AEI, AEI, Oh

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There were two things that surprised me about the AEI forum on Friday on the Iraq “surge” and attendant MoveOn.org demonstration against it. First, there was singing. Outside. Among the protesters. A group of about six youngish people in rain ponchos were singing something that sounded a little like a hymn or chants in the style of plainsong. They were doing it in a round, so I couldn’t really hear the lyrics.

I asked the protest organizer, MoveOn’s Tom Matzzie, who the singers were and he answered with surprising vehemence: “They’re not with us.” They were, in fact, supporters of perennial presidential candidate and conspiracy mongerer, Lyndon Larouche. Upon scrutiny, the lyrics of their chants did suggest a certain “outsider” quality. As I recall, one went: “George W. Bush / He is a fool / Dry Drunk / Coke fiend / He must go away, away / He cannot stay.” Well, it’s an improvement on “The Queen of England pushes crack.”

Even better: it was probably the least annoying Larouchies have ever been.

The second most surprising thing: John McCain may have convinced me that the troop surge (by which he, at least, means “escalation”) is, if not a good idea, than at least not the nomination-killer some pundits have deemed it to be. During his talk, he emphasized that “mistakes have been made since the beginning” in Iraq and that the surge itself may not work. And, as I said, he admitted that he wasn’t talking about a surge, using the phrase “sustained and significant” to describe what he believes is the best, perhaps only, option. He didn’t actually use the word “escalation,” which is odd, seeing as how nothing else he said seemed designed to make the idea of a surge more palatable to voters. He went so far as to repeat, several times, that more troops will mean more American deaths.

Todd Purdum’s harsh Vanity Fair profile crystallized what has become the CW on McCain: He used to be straight-talker but now he just wants to win, and will back away from his real opinions for the sake of appealing to the base. (See: speech at Liberty University, backpedaling on gay marriage.) But the panel at AEI reminded me of the candidate my father, among other Democrats (and many journalists), fell in love with in 2000: There’s something very sexy about a man who tells you the truth, even if it’s what you don’t want to hear.

For a guy recently dubbed “the pander bear,” it was awfully strong medicine. To be fair, he delivered it to an audience so gung-ho that they probably couldn’t be dissuaded about the war unless they had to go to fight in Iraq themselves. — Ana Marie Cox

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