There?s nothing news media loves more than good hypocrisy,
so it?s surprising that one of the choicest bits hasn?t been trotted out now
that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is making headlines again in the primary race.
Irony is a dish best served accidentally, as those who stumble
upon Mr. McCain?s profile on Project Vote Smart?s website vote-smart.org find.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization?s ?Political Courage Test? asks
candidates to indicate their stances on a wide range of issues. Those who fail
to do so get a slap on the wrist-type message. Nothing to make a candidate cry
out in the night, except perhaps in Mr. McCain?s case: ?Senator John Sidney
McCain III repeatedly refused to provide any responses to citizens on issues
through the 2008 Political Courage Test when asked to do so by key national
leaders of both major parties including: John McCain, Republican Senator.?
That?s right, Mr. McCain is a founding member of Project Vote Smart.
Project Vote Smart may not be your first source (or, more to
the point, a source) for information on presidential candidates, and thus Mr.
McCain has little incentive to care about the organization. But you should
care, and you should call on the Arizona senator to set an example for his
fellow candidates. Project Vote Smart offers an invaluable service that is
increasingly hard to find, buried among a seemingly unending avalanche of poll
The Political Courage Test is unique in forcing candidates
to clearly delineate their positions instead of burying them in anecdotes and
vague references to past accomplishments. It?s little wonder that few Americans
tune into the primary debates when candidates only differentiate themselves in
how many canned quips they can get off.
The test is often of little use, however, as candidates in
competitive races bow to the pressure of their campaign managers, wary of the
results being held against them by opponents.
Former Sen. John Edwards is now the only frontrunner out of
the 55 percent of the 202 registered candidates for the 2008 presidential
election who completed the Political Courage Test, and Mr. Edwards only wrote
in careful non-answers to each question instead of picking from the choices.
Several leading candidates including Mr. McCain completed the test in past legislative
elections where they were not in the media spotlight. It is easy to be
courageous when you have nothing to lose.
Project Vote Smart strictly prohibits use of its information
in negative campaign activity but offers no protection for candidates besides
strongly worded press releases if its information is abused. There?s no reason
candidates can?t make a pact to refrain from using Vote Smart?s information in
their campaigning, however. Candidates also rightly should be concerned about
their positions being reduced to answers on a multiple-choice test, but even
Mr. Edwards? write-in answers to every question were illuminating in what he
chose not to comment on.
According to The New York Times? ?Caucus Blog,? the McCain
campaign told Project Vote Smart?s president Richard Kimball that Mr. McCain?s
reply was lost in the shuffle of hiring new campaign staff, and the senator
would turn his survey in late. That was in November.
But Mr. McCain?s negligence is only outrageous in its
extremity; it is a symptom of hundred-million-dollar campaigns and 24-hour
media coverage that rarely rises above horse race commentary. Vote Smart boasts
that more than 200 media organizations are on board to ask candidates to
respond to the test, but few report when candidates refuse, or, more often,
pledge support and fail to actually complete the test. But media silence could
be hiding a steady loss of potential voters, as during the 2004 election
season, Vote Smart?s website garnered 16 million hits a day.
But without a media witch hunt, it?s no surprise that only
three mainstream candidates responded in this election season: Mike Gravel,
Chris Dodd and John Edwards. It is a surprise that Project Vote Smart, with its
consistent finger-shaking rhetoric, points out Mr. McCain?s unique position
among the dishonored only incidentally. Whether out of propriety or
embarrassment, the restraint is laudable. Let?s hope Mr. McCain, in return,
makes good on his promise, and encourages his fellow candidates to follow suit.
Tim Williams ([email protected]) is a senior
majoring in English.