Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What If John McCain Waved A Mexican Flag?

Here's this week's column, which tries to deal with the 675-word op ed format by being 2 340-word columns.

"Straight Talk" Means Nothing of the Sort
East Valley Tribune, Apr. 9, 2006

It’s “Then-and-Now” week for The Tribune’s “house liberal.” Let’s start with Arizona’s senior senator, who is redefining “Straight Talk” as “Politically Useful Talk.”

Yes, it’s John McCain, whom Grant Woods once called “the maverick who despises all other mavericks” because in McCain World, only one guy gets to march to a different drummer.

Maybe you managed to overlook it when John McCain endorsed teaching “intelligent design,” or when he said he would have signed the new South Dakota abortion law (the one without any exception for rape or incest), or when he watched passively when the Bush administration said the prohibition on abuse and torture really doesn’t mean anything, or when he threw in with the House GOP anti-reformers on loosening campaign finance limits on funny money in state political parties coordinating with national campaigns.

But what really defined John McCain (for those in the slobbering national press corps who don’t have to live with him) was his willingness to stand up and tell off extremists on both sides, like this quote from Jan. 28, 2000:

“Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”

Well, that was then; in 2000, it was useful to campaign against Falwell when trolling for votes in open primaries. In 2006, the path to power is a bit different; now McCain needs to pander to highly partisan Republicans, so he’s just agreed to give this year’s commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart called McCain on what, if a Democrat had done it, would be a “flip-flop” at best and more likely a total collapse of character:

Stewart: You’re not freaking out on us? Are you freaking out on us? Because if you’re freaking out and you’re going into the crazy base world -- are you going into crazy base world?

McCain: I’m afraid so.

Sure, it was a comedy show. So why aren’t you laughing? And can Democrats now do favors for Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton and be every bit as beloved by the media as John McCain? Probably not, but I had to ask.

Then there’s the Mexican flag business. Boy, are people steamed about pro-immigration demonstrators carrying Mexican flags. The mushy centrists are tut-tutting about the lack of public relations savvy shown by the demonstrators, who should have known how off-putting foreign flags would be -- even though they pay as much attention to our media and spokepeople as we do to theirs. The ‘wingers are just happy to have another outrage against which to vent, pointing out that no loyal American should ever wave a foreign flag.

Well, last week I wondered why those same people don’t get upset at displays of the Confederate flag -- and some of them are indeed upset that the Country Thunder music festival has banned that flag of insurrection. But maybe the better example is the Israeli flag, which is prominently displayed at lots of U.S.-Israel solidarity events (and which I’ve carried myself.) So why are the Confederate, or Irish, or Italian, or Israeli flags OK, but the Mexican flag isn’t?

And you might be interested to note that not everybody thinks carrying the Mexican flag is anti-American. In 2004, the Bush-Cheney campaign distributed and mailed a video to Hispanic voters which included a clip of Bush, as Texas governor, walking in San Antonio’s Mexican Independence Day parade while carrying and waving -- yes, the Mexican flag.

I’m sure ‘wingers see no contradiction, because when an Anglo politician panders to Hispanic voters, carrying the Mexican flag is fine. It’s a problem only when immigrant-rights demonstrators forget that their job is pandering to Anglo voters.

But it’s worth considering that while pundits talk about population shifts to the Sun Belt, apparently much of that growth isn’t reading or listening or thinking like the usual readers of this page. Better stop with that “them” stuff -- because “they” are a lot of “us.”

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