John McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy near the bottom of his class: 894 out of 899. This sad performance should not in itself disqualify him for the presidency. What should disqualify him are attitudes that put him at the bottom of the class in our nation's continuing education about decency and justice.
Social change sometimes takes the form of a bell curve. The change starts with a small number of people, then larger numbers are won over. In time the majority of people endorse the change. Those who do not become an increasingly smaller part of the population until opposition to the change practically disappears. John McCain keeps company with people whose views on race and justice are dangerously outdated. They--and he, so it seems--are at the bottom of the class on these ethical issues.
Irwin A. Tang's new book, Gook: John McCain's Racism and Why It Matters (The it Works / Paul Revere Press) provides evidence for this. Tang reveals connections between American militarism and racist attitudes throughout the last century. He helps those of us who are not Asian American sense the racism that people of Asian background have encountered and still encounter in the United States.
Tang is also helpful when he points to the ugly attitudes and actions of specific people who support John McCain and are supported by him. In response to public exposure, McCain has banished several such people from official roles in his campaign, but the fact remains that he was happy to have them on board before the political price became too great. What role they continue to play in his career remains unclear.
One of these folks is Richard Quinn, a long-time associate of McCain who serves as a paid strategist for him in South Carolina. Tang identifies Quinn as "a life-long white supremacist" who has served as editor-in-chief of The Southern Partisan, "an anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-gay journal" with ties with the Holocaust-denial movement. This magazine described the first Grand Wizard of the KKK as a "superhero," Nelson Mandela as a "bad egg," and feminism as "a revolt against God." Quinn was also McCain's chief strategist in South Carolina during his 2000 presidential campaign. The state campaign was headquartered in a building owned by Quinn that also housed the offices of The Southern Partisan.
Another of McCain's pals is George Wallace, Jr., son of the late governor of Alabama. Wallace ran in the 2005 Republican primary for lieutenant governor. In June of that year, his speech opened the national convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a major white supremacist group he had addressed on other occasions. Wallace lost the primary, but this was due to no lack of effort on the part of John McCain, who endorsed him and arranged a fundraiser on his behalf. Irwin Tang notes that of the numerous Republicans running for office in recent years, Wallace may be the only one to attend hate group meetings in full public view. Yet McCain went out of his way to support him. Why was this primary of such importance to a man wanting to become president?
John McCain hired a number of former lobbyists to help with his current presidential campaign. One of them was Charlie Black, who lobbied for such notorious dictators as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia, and Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire, each of whom was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in their own countries. Black was also handsomely paid for lobbying on behalf of Jonas Savimbi's Angolan guerilla group UNITA. One Africa specialist has described Savimbi as unique in the history of the continent "because of the degree of suffering he caused without showing any remorse."
Let's not overlook this pair of former Washington lobbyists: Doug Davenport and Doug Goodyear. Davenport was hired as McCain's campaign manager in the mid-Atlantic states, Goodyear as McCain's convention CEO. They lobbied on behalf of the military junta that rules Myanmar, formerly Burma. This junta has killed its enemies and terrorized entire ethnic groups in their country. They have kept Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. And when Cyclone Nargis ravished their country, they prevented food and medicine from reaching millions of people in crisis.
You're known by the company you keep. The company kept by a presidential candidate includes people who will be rewarded with power and position should that candidate be elected.