EXCLUSIVE: McCain lambastes Bush years

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Mr. McCain took great umbrage at comments by Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, who compared the atmosphere at recent Republican rallies to those of 1960s-era segregationist George Wallace.

“Here, a guy I admire and respect, a hero of the civil rights movement, saying, making a statement that somehow [Governor Sarah] Palin and I are involved in segregationist behavior, I mean, is beyond reason. In the debate the other night, Barack Obama refused to repudiate those remarks. I’ve repudiated every time there’s been some inappropriate comment by a GOP operative anywhere.”

Mr. McCain called that failure to repudiate Mr. Lewis’ comment “certainly something that I don’t think is acceptable.”

The Republican nominee defended his campaign strategy of targeting Mr. Obama’s ties to former domestic terrorist William Ayers but not to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

Saying the issue of Mr. Wright has been “pretty well-ventilated,” Mr. McCain said Mr. Obama has been slippery on his links to Mr. Ayers. He would not himself say being linked to Mr. Ayers makes Mr. Obama radical.

“The American people can make that judgment, he said, adding, “it’s about full revelation of the relationship.”

“First [he] said it was a guy in the neighborhood, then he said, aw, well, that he knew him, now we find out he wrote blurbs for his book, now we find out that he served on the Woods Foundation board, which, coincidentally, gave ACORN $230,000,” he said, referring to the liberal activist group which has long-standing ties to Mr. Obama and Mr. Ayers and is accused of voter-registration fraud in several states.

“Look, it was an extensive relationship — the American people need to know the full extent of it. He’s not being candid and truthful,” the senator from Arizona said.

Asked whether he thinks he’s getting bad press coverage (the Project for Excellence in Journalism says in a report out today that 57 percent of the stories written about him for the past six weeks have been negative, with just 14 percent positive), he said, “Ah, listen, I’m not going to complain about the press corps.”

But he bristles when asked about whether he is still the “old McCain,” the maverick who wowed the media with his 2000 presidential run, when he bucked the Republican Party establishment, drawing gushing praise from an infatuated media.

“The interesting thing is, and it’s happened on numerous occasions, I get ‘How come you’re not the old McCain?’ and usually it’s an Obama talking point from somebody. And I say, ‘OK, tell me how I’ve changed.’ ‘Well, you changed on taxes.’ I say, ‘Look, I was for tax cuts, I wasn’t for those tax cuts,’” he said, explaining his opposition to Mr. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

“There is no example they can cite that I’m any different, but they want people to believe that I’m different. I understand that, but it’s just baloney. I’m the same guy. … We’re working as hard as we can. You just put one foot ahead of the other for the next 13 days as we have for the past two years,” he said with a laugh.

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