Tag Archives: McCain

“Smart” People

At Foreign Policy’s new Shadow Government blog, Philip Zelikow takes issue with Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “smart power”:

There was also a conceit embodied in the phrase, “smart power.” The conceit is interesting because it is so characteristic of contemporary American political life and scholarship in its preoccupation with process. Process shaping substance (this is the underlying premise of what political scientists somewhat confusingly call ‘rational choice’ theory); process trumping substance; and — quite often — process actually being the substance. Talking — or talking in a certain way — as, in itself, the solution. Or at least therapeutic.

So no surprise that a team of highly experienced people, having lived through the Bush years, might feel that ‘smart power’ is a term that really captures the contrasting vision they offer. It was an appealing way of saying: “They were kinda dumb or at least blinkered; we’re smart and open-minded. They weren’t clever and professional enough to use all the tools; we will.”

I suppose Bush sympathizers might disagree with the (supposedly unfair) characterization of the outgoing Administration as “dumb,” but really, emphasizing innocuous terms like “smart power” and “competence” – terms that are, as Zelikow points out, fundamentally procedural – suggests a strong degree of continuity between Obama and Bush. If you agree with the Bush Administration’s underlying policies  – the Global War on Terror, Iraq etc. – you should be downright enthusiastic at the prospect of an incoming Secretary of State who emphasizes competence and cosmetics over substantive political change. And if an implicit dig at Bush’s intelligence is the worst criticism Republicans have to endure from Obama, I think they’ll have gotten off rather lightly.

Some of Bush’s more astute supporters recognize this, which is why Krauthammer is writing columns predicting Bush’s imminent rehabilitation at the hands of none other than Obama. If this sounds slightly absurd, it’s probably because you supported Obama as a more decisive break with past foreign policy failures than either McCain or Clinton. McCain’s entrance into the hallowed ranks of bipartisan heroes and Clinton’s appointment as chief architect of the new Administration’s foreign policy ought to make anyone think twice about the content of Obama’s “change,” but if you’re still not convinced, I recommend this excellent op-ed from Andrew Bacevich.

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On McCain

I have plenty of quibbles with McCain’s ideological preferences. His substance-free presidential run left a lot to be desired. But I’m annoyed at the assumption among certain quarters of the Left that his campaign was uniquely dishonorable. Most of McCain’s attacks against Obama – from Joe the Plumber’s “spread the wealth” line to the various foreign policy hit-jobs – were focused on substance (however shallow their treatment of the issues may have been). Even the notorious “Celebrity” ad was an attack on Obama’s relative inexperience.

Some of the ads, of course, were character-related. But it’s worth remembering that McCain stuck to his guns and ignored Obama’s controversial relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright throughout the campaign. The Obama-Wright connection would have undoubtedly been effective in several battleground states – even as we speak, conservatives are gnashing their teeth at McCain’s unwillingness to use Wright – and may have even swung the election. If McCain was hell-bent on winning at all costs, it was at the very least a strategy worth pursuing. But he held his fire, perhaps out of an awareness that the issue was simply too sensitive for our racially-charged electorate. For this act of restraint, I think we owe McCain a debt of gratitude.

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Filed under Presidential Politics, Race

The Case for Chilling Out

I’m probably not going to vote tomorrow. I’m also pretty sanguine about my decision. Over the past several months, I’ve had my share of harsh words for both candidates. But despite incessant media hype and the elevation of every minor dispute to world-historical importance, I’m fairly confident our country will continue to stumble forward no matter who is elected president. The invasion of Iraq and the president’s tacit acceptance of torture are two issues that continue to animate me, but I’m reasonably confident that this year’s election marks a strong rejection of the Bush Administration’s policies in both areas. A McCain withdrawal from Iraq will undoubtedly be slower and more considered, but his vision of a one hundred year occupation is so far out of sync with most voters’ views that I doubt it will ever come to pass. On torture, Obama’s repudiation of Bush is also somewhat more forceful than McCain’s, but both candidates’ condemnation of detainee mistreatment promises an end to this odious practice.

On other issues I care about – reducing the size and scope of government; drastically scaling back the United States’ presence overseas; confronting the growth of the surveillance state – neither nominee is particularly satisfying. One hopes that Obama or McCain will grow in office, and perhaps they’ll discover a healthy suspicion of big government once they come face-to-face with the Leviathan. But I doubt it.

