News & Current Affairs

September 3, 2008

Profile: John McCain

Profile: John McCain

McCain is a divisive figure within his own Republican
party [GALLO/GETTY]

A decorated Vietnam war hero who spent more than five years as a war prisoner, McCain’s successful bid for the Republican nomination had marked his second attempt to run for the White House.

But his success is a remarkable turnaround for the Arizona senator, who until recently was not viewed as a serious contender.

A self-proclaimed straight talker whose bluntness and at times unconventional style have both frustrated and appealed to would be voters, McCain is a divisive figure within his own party, to the extent that some have claimed they will not vote for him.

And some have pointed to both this rocky relationship and his age – at 71 he will be America’s oldest ever president –  as major obstacles on the road to the Oval Office.

Vietnam ordeal

McCain [here with Richard Nixon] spent years
in Vietnam POW camps
[Getty Images]

McCain comes from a family with a long military history – both his father and grandfather served as US navy admirals.

McCain himself joined the navy in 1958, beginning a 22-year long naval career marked most notably by his decision to volunteer for service in the Vietnam war.

It was a momentous decision. In October 1967 during a bombing mission, McCain’s plane was shot down by a missile.

He ejected but was injured in the process, breaking both his arms and his leg.

Captured by north Vietnamese soldiers, he was taken prisoner and held at several prisons for five and a half years, often enduring torture by his captors. He still bears physical scars from his ordeal.

Most notably, though he was offered an early release by the North Vietnamese, McCain declined because he did not want to be seen as receiving preferential treatment.

On his return, McCain decided to enter politics, becoming first a naval liaison for the US senate, then a congressman for Arizona before entering the senate in 1987.

Hawkish policies

“Tehran must understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world”

John McCain

On foreign policy, many prospective voters were unnerved by a comment McCain made while campaigning in which he said he believed US forces should stay in Iraq for 100 years if necessary.

“I oppose a pre-emptive withdrawal strategy that has no Plan B for the aftermath of its inevitable failure and the greater problems that would ensue,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine.

However, McCain has criticised US military strategy in Iraq, saying that by failing to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy the US and the Iraqi people had paid a “dear price”.He is also a firm opponent of the use of torture. However, he recently voted against a senate bill which would have banned the controversial interrogation method of waterboarding widely viewed as torture.

McCain also advocates building up Israel militarily and isolating Hamas, while using every resource available “to aid moderate Muslims … who are resisting the well-financed campaign of extremism that is tearing Muslim societies apart”, he added.

On Iran, McCain is hawkish, describing the nation as the world’s “chief state sponsor of terrorism” and advocating all options, including possible military action, against the Islamic Republic should it continue with its nuclear program.

“Tehran must understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world,” he wrote.

However, an embarrassing gaffe during a visit to Jordan in March, in which he wrongly accused Iran, a predominantly Shia nation, of aiding Sunni al-Qaeda fighters, led to questions about whether his foreign affairs experience was as solid as he claimed.

Polarising figure

McCain was left embittered after his 2000
nomination battle with Bush[EPA]

McCain remains a polarising figure within the Republican party.

On domestic issues McCain is known for being willing to “cross the floor” and work with Democrats, particularly on the matters of campaign finance and on immigration – co-sponsoring a bi-partisan bill which would have offered an amnesty to illegal immigrants.

This has caused suspicion amongst some of the more traditionalist members of the Republican party, who consider him too moderate on social issues such as immigration.

McCain’s response has been to aggressively tout his conservative credentials while out on the road campaigning for the nomination, attempting to strike a delicate balance by reaching out to centrists who may be wooed to vote for him while at the same time striving not to upset evangelicals or more right-wing members of the Republican party.

Past controversies

Two decades ago, McCain and four other senators were accused of trying to influence banking regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, a savings financier later convicted of securities fraud.

The Senate Ethics Committee decided that McCain had used “poor judgment” but that his actions ‘were not improper” and did not deserve punishment.

In 2000 McCain ran against George Bush, losing after a controversial nomination race in which scurrilous accusations against him implied erroneously he had fathered an illegitimate African-American child.

The experience, he later acknowledged, left him angry – although his relationship with Bush has since thawed.

Nonetheless, sensitised by the slurs against him in the 2000 nomination campaign, McCain set up a “South Carolina truth squad’ to rebut allegations that he had “sold out” prisoners of war.

