest people" he knew and someone he would rely heavily upon should he make it into the White House during a presidential forum Saturday at a California megachurch.

"I cannot stop one human being, even a presidential candidate, from admiring the courage and sacrifice of peaceful protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge or making comments about it," Lewis said in a statement to Mother Jones. But "Sen. McCain and I are colleagues in the US Congress, not confidantes. He does not consult me. And I do not consult him."

And it's doubtful that McCain was seriously going to spend some alone time with Lewis. Can you really imagine McCain calling Lewis into the Oval Office to get advice about efforts to pursue offshore drilling or to sort through Supreme Court justice candidates? Lewis over Phil Gramm or Lindsey Graham? Joe Lieberman?

Get real. That was a silly (and confusing) bit of pandering, even for McCain. Not only has McCain never sought out a relationship with Lewis in their 22 years together in Congress but, as Mother Jones notes, didn't even invite him to a speech he gave in Selma earlier this year celebrating the efforts of protesters like Lewis during the 1965 civil-rights march later dubbed “Bloody Sunday.”

And this isn't the first time McCain has tried, somewhat curiously, to exploit Lewis' civil-rights legacy for political advantage.

It’s missteps like this, I think, that make many black people wary of testing out Republicans and other brands of right-wingers. We’re not ignorant of McCain’s mediocre record on civil rights, including his efforts to keep Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday from becoming a national holiday. It also doesn’t take a grizzled politico to see McCain has done little to reach out to black voters during his time in office – being ambiguous about flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina statehouse was telling - or on the campaign trail.

Had McCain simply reeled off three names of old white guys - or maybe Mrs. Buffalo Chip -during Saturday's showdown at Saddleback Church, no one would have really cared. It would have been par for the course, and few people would have even batted an eye. But for McCain to inexplicably throw Lewis' name into the mix was disingenuous and came off as insincere.

It was the political equivalent of George Costanza calling his exterminator over for dinner, with McCain hoping to score some points with an audience that knows better. That's... what we used to call him in high school, the exterminator. He's a linebacker. Oh, did we have some wild times.

John Lewis, who is supporting Barack Obama, is going to be one of McCain's three wise men? Hardly.

McCain will ultimately be judged by his actions, or lack thereof, when it comes to some of these sorts of issues. In the end, talking about consulting John Lewis doesn’t mean a whole lot if McCain hasn’t actually talked with John Lewis.

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