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.
I was asked to appear on Hardball on Friday to discuss John McCain's week--that is, his very bad week. It's been tough to keep track of all that's gone wrong for him--all the self-inflicted wounds--in recent days. So I made a cheat sheet. Here it is.
* McCain adviser Phil Gramm remark: Americans who worry about the economy are "whiners" and there's no problem with the economy, just a "mental recession." McCain response: Gramm doesn't speak for me. But, um, that day Gramm was speaking for McCain, explaining McCain's economic policies to the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
* Called the fundamental funding mechanism of Social Security a "disgrace," essentially attacking the whole program.
* Released list of 300 economists who supposedly support his economic plan. Guess what? Not all of them do.
* Became visibly uncomfortable when asked whether health plans that cover Viagara should also cover birth control for women (after McCain surrogate/adviser Carly Fiorina raised this issue).
* Joked about killing Iranians with cigarette imports.
Phil Gramm is in the headlines today--being slammed by Democrats and disavowed by the McCain campaign--for complaining to The Washington Times that "we have sort of become a nation of whiners." Gramm, who chairs John McCain's campaign and who advises the presumptive Republican nominee on economic matters, pooh-poohed talk of a recession: "You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession." The former Republican Senator and current vice president of Swiss bank UBS dismissed talk of US economic woes and declared, "We've never been more dominant; we've never had more natural advantages than we have today. We have benefited greatly" from globalization.
Predictably, liberal bloggers and Democrats blasted Gramm for being out of touch with the real world. The McCain camp initially stood by their man but then distanced itself from Gramm's remarks, with a McCain spokesman saying, "Gramm's comments are not representative of John McCain's views."
But as this tempest was under way, another Gramm story went little noticed: a top McCain aide indirectly implicated Gramm in the current economic mess.
On Thursday, Portfolio magazine released an interview with Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who is now a top adviser and surrogate for McCain. In that article interviewer Lloyd Grove asked Fiorina "who and/or what is to blame for the souring economy?" Her answer:
Following up on my piece suggesting that the McCain campaign screens the reporters it allows to ask questions during the conference calls it holds for the media, Talking Points Memo pressed the McCain camp to respond. (The campaign refused to reply to my queries.) The McCain campaign reply, as TPM reports, is hardly a slam dunk.
First, Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesperson, told TPM that the McCain aides and surrogates on the conference calls never know "the questions before they're asked." That, of course, is not the issue. The question is whether the campaign blocks certain reporters from asking questions. Rogers, according to TPM, offered no straightforward, we-do-not-screen declaration. Nor did he explain why there is always a very long pause during the calls after the speakers have finished and before the campaign begins to field questions from the reporters listening in.
"You've been on calls," Rogers told TPM. "We take on all comers." But as TPM notes--backing up the initial story--"more of the questions that do end up getting asked come from friendly news outlets." And TPM adds that its own reporter-blogger, Eric Kleefeld, "has frequently tried to ask a question [on the conference calls] and has never gotten through."
All in all, not a very convincing denial from the McCain campaign.
John McCain has cultivated the rep of a politician unafraid of questions. When he campaigned for president in 2000, he often hung out with reporters on his bus and fielded questions until the journalists were out of queries. In the 2008 campaign, as he did eight years earlier, McCain has held town hall meetings during which he called on attendees who were obviously not McCain supporters. (It was during one such exchange that McCain said it would be "fine" by him if U.S. troops remained in Iraq for "a hundred years.") So why then does it seem that the McCain campaign has been screening questioners during the conference calls featuring campaign aides and top-level surrogates it mounts for reporters?
For two days in a row, The Washington Post has front-paged bad news on Afghanistan. First, the paper reported,
June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war there began in late 2001, as resilient and emboldened insurgents have stepped up attacks in an effort to gain control of the embattled country.
Defense officials and Afghanistan experts said the toll of 28 U.S. combat deaths recorded last month demonstrates a new resurgence of the Taliban, the black-turbaned extremists who were driven from power by U.S. forces almost seven years ago. Taliban units and other insurgent fighters have reconstituted in the country's south and east, aided by easy passage from mountain redoubts in neighboring Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.
The nation's top military officer said yesterday that more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to tamp down an increasingly violent insurgency, but that the Pentagon does not have sufficient forces to send because they are committed to the war in Iraq.
It appears that the war in Afghanistan is going less well than the war in Iraq these days. And that is bad news in particular for John McCain.
Barack Obama, of course, has argued that invading Iraq was a profound error and distracted the U.S. government and military from finishing the job in Afghanistan. The above-referenced testimony from Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports that argument. With Mullen saying that the Iraq war has undermined the Afghanistan effort, how might McCain's respond to the charge that he and other supporters of the Iraq war undercut the mission in Afghanistan?