Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
At a John McCain rally in Virginia this past weekend, Mother Jones ran into a group of angry and frustrated McCain supporters looking for reporters to yell at. The now famous "Tito the Builder" was front and center. Here's what happened.
On October 29, 1991, Senator John McCain went to the floor of the US Senate. The former Navy pilot was angry and disgusted. In recent days, the news had broken that the previous month Navy airmen and others had gone wildengaging in sexual molestation, out-of-control drinking, and other misconductat the Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas, an annual gathering of retired and active-duty naval aviators. "I cannot tell you," McCain proclaimed, "the distaste and displeasure that I have as a naval aviator concerning this incident." He bemoaned the fact that senior ranking naval officers and civilian leaders had been at the meeting. He called for an investigation and urged the Navy to suspend its traditional participation with the Tailhook reunions. "There is no time in the history of this country that something like this is more inappropriate," McCain said, "and we cannot allow it. It is unconscionable. And we in the military...should be ashamed and embarrassed...that this kind of activity went on. And there is no excuse for it."
Now, McCain has placed one of the men responsible for permittingand encouraging-- loutish activity at the Tailhook meetings in a powerful position: heading up his transition team.
McCain recently named John Lehman to oversee his transition effort and figure out how a McCain administration ought to get startedand whom it ought to hire for the most senior jobsshould McCain win the November 4 election. Lehman, now an investment banker, was secretary of the Navy during the 1980s, and he played a R-rated role in the Tailhook scandal.
Lehman was no longer Navy secretary when the Tailhook scandal exploded. But in 1991 and 1992, as military investigators and journalists probed what had happened at the 1991 conventionwhich included the so-called Gauntlet, a line of rowdy and drunk junior officers who harassed and assaulted women passing by--they learned that the events at the Tailhook convention of 1991 were predated by similar behavior in early years. And they discovered that Lehman, as Navy secretary, had been an enthusiastic participant.
In his 1995 book, Fall from Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy, Greg Vistica, the San Diego Union-Tribune reporter who broke the Tailhook scandal, described a scene from the 1986 Tailhook meeting:
When the door to the suite at the Las Vegas Hilton opened, a prominent member of President Ronald Reagan's administration and a naked woman were clearly visible. He was lying on his back, stretched out in front of a throng of naval officers. There were probably one hundred men watching him, laughing with him .
UPDATE: On Sunday, Colin Powell did endorse Barack Obam. Appearing on Meet The Press, he presented an eloquent statement of support in which he hailed Obama's "transformational" role, leadership ability, and intellectual curiosity. Powell emphasized that he believed that John McCain, his longtime friend, could be a good president, but he maintained that the GOP has become too much in hock to its right-wing base and that Sarah Palin was not at all ready to be president. Despite Powell's tarnished reputation--due to his starring role in the Iraq WMD fiasco--his unequivocal endorsement is a boost for Obama and yet one more problem for McCain. The below piece was written before Powell did the deed, but note Larry Wilkerson's explanation of the timing of Powell's endorsement. In this instance--unlike when he backed Bush's invasion of Iraq--Powell stuck to the Powell Doctrine, at least the Powell Doctrine of Decision-making....
With NBC News reporting that Colin Powell will appear on Meet the Press this Sunday, speculation is mounting that former Republican secretary of state will endorse Barack Obama for president. Politicoreports
Retired Gen. Colin Powell, once considered a potential running mate for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now may endorse his opponent, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), according to Republican sources. But an air of mystery surrounds Powell's planned live appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," and no one is sure what he will say.
Note the use of the word "may."
Predicting the most anticipated endorsement of the 2008 campaign has been a pundit standby for months. In June, Robert Novak asserted, "Powell probably will enter Obama's camp at a time of his own choosing." In August Bill Kristol declared that Powell would endorse Obama at the Democratic convention and "quite possibly" speak at the convention. Last week, Lawrence O'Donnell wrote, "It now seems beyond doubt that Colin Powell will endorse Barack Obama and thereby hammer the final nail in the coffin of the Republican campaign to hold onto the White House." He cited no sources.
Will Powell take the leap this weekend? In tracking the Powell story these past few months, I have periodically checked in with Larry Wilkerson, who was Powell's chief of staff at the State Department and who had worked with Powell in a variety of positions going back to 1989. Wilkerson always said the same thing: with Powell, it's all about the 60-percent rule--that is, the general manner in which he makes big decisions. Wilkerson explains:
With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, time is running out on the rightwing effort to delegitimize Barack Obama. At the last debate between John McCain and Obama, McCain finally confronted his opponent directly with the Bill Ayers charge. It was a half-hearted effort: he noted that he didn't "care about an old washed-up terrorist" but insisted that "we need to know the full extent" of Obama's relationship with the former Weather Underground radical, who has since become an education expert. Though McCain succeeded in appeasing conservatives who demanded he pounce on the Ayers matter, the polling evidence has indicated that whining about Obama's casual association with Ayers has not yet become a winning tactic for McCain and Republicans trying to depict Obama as an untrustworthy pol outside the American mainstream. But Ayers is not the only ammo for rightwingers striving to brand Obama as anti-American. Various conservatives are pushing other lines of attack to achieve this goal. And as they mount various ploys, their desperation is showing. Here are some of the last-minute blasts being waged by conservatives hoping to convince voters that they ought to be afraid--very afraid--of Obama:
Mohamed Atta's Driver License. An outfit called the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee has sent out an email to potential conservative donors calling Obama "dangerous" and boasting that it has hit on the killer issue that "will nail him." That issue: Obama supports allowing undocumented aliens to obtain driver's licenses. This means, the group says, that the next Mohamed Atta could obtain a valid driver's license--and somehow make use of it in a plot to kill thousands of Americans. "We are days away from our new TV ad exposing Obama's support for driver's licenses for illegals," the email says. Message: Obama doesn't understand the dangers facing the country and will help terrorists conspiring to destroy the United States.