In February, he also denied a New York Times report that suggested he had a romantic relationship with a Washington lobbyist.

However, with the potential slings and arrows of a major presidential campaign, McCain may face more of the same in the future.

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August 29, 2008

Obama launches historic campaign

Obama launches historic campaign

Barack Obama has accepted the Democratic Party’s historic nomination to run for president of the US in front of a crowd of some 75,000 people.

In an address at the party’s national convention in Denver, he promised he would do his best to keep alive the American dream of opportunity for all.

“America, we are better than these last eight years,” he told cheering crowds. “We are a better country than this.”

Mr Obama is the first African-American to be nominated by a major US party.

In his speech at Denver’s Invesco stadium, Mr Obama promised to reverse the economic downturn afflicting the US and restore the nation’s standing in the world.

I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom
Barack Obama

“We are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight years,” he said.

He also attacked the record of the Bush administration and his Republican rival for the presidency, John McCain.

“This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st Century, the American promise alive.”

Mr Obama criticized Mr McCain as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans and said he had failed to help them on issues such as the economy, health care and education.

He also stressed that he would call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, whereas Mr McCain stood “alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war”, he said.

“I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, who yearn for a better future,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people gathered to hear Mr Obama’s speech

He rejected criticism by the McCain campaign that he is a “celebrity”, pointing to his family’s past financial hardships, and said his rival should stop questioning his patriotism.

In a final rallying call, Mr Obama recalled the message of Martin Luther King, who – 45 years ago to the day – gave his “I have a dream” speech in his historic march on Washington.

“America, we cannot turn back,” he said. “We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to walk into the future.”

Joined on stage by his family and running-mate, Joe Biden, Mr Obama was given a standing ovation by the crowds.

‘Not ready’

Earlier in the day, Mr McCain ran a TV advert in which he congratulated Mr Obama on the historic nature – and date – of his nomination, saying it was “truly a good day for America”.

The political truce was short-lived, however, with a spokesman for the McCain campaign issuing a statement following Mr Obama’s address that dismissed his words as “misleading”.

Al Gore speaks at Invesco Field, Denver, 28 Aug
If you like the Bush-Cheney approach, John McCain’s your man. If you want change, then vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden
Former Vice-President Al Gore

“Tonight, Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meagre record of Barack Obama,” spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

“The fact remains, Barack Obama is still not ready to be president.”

The BBC’s Justin Webb in Denver says that this needed to be a serious speech by Mr Obama and it was.

One feature was that Mr Obama made frequent reference to the future, our correspondent says. The Obama camp knows that Americans are worried about Mr McCain’s age and ever so subtly they are making an allusion to it.

Martin Luther King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, had earlier told the convention that his father’s dream lived on in Mr Obama’s candidacy.

“He is in the hopes and dreams, the competence and courage, the rightness and readiness of Barack Obama.”

Former Vice-President Al Gore also called on the Democrats to “seize this opportunity for change” and elect Mr Obama.

Linking Mr McCain firmly to the policies of President George W Bush, Mr Gore said it was vital that Americans changed course if they wanted to tackle a “self-inflicted economic crisis”, protect the rights of every American and halt global warming.

Mr Gore added that the US was “facing a planetary emergency” and that the ties of Mr McCain and the Republicans to big oil firms meant they would not act to end the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

‘Open convention’

Mr Gore’s address, warmly received by the crowd, followed performances from singers Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow and John Legend.

The Obama campaign took the unusual move of holding the closing night speeches in the sports stadium to allow ordinary voters, as well as party delegates, to attend.

Justin Webb
His supporters and those sympathetic to him are breathing a sigh of relief
BBC North America editor Justin Webb, on the Obama nomination

Mr Obama’s much-anticipated appearance was the highlight of the party’s carefully choreographed four-day event.

Questions remain as to whether Mr Obama can cement his standing within his own party, and reach out to those parts of the electorate that are yet to be convinced by him, the BBC’s Matthew Price in Denver notes.

He was resoundingly endorsed by ex-President Bill Clinton on Wednesday, which may help consolidate his standing.

Earlier that same day, in a moment of high drama, his defeated rival Hillary Clinton cut short a roll-call vote to endorse Mr Obama’s candidacy by acclamation, in a powerful gesture of unity.

