- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2000

That clanking noise from New Hampshire may be the sound of the wheels flying off John McCain's little red wagon.

He's making the blunders everyone was waiting for George W. Bush to make. Now W., who hasn't made any whoppers and who grows more confident every day, has slipped into the lead again in the New Hampshire tracking polls. Suddenly the governor's the man with what his daddy once famously called "the big mo'."

The senator got caught doing what he has been scolding others for doing, performing favors for campaign contributors. As sins go, it's barely venial. In fact, helping constituents is one of the important things senators are sent to Washington to do. But if you make a career of selling yourself as a virgin, you had better not get caught hanging around a cathouse, not even as the piano player.

Another thing you can't do is forget who you are and where you are. Mr. McCain won the Pundit Primary and forgot that nobody ever actually tames cottonmouth moccasins, alligators or reporters. Some of us warned him:

"Mr. McCain," it said here on Dec. 7, "is an odd god for some of the media heavyweights who so cheerfully trashed everyone in the Vietnam War a generation ago. He's against almost everything the media libs love abortion (in all its gruesome guises), taxes, gun control, raising the minimum wage beyond the ability of small business to pay, the flaunting of the homosexual high life, the judicial rewriting of the Constitution, the relentless campaign against traditional, religious and ethical values as we have known them. If Mr. McCain wins the Republican nomination, he must be prepared for some very long media knives."

We're not even halfway to Philadelphia and the national convention, and already the knives are being sharpened. Right-to-life groups put commercials on New Hampshire radio stations yesterday, citing Alzheimer's jokes the senator told to his admiring fans on the press bus, jokes mocking the weaknesses, frustrations and frailties of old age. ("The good thing about Alzheimer's disease is you get to hide your own Easter eggs.") Not awful, but not very nice. And not very smart. The seniors, ever more savvy with each passing election cycle, get even. What sounded so funny on the press bus, with one and all rollicking through the countryside lubricated by beer and big cigars, doesn't sound quite so funny in a radio commercial less than a month before the make-or-break primary. Mr. McCain can now expect some of the reporters who laughed loudest at his jokes to affect the greatest outrage. It's not personal. It's what reporters do.

Perhaps even more damaging in South Carolina, in whose primary he must do well even if he does well in New Hampshire, Mr. McCain delivered a rebuke that Southerners take as an unforgivable insult. Joining the NAACP's campaign to rid the South Carolina Statehouse of the Confederate battle flag, it wasn't enough to offer advice.

"The Confederate flag is offensive in many, many ways," he said [italics mine]. He cited only two. "As we all know, it's a symbol of racism and slavery." (We do?)

This was an attempt to patronize the loudmouths who flaunt their contempt for their country's history as a badge of ignorance. They revise history, wiping the pages clean of every inconvenient fact that makes them feel flushed and faint. It's true that bigots and skinheads for their own shameful purposes try to steal the flag of Marse Robert and Stonewall, of Pat Cleburne and Jeb Stuart, all to the consternation of the descendants of the soldiers who died beneath that flag defending home and family. But many of these same jerks appropriate the American flag as well. The Ku Klux Klan uses the Cross in its wicked rituals, and the loudmouths will no doubt next demand to rip the Cross from its place atop a hundred thousand Christian churches across America. (Why, indeed, should black Christians adorn their churches with Klan regalia?)

Respect for the sensitivities of white Southerners is not in fashion at the moment, except in a few places in the South. Too bad for John McCain, but South Carolina is one of those places. He could ask David Beasley, a Republican who is no longer the governor of South Carolina. The voters threw him out. Wanting to be uptown and, like, hip, he said mean things about the Confederate flag and vowed to haul it down. The flag is still there. Mr. Beasley ain't.

Some South Carolinians have concluded that Mr. McCain, having failed to find a constituency anywhere else in South Carolina, has given up on the mainstream and is pandering now to black resentment, hoping at least to avoid a humiliating blowout. A harsh reading of motives, perhaps, but the senator asked for it.

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