Obama is a Socialist. McCain came close to saying this at that final debate, when he derided Obama for wanting to "spread the wealth" and maintained that Obama's plan to raise taxes on the well-to-do to help finance tax cuts for the middle class was "class warfare." But McCain did not use the S-word. Others are not so reticent. Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com and a founder of the modern conservative movement, proposes that Obama be slammed in a simple manner. "The Obama economic policy," he says, "can be summed up in two words: Marxism/Socialism." In Viguerie's view, the McCain campaign and others must reveal that Obama wants to "re-make America along the lines of socialist countries in Europe, most of which are headed toward collapse." Drop the S-bomb, he urges. Message: Obama is a commie who hates the rich and wants to kill the American Dream.
Obama Is a Secret Muslim Plotting With an Evil Billionaire.Human Events, a leading conservative magazine, sent out a promotional email the other day for an anti-Obama book co-written by Floyd Brown, a conservative activist infamous for having cooked up the Willie Horton ad during the 1988 presidential election. The email notes that there are "many Islamofascists who are sworn to the destruction of America" who are "actively campaigning for Obama" and that Muslims would demand and receive "special rights" from a President Obama. The email asks, "Being a Black Muslim doesn't disqualify [Obama] from running for President, so why won't he be honest about it?" In other words, yep, he's a covert Muslim. But beyond circulating this canard, the email claims that George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire financier who has supported Democratic and liberal causes, is "planning to sack the US economy, make himself billions richer, and put Obama in the White House marching to his mad tune." Message: A black Muslim in league with an evil Jewish billionaire--you do the math.
Obama Is Fronting for Islamic Jihadists. Writing in The Washington Times this week, former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, charges that Obama's campaign has received "between $30 million and $100 million" from the Mideast, Africa and other places [where] Islamists are active." He asserts it "seems likely" that "these funds come not only from Wahhabis, Muslim Brotherhood types and jihadists of other stripes but from non-U.S. citizens." (His evidence? Don't be so picky.) Gaffney adds that "Obama hopes to win the White House by relying, in part, on the Jihadist vote." He writes: "The next three weeks afford the American people--and the media, the courts and the [Federal Elections Commission]--an opportunity to get to the bottom of Barack Obama's ties to and affinity for jihadists who have their own reasons for relishing his promise of 'change]' for this country. Unfortunately, the change his Islamists supporters have in mind is for global theocratic rule under Shariah, and the end of our constitutional, democratic government." Message: Obama will destroy Christianity in the United States and enslave you within an Islamic dictatorship.
A political campaign can be like a rock slide. At some point, it's just going to continue in the direction it's heading--and not much can stop it. After the final debate between Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, it may well be that the 2008 presidential contest has reached not the tipping point, but that rock slide point. This is not a prediction of a pro-Obama avalanche on November 4--though that's a possibility. It's merely an observation that the campaign may be done in the sense that there are no major inputs to come (barring a bolt-from-the-blue event) that will affect the final tally. Polls will show that there are still some undecided voters out there. (Who are these people?) But whatever's going to determine this election--economic concerns, a desire for change, racism, you name it--is probably already in place, and the candidates may not be able to alter this, at least not in a proactive manner. Certainly, at any time, either can turn the race upside down by saying or doing something particularly dopey.
Neither got dopey on Wednesday night. McCain even had his best (or his least unsuccessful) debate performance, but it was no--damn, I hate this cliché--game changer. McCain was more aggressive than in the previous face-offs, and he finally dared to challenge Barack Obama directly on the--drum roll, please--Bill Ayers Question. But there was this: viewers watching McCain's reaction shots during the evening could have easily wondered if the Republican presidential nominee would make it to the finish without his head exploding, for he seemed to be in the midst of an exercise in anger control.
Prior to the debate, there was much chatter about whether McCain would play the Ayers card. Judging from video of his recent rallies, it appeared that his base was demanding blood on this front. But polls indicated that these sorts of attacks have been hurting McCain with in-the-middle voters. So he faced a tough decision: ignore Ayers and upset the diehards or accuse Obama of being a pal of a domestic terrorist and alienate the indies.
McCain and his strategists came up with a hybrid approach: take a shot on the Ayers front and combine it with a traditional political assault. "I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist," McCain huffed, but then he went on to say, "we need to know the full extent of that relationship." Huh? If you don't care about Ayers, why do you care about the relationship? And why repeat the false claim that Obama launched his first political campaign within Ayer's living room?
This was essentially McCain's love letter to the GOP base. ("Now get off my case, okay?") More important, he attached it to his true attack of the night: Obama will raise your taxes. After quickly running through his Ayers index cards, McCain noted, "My campaign is about getting this economy back on track...I'm not going to raise taxes the way Senator Obama wants to raise taxes." In what was probably the last big moment of the campaign before Election Day, McCain offered this meta-argument: Obama is a liberal tax-and-spend Democrat, and I'm a conservative. (He left off the Republican part.)