The presidential election on 4 November will pit Mr Obama against Mr McCain, who will be nominated next week at his party’s convention in St Paul, Minnesota.

Republican officials say Mr McCain has chosen his running-mate, but the person’s identity has not yet been announced.

Mr McCain is due to hold a 10,000-strong rally in the swing state of Ohio on Friday, at which it was expected he would present his vice-presidential candidate.

August 28, 2008

Democrats await key Obama speech

Democrats await key Obama speech

Barack Obama looks around the Denver stadium where he is due to accept the Democratic nomination for president, 27 August, 2008

Mr Obama has been preparing for the historic nomination acceptance speech

Barack Obama is set to address US Democrats at the party’s national convention, a day after being chosen as their candidate for the White House.

Mr Obama, the first African-American to be nominated for president by a major US party, will formally accept his historic candidacy in Denver, Colorado.

On Wednesday, he was resoundingly endorsed by ex-President Bill Clinton.

Mr Obama’s speech comes on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a dream” address.

The Illinois senator has won over many critics, analysts say, and is aiming to consolidate his standing within his party.

Hours before her husband publicly gave Mr Obama his unequivocal backing at the convention, in a moment of high drama his defeated rival Hillary Clinton cut short a roll-call vote to endorse Mr Obama’s candidacy by acclamation.

Coronation grandeur

Former Vice-President Al Gore is also due to speak on Thursday, along with Democratic National Committee Chairman Governor Howard Dean, but the focus will be on Mr Obama.

His much-anticipated speech, scheduled for 2015 (0215 GMT), will be the highlight of the party’s carefully choreographed four-day convention.

It is likely to have all the pomp and grandeur of a coronation.

It is only four years since the would-be president gave a headline-making speech at the previous Democratic Convention.

Questions remain as to whether Mr Obama can cement his standing within his own party, and reach out to those parts of the electorate that are yet to be convinced by him, our correspondent notes.

‘New approach’

Mr Obama made a surprise appearance on stage on Wednesday after his running mate, Senator Joe Biden, accepted his own nomination for vice-president in a speech that was sharply critical of the Republican candidate, John McCain.

Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States
Former President Bill Clinton

“We want to open up this convention to make sure that everybody who wants to come can join in the party, and join in the effort to take America back,” he said.

Mr Biden stressed the need for a new approach to help Americans struggling to make ends meet and to change US foreign policy in the rest of the world.

The 65-year-old foreign policy expert was chosen as vice-presidential candidate by 47-year-old Mr Obama partly on account of his experience.

Clinton factor

In an address that was bound to be closely scrutinized for signs of discord, Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, struck a firmly conciliatory note and stressed that he believed Mr Obama was ready to be president.

He said he was proud of his wife, Hillary – who had battled Mr Obama for the Democratic nomination – but that her supporters should now back Mr Obama.

Justin Webb
It was stunning – a moment of brilliantly produced political theatre and a moment to cherish forever
BBC North America editor Justin Webb, on the Obama nomination

“Barack Obama is ready to honour the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” said Mr Clinton. “Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States.”

In American political parlance Mr Clinton “delivered”, and may now find himself playing a higher-profile role in the campaign to come.

Earlier, Mrs Clinton had halted a roll call vote – in which each state, in alphabetical order, declares how many votes were cast for each candidate in the primaries – to call for Mr Obama’s nomination by acclamation.

In a powerful show of unity, she said: “Let’s declare together in one voice, right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate.”

The presidential election on 4 November will pit Mr Obama against Mr McCain, who will be nominated next week at his party’s convention in Minneapolis-St Paul.

The Republican senator has said he has chosen his vice-presidential candidate, and US media reports the running partners will appear together at a 10,000-strong rally in the swing state of Ohio on Friday.

August 27, 2008

Clinton urges party to back Obama

Clinton urges party to back Obama

Hillary Clinton urges her supporters to get behind Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton has called on Democrats to unite behind Barack Obama as the party’s presidential candidate, saying she was his “proud supporter”.

Speaking at the party’s nominating convention, Mrs Clinton said they could not afford to lose to the Republicans.

“Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose.”

Mr Obama, who beat Mrs Clinton in the primary race, will formally accept the party’s nomination on Thursday night.

He will stand against Republican John McCain in the presidential election on 4 November.

Mrs Clinton, who was given a standing ovation as she took the stage, thanked those who supported her through her campaign but said Mr Obama was now “my candidate”.

