A tale of two McDonald’s

Among the interesting contrasts presented at the Saddleback Civil Forum was the one elicited by Rick Warren’s question on how each candidate had bucked his party. The question was of course right up McCain’s alley, but he gave a surprising and powerful answer:

Climate change, out of control spending, torture, the list goes on, on a large number of issues that I have put my country first and I’ve reached across the aisle. but I’d probably have to say that one of the times that probably was one of the most trying was, when I was first a member of Congress, and I’m a new freshman in the House of Representatives and very loyal and dedicated to President Reagan, whom I still think is one of the great, great presidents in American history — (APPLAUSE) — who won the cold war without firing a shot, in the words of Margaret Thatcher. He wanted to send troops to Beirut for a peacekeeping mission.

My knowledge and my background told me that a few hundred Marines in a situation like that could not successfully carry out any kind of peacekeeping mission. And I thought they were going into harm’s way. Tragically, as many of you recall, there was a bombing in the Marine barracks and well over 100 brave Marines gave their lives. But it was tough, that vote, because I went against the president I believed in, and the party that believed that maybe I was disloyal very early in my political career.

Like McCain, Obama holds himself out as the kind of politician who can reach across party lines to get things done. Given the partisanship and thinness of Obama’s legislative record, however, Warren’s question presented a challenge for Obama. Here is what he came up with:

Well, I’ll give you an example that in fact I worked with John McCain on, and that was the issue of campaign ethics reform and finance reform. That wasn’t probably in my interest or his for that matter because the truth was both Democrats and Republicans sort of like the status quo and I was new to the Senate and it didn’t necessarily engender a lot of popularity when I started saying, you know, we are going to eliminate meals and gifts from corporate lobbyists. I remember one of my colleagues whose name will be unmentioned who said, “Well, where do you expect us to eat, McDonald’s?” and I thought, well, actually, a lot of our constituents probably do eat at McDonald’s so that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I think we were able to get a bill passed that hasn’t made Washington perfect but at least it [is] moving things forward.

Hugh Hewitt draws on David Freddoso’s reportage to demonstrate the factitious quality of Obama’s account:

Obama cited McCain here as his cover for acting in a bipartisan or non-partisan fashion. The detailed account of this “teamwork” from David Freddoso’s new book [The Case Against Barack Obama, pp. 97-99] puts the lie to Obama’s account. In fact Obama approached McCain and “promised to work with him seriously on a bipartisan lobbying and ethics reform package,” in February 2006. After some work “McCain thought they had an agreement.” Freddoso continues: “Then Obama’s party leaders took him aside and set him straight. They had an election plan, and they weren’t about to have [Obama] ruin that by working on both sides of the aisle to accomplish something substantive in 2006.”

Freddoso then reprints the account of the Obama double-cross reported by Marc Ambinder, then working for the highly respect National Journal. Obama sent McCain a letter backing out of the effort.. McCain responded with a blistering rebuke. “I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable,” McCain responded. “[T]hank you for disabusing me of such notions.”

No matter what one thinks of the merits of the Obama flip-flop, for him to cite his work with John McCain on Senate reform as the best example of his willingness to work against party and self-interest is more than just oily. It is deeply deceptive.

In his column on the Saddleback forum, Charles Adler exposes one other layer of deception in Obama’s response. Adler quotes an earlier version of this story provided by Obama to New Hampshire voters nine months ago:

It was a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, where ABC reported that Obama was addressing voters, discussing his work on ethics reform legislation. It included a meal ban. Obama said that a fellow senator was giving him a hard time about the bill, and said to Obama, “What do you expect me to just start eating at McDonalds all the time?” According to Obama, he told the unhappy senator, “You get paid $160,000, you can afford Applebee’s. You don’t even have to stoop so low as to eat at McDonalds.”

ABC News reported “Some in the crowd were seen raising their eyebrows as Obama, the man who touts himself from the South Side of Chicago, critiqued the popular food chain.”

(The cited ABC News story from this past December is accessible here). Upon further inspection, the real story of Obama’s bipartisan moment dissolves, and carries an arugala footnote.

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