Shame on McCain

The Jewish Press - Editorial - January 28, 2000

When John McCain first burst on the national scene, he was a breath of fresh air. A decorated war hero and defiant POW, he appeared forthright and uncomplicated, and literally oozed principle.

And when he called for the expulsion of Pat Buchanan - who never seems to have anything positive to say about things Jewish - he caught the attention of Jews across the country. True, he opposed Buchanan on the ground that Buchanan, in his latest book, had insulted the memory of those American soldiers who perished on the battlefield in WWll when he questioned the need for America's participation in that conflict and not, as widely believed, because of the book's cavalier treatment of the Holocaust. But McCain distinguished himself from the other Republican Presidential aspirants by at least coming out on the right side of the issue. But now he seems to have lost his moral compass at some point.

According to an article in Newsweek magazine, McCain seems to have gone out of his way to use the power of his office to help some of his larger campaign contributors. As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, McCain sent a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, urging the agency to speed up its consideration of an application by media mogul Lowell Paxson to take over a public TV station in Pittsburgh. McCain also introduced a bill that would allow Paxson to own more TV stations and wrote several letters on Paxson's behalf to the FCC on other issues. Paxson is a major contributor to McCain s campaign and co-hosted a fund-raiser for him. Paxson also made his corporate jet available to McCain on at least four occasions to fly to campaign appearances.

Newsweek also reports that McCain has written letters to regulatory agencies on behalf of companies that are significant contributors to his campaign. Thus, McCain went to bat for BellSouth in its efforts to get into the lucrative long distance phone business. To be sure, McCain has long supported opening up long-distance competition. But BellSouth employees have contributed at least $30,000 to McCain s campaign. McCain also wrote to the FCC on behalf of a company called Ameritech soon after the CEO of that company held a $l,000-a-person fund-raiser for him. In addition, Newsweek reports, Ameritech employees and their families have contributed $l6,000 to McCain's campaign.

Last week, in "Arrogance On The Left", we noted that Americans for Peace Now had written to McCain urging him not to accept the invitation of the National Unity Coalition a group that has expressed strong opposition to the peace process to attend a briefing on the Middle East. And McCain did not attend, apparently agreeing with APN that Israel's future was not important enough to spend time to hear about serious objections to the Clinton Middle East steamroller.

But what disturbs us most about McCain concerns what happened at his recent meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. When asked whether he was inclined to pardon Jonathan Pollard should he become President, McCain, despite the many issues involved an unprecedented harsh sentence, government reneging on plea bargain, etc., simply slammed the door shut and unequivocally said he thinks Pollard should not be released. End of discussion.

The only explanation given was the familiar refrain that, as a Senator, he was privy to information to which others were not. And it is particularly galling that he would buy into this wooden approach. True, we may not know all that he has access to, that is, the secret factual allegations hinted at by the CIA which were never proven in a court of law and which Pollard never had an opportunity to confront, but we do know what Pollard was charged with an what he pleaded guilty to. And we are quite capable of coming to a reasonable conclusion that he is being singled out for unprecedently harsh treatment.

Unfortunately, as we hear, McCain's comments were met with stony silence. Nobody took him on and engaged him in debate or even discussion. We are reminded that several years ago, during the 1996 Presidential campaign, a delegation from The Jewish Press led by Rabbi Sholom Klass, A H, met with Vice President Gore in a hotel in Manhattan. Rabbi Klass spoke of the two issues that most concerned him: Israel and the continued incarceration of Jonathan Pollard. And Rabbi Klass passionately but carefully explained to a clearly intrigued Vice-President the Jewish concept of lo ta'amod al dam re'echa. (The biblical injunction not to stand idly by your brother's blood.) We would have hoped that at least someone in the room would have been moved to make the same effort with Mr. McCain.