The party could not afford “to see another Republican in the White House squander the promise of our country and the hopes of our people”, she said.

“We are on the same team and none of us can sit on the sidelines,” she said.

She described Mr McCain as “my colleague and my friend” but went on to attack his record and links with President George W Bush.

“We don’t need four more years of the last eight years,” she said.

‘Deep faith’

Giving the convention’s keynote speech beforehand, ex-Virginia Governor Mark Warner said Mr Obama was the leader the US needed in the “race for the future”.

“We need a president who understands the world today, the future we seek, and the change we need,” he said.

We need a President who understands the world today, the future we seek, and the change we need
Mark Warner
Former Governor of Virginia

Key excerpts: Mark Warner

“We need Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.”

He also attacked Republican presidential contender John McCain as promising “more of the same” as the Bush administration.

Mr Warner is running for a Senate seat in Virginia, targeted as an important swing state by the Democrats in the November elections.

He commented on the daunting prospect of speaking after the last convention keynote speaker – Mr Obama in 2004 – and before Mrs Clinton in 2008, but said Americans should let hope replace fear.

“Tonight, looking out at all of you, and with a deep faith in the character and resolve of the American people, I am more confident than ever that we will win that race and make the future ours,” he concluded.

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean sought earlier to dampen criticism that the convention so far had been too soft on Mr McCain, saying there was still “plenty of time” for tough-talking.

He also played down suggestions of a rift between supporters of Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton, saying there was “not a unity problem”.

Personal tensions

Mrs Clinton had already thrown her political weight behind Mr Obama and dismissed suggestions that the party is divided.
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But opinion polls had indicated that despite her repeated statements of support for Mr Obama, many of her supporters said they would rather vote for Mr McCain than for her former rival.

The BBC’s Jamie Coomarasamy, in Denver, says her many supporters seem divided between those who are, however reluctantly, supporting Mr Obama and those who say they may vote for Senator McCain.

Terry McAuliffe, who was the chairman of Mrs Clinton’s campaign, told the BBC: “Every single night we need to be laying out why John McCain’s bad for America.
John McCain speaks to veterans in Phoenix, Arizona, 26 Aug 2008
Some Democrats feel the party needs to focus its attack on Mr McCain

“Bush is the worst president in our nation’s history. We need to remind people every single day, and John McCain is nothing but Bush’s third term.”

A poll from CNN/Opinion Research Corp suggests that American voters are evenly divided between Mr Obama and Mr McCain, at 47% each.

Mr McCain is due to be nominated next week at the Republican Party’s convention in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota.

He campaigned in Arizona on Tuesday, telling veterans that Mr Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and preference for multilateral diplomacy could undermine US leadership in the world.

On the attack

While the first night of the convention was devoted to fleshing out the life story of Barack Obama, Tuesday was billed as “Renewing America’s Promise” and featured political heavyweights, including state governors and prominent House and Senate leaders.

Iowa Governor Chet Culver used his time on the convention floor to suggest big oil firms were backing Mr McCain, “bankrolling his campaign and gambling with our future”.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, also attacked Mr McCain’s energy policy, suggesting he was more interested in giving tax cuts to oil firms than in safeguarding the environment.

CONVENTION AGENDA
Tuesday: Hillary Clinton speech; keynote speech by former Virginia governor Mark Warner
Wednesday: Speeches by Bill Clinton and Joe Biden; vote to confirm Barack Obama as party’s candidate
Thursday: Barack Obama to accept nomination with speech in stadium

Convention programme
Voters’ views on the convention
Convention diary

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said: “John McCain offers four more years of the same Bush-Cheney policies that have failed us.”

Mrs Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, takes the stage on Wednesday night, when Mr Obama is to be formally nominated.

Democratic officials are said to have brokered a deal between the Obama and Clinton camps for the nomination that is meant to appease die-hard Clinton supporters.

Some states would be allowed to cast votes for both Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton on Wednesday before the roll call is ended with the unanimous nomination of Barack Obama.

The first African-American to be nominated as a US presidential candidate, he makes his appearance on the closing night of the conference, when he is to address a crowd of an expected 80,000 people at a sports stadium.

After being attacked as a “celebrity” by the McCain campaign, the Democrats used the opening night of the convention to try to show the Illinois senator as a family man with normal concerns.

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