DNC slams McCain for 'pandering to far right' on MLK day; Wesley Clark also attended Alabama governor's inauguration

Ron Brynaert and Mike Sheehan
Published: Monday January 15, 2007
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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a likely contender in 2008's presidential race, spent part of the Martin Luther King holiday at the swearing-in of a Republican governer who reportedly is a member of an organization that excludes blacks, according to a press release issued by the Democratic National Committee.

"Nearly 24 years after voting against creating a holiday honoring Martin Luther King, John McCain is spending today at the inauguration of Alabama Governor Bob Riley who is a member of an organization that has been criticized for excluding African Americans," states the DNC press release.

"The 'Grand Master' of the Grand Lodge of Alabama admits he knows of no African American members among the group's 30,000 plus membership," the release asserts, citing a Sep. 30, 2006 Associated Press article.

"But Riley denied that the Masonic group is racist, as did two leaders of the organization in interviews Friday," the AP reported.

McCain attended as a guest of Riley and his lieutenant governor, Jim Folsom, Jr., according to an AP article from today, which also reported that 2004 Democratic presidential candidate retired Gen. Wesley Clark attended the Montgomery, Alabama ceremony in order to swear in new Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. Unlike McCain, the retired four-star US Army general, who once served as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe, was not in attendance as a "guest of Riley's."

Today's AP article by Phillip Rawls also speculated on the reason for McCain's attendance, mulling whether McCain "might be looking at Riley as a running mate." McCain was evasive when asked, saying that it was "premature for me to say anything other than he has national potential."

Another AP article by Rawls also discussed Clark as a possible 2008 candidate.

"Clark isn't saying what he will do in 2008, but Sparks said he'd like to see his friend in a leadership role in Washington," Rawls reported.

Sparks said that "America needs a Wesley Clark somewhere," and that he "has a lot to offer this country."

The swearing-in of Riley as Alabama's 52nd governor comes on the 22nd anniversary of the first King Day, set aside to honor the late civil rights icon. It's a holiday that Sen. McCain initially opposed, before lobbying for it.

McCain explained his "flip-flop" in 2000 on Chris Matthews' Hardball program: "In 1983, when I was brand-new in the Congress, I voted against the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King. That was a mistake, OK? And later I had the chance to...help fight for...the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King as a holiday in my state."

Excerpts from the DNC press release follow:


McCain's push to cozy up to far right extremists is not surprising, given his contradictions in the past. In the 2000 presidential campaign, McCain reversed himself on the confederate flag first calling it "a symbol of racism and slavery" but then pandering the very next day by calling it a "symbol of heritage."

In past efforts to pander to a far right base that doesn't trust him, McCain campaigned in Alabama for George Wallace Jr., a popular speaker at a white supremacist hate group, continues to employ a strategist who denounced the creation of a Federal holiday honoring Dr. King as "vicious" and "profane," and even hired the man responsible for the racist ads against Harold Ford in the Senate race in Tennessee in 2006.

[New York Times, 4/20/00, San Diego Union Tribune, 1/18/00; Associated Press, 11/17/05, Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report, Summer 2005; AP, 6/6/05; New York Times, 10/27/06; New York Times, 10/26/06; Union Leader, 12/8/06]

"John McCain's record speaks for itself," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Luis Miranda, "his opposition to the Martin Luther King holiday, his willingness to look the other way for Bob Riley, and his eagerness to employ advisors who use tactics of the southern strategy are evidence that he will do anything to win. McCain's pandering to the far right doesn't bode well for his ability to represent or unite all Americans, and embodies the politics of division that the American people have already rejected."

1983: McCain Voted Against Creating Martin Luther King Holiday. McCain voted against the Hall (D-IN) motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill to designate the third Monday of every January as a federal holiday in honor of the late civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. [Vote 289, HR 3706, Motion agreed to 89-77, D 249-13, 8/2/83; CQ 1983]

McCain Flip Flopped On The Confederate Flag, First Calling It Offensive And Then Calling It A Symbol Of Heritage. In 2000, during the debate over the Confederate flag in South Carolina, McCain in January called the flag "a symbol of racism and slavery", and the next day said that the flag was a "symbol of heritage." McCain "initially called the flag 'offensive,' but then quickly added that he understood the sentiments of 'both sides' in the debate. 'Some view it as a symbol of slavery ... others view it as a symbol of heritage. Personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage,'" McCain said. [New York Times, 4/20/00, San Diego Union Tribune, 1/18/00]

McCain Endorsed George Wallace Jr., Called Him A "Committed Conservative Reformer," Despite Speeches to Hate Group. In November 2005, McCain visited three Alabama cities to endorse George Wallace Jr. for lieutenant governor. McCain said, "I'm proud to offer my support to this committed conservative reformer. George will bring great leadership and integrity to the lieutenant governor's office." [Associated Press, 11/17/05] Wallace had spoken on numerous occasions to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist hate group. The Council of Conservative Citizens says it opposes interracial marriage, massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples, hate crime legislation, and multicultural and "Afrocentric" curricula in schools.