Grassroots Democrats who are giddy at the prospect of taking on John McCain might be wise to consult the results of two new national polls.
The general assumption, on the blue side of the national divide, is that McCain is highly vulnerable because he has so vigorously aided and abetted the biggest foreign policy disaster of our generation, thereby making it easy for Democrats to brand Iraq as a "Bush-McCain" production. After all, as the polls have noted for several years now, most voters view the war as a mistake, and believe that Bush's sales pitch was fraudulent.
And yet, the latest New York Times-CBS News survey tells a far more nuanced story. Despite McCain's staunch cheerleading for the war; and despite the fact that he has suggested that U.S. troops may have to remain in Iraq for 100 years; and despite the fact that senior Pentagon figures are publicly complaining that our military is being dangerously stretched because of the war, 58 percent of the surveyed registered voters said, nevertheless, that they have confidence in McCain to make the right decisions about Iraq. That's one point higher than Barack Obama (whose antiwar stance is supposedly more in sync with general public sentiment), and eight points higher than Hillary Clinton.
In the same poll, 56 percent said they had confidence in McCain's ability to deal wisely in an international crisis. That's nine points higher than Obama, and 17 points higher than Clinton. And when asked whether McCain "would be an effective commander in chief of the nation's military," 80 percent said yes. That's 11 points higher than Obama, and 26 points higher than Clinton.
The latest Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows similar results. Among independent voters - who have been strongly antiwar for the past 18 months - the hawkish McCain is still viewed more favorably than either Obama or Clinton. When all respondents were asked which candidate would best protect the country from terrorists, McCain beat Obama by 37 percentage points. When asked who has the "right experience" to be president, McCain beat Obama by 31 points. When asked who would "best handle the situation in Iraq," McCain still won, beating Obama by 13 points.
This tells us several things: (1) Voters' base-line respect for McCain's character trumps whatever string disagreements they may have with his Iraq stance. And (2) Democrats who are pumped for the autumn election would be well advised not to pop the champagne corks prematurely, because McCain's abiding popularity among independents could make some of the blue states more competitive. In other words, this race could be very close.
Speaking of McCain, his new best friend is John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. McCain flew into town the other day to garner Hagee's endorsement, and said how proud he was to receive it. No doubt McCain believes that Hagee will give him some evangelical street cred with recalitrant Christian conservatives.
But here's a sampling of what Hagee really believes. In his 2005 book, entitled "What Every Man Wants in a Woman," Hagee wrote this: "Do you know the difference between a woman with PMS and a snarling Doberman pinscher? The answer is lipstick. Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a woman with PMS? You can negotiate with a terrorist." And he wrote in 1992 that the feminist movement was "a rebellion against God's pattern for the family."
During an NPR interview in 2006, Hagee blamed gay people for Hurricane Katrina: "All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are -- were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing. I know that there are people who demur from that, but I believe that the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the day of judgment. And I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans."
In that same interview, he also said that all Muslims, by definition, are enemies of America because "those who live by the Koran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews." But apparently only some Christians are acceptable; in other venues, Hagee has taken aim at the Catholic Church, calling it "The Great Whore," and a "false cult."
So here's what I want to know: Given the fact that Hagee has made insulting remarks about women, gays, Muslims, and Catholics, are McCain's friends in the media going to insist that he denounce and reject Hagee, just as Obama was asked this week to denounce and reject Louis Farrakhan?
Update...Here's what McCain said today: He lauds some of Hagee's ideas, but "that does not mean that I support or endorse or agree with some of the things that Hagee might have said or positions that he may have taken on other issues. I don’t have to agree with everyone who endorses my candidacy. They are supporting my candidacy. I am not endorsing some of their positions."
I guess that counts as a semi-denunciation.
The Clintonian spin these days is downright dizzying. For weeks, Hillary's people (starting with the First Spouse) had been telling us that the candidate absolutely needs to score solid victories in Texas and Ohio next Tuesday in order to remain viable. But today they have moved the goalposts. Now they're telling us that if Obama doesn't score solid victories in those states, as well as in the two minor contests (Rhode Island and Vermont), it means that he is the one in trouble. Here's the word, from strategist/pollster/spinner Mark Penn:
"Should Senator Obama fail to score decisive victories with all of the resources and effort he is bringing to bear, the message will be clear: Democrats, the majority of whom have favored Hillary in the primary contests held to date, have their doubts about Senator Obama and are having second thoughts about him as a prospective standard-bearer."
In other words, they're trying to establish a rationale for staying in the race even if they extend their losing streak to 15 consecutive contests. It now appears that they're prepared to say, in essence, "Obama may have beaten us by a few points in some of these states, but since we don't consider those results to be decisive, we will soldier on."
Or, as Bill might have said it, "It all depends on what the meaning of the word decisive is."