Archive for Sunday, August 10, 2008

Candidates find little common ground

August 10, 2008


— In the time they served together in the United States Senate, John McCain and Barack Obama developed neither a friendship nor an intense dislike. They entered this campaign as relative strangers, and now - as the sniping builds to a steady staccato - each of them has acquired a strong sense of grievance about the other.

That, at least, is the clear impression I received from doing back-to-back, one-on-one interviews with the two prospective nominees. They are striving to keep their contest from becoming overtly personal. But it is a struggle. McCain complained bitterly to me about accusations that he has run a racist campaign, and Obama voiced his anger at the charge that he would rather lose a war than jeopardize his election.

Talking with them, I realized that they have little in shared experience on which to build a relationship. The 25-year difference in their ages is exceptionally wide for opposing candidates. McCain was already an established figure - a committee chairman and former presidential candidate - when Obama came to Washington a little less than four years ago. They serve on none of the same committees and rarely have collaborated on legislation.

On the other hand, there were few direct personal clashes. Both of them remembered only two - the same two.

The first occurred in February 2006. Obama had joined members from both parties in a group organized by McCain to draft bipartisan legislation on ethics and lobbying reform, after McCain's hearings on the Jack Abramoff scandal. But when other Senate Democrats decided to write their own bill, Obama aligned himself with them.

McCain told me, "He went off and voted with (Minority Leader) Harry Reid on the Democratic substitute. And I wrote him the now famous letter."

The letter he sent Obama began with this stinging sentence: "I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere." It continued, "I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics, I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble."

Obama wrote back that he had "no idea what has prompted your response." He told me the other day: "That was one incident where he thought I had undercut him. I had a completely different view of it."

The second occurred in June 2007, during Senate floor debate on the immigration bill. One key piece of the bill authorized a guest-worker program, which was unpopular with unions, who saw the immigrants as threats to their jobs. McCain told me that Obama had become part of a bipartisan group, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy and himself, whose members understood "we had to take tough votes, sometimes against the majority of our own party, in order to preserve the coalition." But when an amendment was offered to "sunset" that part of the bill after five years, it was viewed as a "killer amendment."

"Obama went out and voted with the unions," McCain told me. McCain and Kennedy lost by one vote.

When I asked Obama to respond, he said, "When colleagues disagree on an issue, the notion that it's cause for attack is mistaken. I felt very strongly that the guest-worker program was not in the best interests of the country. I voted against it; he voted for it. ... I respect Senator McCain's right to take positions different than mine. What I don't do is abuse his integrity for doing so."

Despite these incidents, I found there is mutual respect. When we talked, Obama did not gush about McCain, but he said, "We can disagree on issues without trying to tear down the other person's reputation or attack his character."

McCain seemed genuinely impressed by his opponent. He said he had watched tapes of the Democratic debates and thought Obama had been "superb."

"He has my admiration and respect," McCain Said. "This is a person who has engaged and energized millions of Americans who had never been engaged in the political process."

No one else can lift this campaign out of the gutter, but these two are still capable of giving the country the kind of contest the voters deserve - if they can build a little mutual trust.

McCain's offer of weekly joint town meetings still stands. It is not too late for Obama to change his mind and take up this historic offer.

- David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


cato_the_elder 9 years, 9 months ago

No, it's not too late, but Obama won't do it because he wouldn't be able to use scripted speeches.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 9 months ago

All of the presidents involved in the below escapades were flanked by lots of flags each time they were on camera. Maybe flags do not indicate a true patriot? bottom line is why would voters want to place a party in control with a history of Iran-Contra,Savings and Loan Scandal,Sub Prime Scandal,parties supporting a lying president/illegal occupation of another country AND spying on americans at will. All of these presidents were flanked by lots of flags each time they were on camera. The republican party supports a president who has been lying about social security: republican party makes really really bad decisons on tax cuts thus taking money from those who need the expendable income. Cannot support an economy in this fashion. important issues failed to get discussed when republicans spend so much time and money diverting the discussion away from issues that matter: Bring all the troops home. The Iraq people know how to rebuild a country and run an oil business. Their oil is not our oil.40,000 disabled troops 4,000 dead troops 1,000,000 dead Iraq men,women and Children A WASHED OUT ECONOMY thanks to 20 years of Reaganomics aka voodoo economics Creating new industry that cannot be outsourced through Cleaner Energy Sources National Health Insurance Support HR 676 Dumping No Child Left Behind Lets's demand a new system and vote in Fair Vote America : public financing of campaigns Reining in the power of the President Restoring the EPA Acts * Restoring the USDA Integrity* Voter Rights NOT special interest rights

Flap Doodle 9 years, 9 months ago

Obama was in the Senate less than 150 days before he started running for President. No wonder he & McCain didn't have time to get chummy.

Brittanicus 9 years, 9 months ago

Each incumbent, each new face must promise to seal the borders, according to the original plan of Rep.Duncan Hunter (R-CA). A two layer, high-rise fence with a wide no mans-land to expedite US border vehicles to patrol. The Democrats gutted funding for this first line of defense the fence. This would also stop deaths in the deserts, on the highways a thing of the past. Even McCain and Obama are hesitant to tell the truth on the festering subject?Any Politicians will lie to us no matter what, to either get re-elected or to become the new guy on the block? We should make them sign a pledge, specifically when it comes to illegal immigration. This is a paramount issue, because it effects Americas economy and the non-reversible OVERPOPULATION?Do you want 436 million people living in this country in just 20 years? Diversity Alliance for Sustainable America.(earthtimes)They must sponsor the Federal SAVE ACT (4088) to enforce our immigration laws with funding, more agents and the E-Verify system to assist honest companies and imprison pariah employers.The Fed's have a 99.5 percent success rate extracting illegal aliens on government payrolls. Demand all police departments have Immigration training, to ease the escalating crime rates across the country.Their pledges must rescind all 'Sanctuary city' police policies or lose state and federal funding. We already are financially supporting 12 to 30 million illegal immigrants and their extended families. That when they swear on their Bible an oath of allegiance to the American people, that they will fight both domestic and foreign enemies.That means no AMNESTY, No path to citizenship by any illegal alien who stole into America? Find out the uncensored truth on Overpopulation at NUMBERSUSA and CAPSWEB. Voter Fraud in November? Read!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.