Now that Barack Obama has smiled his way to the presidency of the United States, the rats on the sinking McCain-Palin ship have turned on each other. The McCain rats are baring their teeth at the Palin rats, and the Palin rats have started biting back. What it says to me is that my impression of the McCain campaign has been right all along: that the people running it had no moral compass. They would invent fiction after fiction and reiterate the lies after they were disproved. The campaign even hired dozens of bloggers to flood discussion boards across the internet with anti-Obama slander. I won’t repeat the lies; I am sure you’ve heard them all by now. And by now you must realize they were all lies, and you must wonder how the man you knew as John McCain could have sunk so low.
The answer is that the man you knew as John McCain may never have existed. The picture that has emerged from my exhaustive research is that of a hard-drinking, hard-gambling party animal who consorts with low-lifers and enjoys the high life – especially at someone else’s expense. He was such a cut-up at Annapolis, where he finished near the bottom of his graduating class, that he would have been expelled if he had not had an admiral as a father and another as a grandfather. Before he was shot down in Vietnam, he crashed several Navy planes and reportedly set fire to an aircraft carrier with one of his pranks. Hailed as a war hero after his release from a Viet Cong prison, he became romantically involved with a former junior rodeo queen and university cheerleader from Arizona who had matured into a respected special education teacher. She also happened to be heiress to a beer distribution empire.
Her name was Cindy Lou Hensley. She was 18 years younger than fly-boy McCain, but apparently found his war-hero persona irresistible. I can’t swear that what I am about to say now is factual. But I have found a lot of material on the web that supports my conclusions. Anyway, here’s what I know: Cindy’s father and uncle were both convicted – and sentenced – for faking liquor distribution records. They were working for a guy named Kemper Marley at the time, and Marley was said to be Meyer Lansky’s man in Arizona. You must have heard of Lansky; he was one of those legendary mob figures back in the era when they had legendary mob figures. (Today’s crime bosses are much smarter at keeping a low profile.)
And here’s what I conjecture: Marley rewarded Hensley for “taking the rap” and keeping his mouth shut by giving him that Budweiser distributorship in Arizona. Marley was the undisputed political boss of Arizona, and my guess is that when McCain divorced his wife to join the Hensley family, Marley saw the possibilities in “running” a member of Congress who was lionized as a war hero. I can’t know whether my guess is right or not, but I know this for sure: Marley put his muscle behind a political future for McCain. Backed by Marley’s influence and money, and his father-in-law’s financial clout, McCain won a seat in the House of Representatives and later was elected to the Senate. I think it was the Marley connection that made him go to bat for Savings & Loan looter Charles Keating and wind up in disgrace.
Chastened by the Keating kerfuffle, McCain morphed into the “Straight-Talk” character that became so familiar to the public. He played the role for all it was worth, giving no-holds-barred interviews to the media and acting like a regular kind of guy who didn’t approve of the slippery ways of Washington. That iteration of McCain persisted through some tough times – losing a nasty primary contest with George Bush in 2000 (when he was falsely accused of fathering a black child out of wedlock), and floundering through the early stages of the 2008 presidential race.
In mid-2007, the McCain campaign seemed dead in the water. But in a sudden reversal of fortune, the Iraq troop “surge” that McCain had bet on paid off. Before McCain’s resurgence, campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver, the “architect of McCain’s Straight Talk Express,” had quit, along with political director Rob Jesmer and deputy campaign manager Reed Galen. Enter, in quick succession, two alley-fighting political strategists: Rick Davis (with McCain, left) and Steve Schmidt (below, left). Schmidt, who was deputy assistant to President Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, brought with him tactics he had learned as a member of Karl Rove’s strategic planning group. The New York Times said he transformed the McCain campaign into “an elbows-out, risk-taking, disciplined machine.” He became famous for bullying the media and “creatively” manipulating the news cycle. Time magazine’s Michael Scherer called Schmidt “the lord of outrage.”
That seems to mark the point at which McCain the straight talker vanished. In his place, a new McCain appeared, spouting calumnies, reversing previous positions in support of the environment and in opposition to tax cuts for the wealthy.
It was this McCain that won the Republican nomination. It was this McCain that chose Palin in a transparent attempt to pander to the religious right (for which he had previously expressed nothing but contempt) and women voters disappointed in Hillary Clinton’s primary loss. And it was this McCain who also chose the slime merchants who were running his campaign. In an ironic development, the campaign hired the very operatives whose brass-knuckle tactics had buried McCain’s bid for the Republican nomination eight years earlier. The campaign’s smear artists included Mike DuHaime, the Cheney aide and grass-roots organizer who systematically slandered John Kerry in 2004, and Tucker Eskew (right), a member of the Bush team that destroyed McCain’s chances for the presidency in 2000. (With Warren Tompkins and Neal Rhodes, Eskew masterminded a push-polling campaign that capitalized on McCain’s murky past.) At first, the McCain campaign seemed newly energized, but its soft underbelly soon began to show. Lobbyist Davis was revealed as a self-serving bad egg who took money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac then lied about it. And worse, Davis turned out to be on the payroll of a reputed Russian mobster named Oleg Deripaska, whom he had introduced to McCain.
Also joining the McCain campaign were former Mitt Romney supporters who – according to the conservative media – are intent on destroying Palin’s image to clear the way for their guy’s run at the presidency in 2012.
With this cast of characters, it comes as no surprise to me that the slime is pouring out of the defeated McCain-Palin campaign. In Jamaica, they say that “if you lay down with a dog, you will get up with fleas.” And after mixing with the people who were hired to run their campaign, McCain and Palin could use a thorough flea bath.