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Political postures, empty symbols

September 30, 2008

Re "McCain resurrects an old stunt," Opinion, Sept. 26

Most of Sen. John McCain's campaign for president has featured the kind of political stunts that Matt Welch cites in his Times Op-Ed article.

It's clear that McCain's most recent stunt backfired on him, because he did participate in the first presidential debate even though no bailout agreement had been reached. Suspicions about his real reason for attempting to escape the debate and find sanctuary in Washington linger. McCain, who is behind in the polls, cannot have thought he would do well in these debates, which pit a man who graduated second to last in his Naval Academy class of nearly 900 midshipmen against a man who graduated at the top of his Harvard Law class, taught constitutional law and was president of the Harvard Law Review.

McCain, who seems to confuse leadership qualities with political posturing, may have finally figured out that his talking points do not serve him well in televised debates because he's facing an excellent extemporaneous speaker who has a layered understanding of the issues.

But, of course, the biggest stunt McCain has pulled is his choice of running mate. Tapping Sarah Palin was the most irresponsible and cynical political ploy I've ever seen a presidential candidate make, and it is a stunt that belies McCain's campaign motto of "country first."

John R. Johnson

Encino

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Welch's column was fascinating in that nearly everything he dislikes about McCain has been evident in Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency.

"Empty symbols" have been Obama's stock and trade since he began his campaign last year. The "showy moral vanity" that Welch attributes to McCain has been apparent in Obama's rhetoric in each and every one of his vacuous calls for change.

When Welch talks about the "elements of [McCain's] record that key parts of his coalition despise," he cites campaign finance reform (known, by the way, as McCain-Feingold) and sneers that it was not even mentioned by his own party at the convention that nominated him. Doesn't that in and of itself epitomize his status as a maverick?

What about his attempt at comprehensive immigration reform, which still generates hostility from inside the GOP? When has Obama ever shown a fraction of that kind of independence?

Edward S. Reisman

Santa Monica

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