“Better to be strong and wrong than weak and right.” – Bill Clinton
Say what you will about Bill Clinton, but he remains a shrewd observer of American politics. His aphorism aptly characterizes the approach of many on the Right, who evidently feel that McCain’s decision to suspend his flailing campaign is a sign of masterful leadership.
Never mind the fact that he brings no economic expertise to our current crisis. Never mind the fact that his decision will probably accelerate the passage of what already looks like a massive government boondoggle. Never mind the fact that Treasury officials have admitted they literally pulled the $700 billion bailout figure out of a hat (“It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. “We just wanted to choose a really large number”). Never mind the fact that our government doesn’t exactly boast a sterling track record when it comes to crisis management.
Conservatives, once apostles of humility, have embraced an approach to governance that can only be described as the Admiral Farragut Doctrine of Crisis Management. “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!” is now the default setting for Republican political posturing, whether the “emergency” is foreign or domestic.
On Iraq, containment was jettisoned in favor of a poorly-planned invasion that can only be described as disastrous. Once our mistake became clear for all the world to see, the lock-step response of the Republican primary field was to double-down and hope for the best. Strategic considerations went out the window. Mentioning the massive humanitarian costs of our blunder is akin to “blaming America first.” Anyone who suggests that our misdeeds inflame Islamic terrorism may as well be in league with Al-Qaeda.
Our approach to civil liberties is tarred with the same brush. One moment we castigate the Department of Homeland Security for incompetence; the other we praise the Administration to the Heavens for keeping the barbarians at bay. The evident contradiction between these two articles of Republican faith goes unmentioned – the very idea that the terrorist threat has been exaggerated is treasonous.
Now the Republican approach to crisis management is being extended to the domestic front, and its results are entirely predictable. McCain has decided that – come Hell or High Water – he will single-handedly ram home an unprecedented legislative grant of federal largess. The particulars of the bill are irrelevant – all that matters is that he’s displaying “leadership.”
Obama is hardly a paragon of restraint, but at least he has the good sense to take a deep breath and not commit to anything foolish. For this, he is compared (with a supreme lack of self-awareness) to Bush, because we all know the present administration is nothing if not restrained in its approach to policy-making.
“Country first” rings hollow when the core of your political strategy is to sacrifice every reasonable precaution for a shot at the White House. McCain is not a conservative. He may well be an ego-maniac. He is certainly not getting my vote.