I was intrigued by Paul’s account of the blogger conference call with Senator McCain yesterday. Senator McCain justified his refusal to shake the hand of former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith on the ground that Professor Smith had engaged in attacks on Senator McCain’s character.
Checking out Smith’s 2001 book on the problems with campaign finance regulation — Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform — Professor Smith’s comments on Senator McCain and the then-proposed McCain-Feingold reform bill, one finds only Professor Smith’s reference to McCain’s “minimal” role in the Keating Five scandal and criticism of the bill itself. A Google search on Brad Smith on John McCain similarly turns up nothing personal in nature. Professor Smith’s consideration of John McCain as a presidential candidate is accessible here.
I called Professor Smith this morning to ask him for a comment. Professor Smith was mystified and amused. He said he laughed out loud when he read Senator McCain’s comments, viewing them as a projection of Senator McCain’s treatment of him. He recalled having criticized Senator McCain’s understanding of the issues implicated by campaign finance regulation, but nothing aimed at Senator McCain’s character.
He noted that he has been quoted a number of places, including an Arizona Republic article, characterizing Senator McCain as a hero. Indeed, he said, he largely identifies with Senator McCain by virtue of his own temper and his sympathy with him on a number of issues for which he has taken flak from conservatives, among them immigration reform and the Gang of 14.
He added that since 2004 he has been criical of matters related to the Reform Institute (discussed in George Will’s column) for the creation of the same appearance of corruption for which Senator McCain excoriates others. One of the themes of Professor Smith’s critique of campaign finance regulation is the creation of the appearance of ethical dilemmas for their proponents.
As to the incident recounted by Will, Professor Smith added that he approached Senator McCain in part because the occasion was public and conducive to cordiality. He quoted Senator McCain as saying: “You’re a bully and a coward. You have no regard for the Constitution. I’ll be civil to you but I won’t shake your hand.”
Professor Smith offered one additional bit of armchair psychology. He wondered whether Senator McCain resented him because he can’t do anything to him. I personally think the problem is a bit bigger than that, including a form of intellectual laziness on one of Senator McCain’s key issues. At the least it represents conduct unbecoming a man of Senator McCain’s stature.
PAUL adds: In this account, I may have been more critical of Senator McCain on occasion than Smith has.
Smith’s account also resembles what I’ve heard from friends who have clashed with McCain. They continue to admire him and kind of scratch their heads as to why he became so angry with them.
McCain is at his best when, far from settling scores, he’s reconciling with former adversaries. For example, he likes to talk about his reconciliation with David Ifshin (a high school class mate of mine). The late Ifshin became a student radical and, as I recall, visited Hanoi. There, he made pro North Vietnam tapes that were piped into McCain’s cell at the “Hanoi Hilton.” Years later, Ifshin, by now a center-left Democrat, met with McCain, and the Senator buried the hatchet. They even worked together on a Vietnam democracy project. And when Ifshin died, McCain eulogized him, declaring that his enemy had become his friend.
This is the model I feel McCain should be striving for this year.
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