As for the candidates themselves, I think it’s worth remembering that both are impressive men in their own ways. For the past eight years, I’ve endured a president whose style of governance and personal foibles are antithetical to everything I love about the United States. Bush’s personal history exemplifies nepotism, cronyism, and ineptitude. His tenure as president has been absolutely disastrous. I consider myself a patriot, and will remain one no matter who claims the Oval Office, but there’s something to be said for feeling a thrill of pride at the sight of our elected representatives. McCain’s gruff heroism and Obama’s eloquence remind me of what I admire about America. After eight years of Bush, that’s no small accomplishment.

If your opinions differ or you’re simply more optimistic about the candidates’ platforms, I sincerely hope you’ll go out and vote your conscience. I also hope you’re not too disappointed when our next president inevitably compromises or fails to live up to expectations. As for me, I intend to spend election night polishing off a keg left over from Halloween. The more things change . . .

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Filed under Participatory Democracy, Presidential Politics

Great News! Now let’s get the hell out of there . . .

I’m sure the McCain camp will interpret this as further vindication of their “occupation ’til Doomsday” strategy, but declining US casualties in Iraq is heartening news nonetheless.

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A Last Gasp for McCain

If anyone could convince me to pull the trigger for a Republican presidential candidate, it would have to be Reihan Salam. It’s odd, then, that his case for John McCain is one of the least persuasive things I’ve read in recent weeks. The substantive points he recites in favor of McCain are remarkably thin – aside from asserting his competence to solve the financial crisis, climate change, and terrorism, Salam barely mentions his actual policy proposals – but I found his political rationale even less compelling. Here’s Salam:

The past seven years have been a time of extraordinary tumult in international affairs, and the world badly needs a period of consolidation and sweeping reform. Our diplomatic and economic institutions are ill suited to tackling the diffuse threats posed by climate change, financial contagion, mass epidemics and catastrophic terrorism. Only Nixon could go to China, and only McCain can reconcile conservatives to some of the hard steps the US will have to take.

When John McCain first ran for president in 2000, he promised to remake the Republican party in his own idiosyncratic image. Just as Ronald Reagan expanded the party to embrace southern evangelicals and western libertarians, McCain appealed to suburban independents who rejected ideological cliches in favour of pragmatic problem-solving. Republican governors and mayors had worked for years with Clinton’s White House to reform and revamp failing public institutions.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume – like Salam – that conservatism must reorient itself towards the center. From the way he’s run his campaign, McCain has proven to be a remarkably inept messenger for any sort of reformist program. For all his tactical brilliance, McCain’s political strategy has been almost entirely substance-free. He can barely articulate a coherent domestic vision without stumbling over the teleprompter. His latest approach pillories “socialism” and “redistribution,” which isn’t very suggestive of a willingness to embrace the welfare state.

Now I’m sure that hardened McCainiacs will reply that this isn’t the “real” McCain, but even if you think the man’s candidacy is an elaborate political ruse, his electoral coalition imposes certain constraints on any future policy-making. After getting elected on the strength of not being a socialist, anti-semitic, afro-centric elitist, I doubt McCain will have enough political credibility to remake conservatism from the ground up.

Of course, if you don’t share Salam’s premises and think that McCain’s approach to terrorism and the financial crisis are absolutely disastrous, there’s even less reason to vote for the guy. But voters who remain enamored with McCain’s persona circa 2000 should also give the man a second look.

UPDATE: Daniel Larison does a fine job of rendering my entire post obsolete. Go read him instead.

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Filed under Conservatism, Presidential Politics, The Media

Well Said

I thought this was generous of Ed Whelan:

If Barack Obama is elected next Tuesday, his election will be seen as a striking symbol of yet further progress towards respecting the American ideal that “all Men are created equal.” Insofar as our fellow citizens who have endured, and continue to endure, discrimination and other indignities because of the color of their skin would take special joy in that symbolic achievement, I would extend them my genuine congratulations and find some consolation in their joy.

Whelan goes on to argue that Obama will be a bad president, which is a perfectly reasonable (if somewhat over-stated) position, but I think more conservatives should take note of the way he frames the discussion. Barring an absolutely catastrophic first term, the election of Barack Obama as President will be a singular event in United States history. I anticipate tearing my hair out over his administration’s policies, but conservatives risk looking petty and small-minded if they spend election night carping about Khalidi, Ayers et. al. For what it’s worth, I think John McCain’s decision to publicly congratulate Obama for winning the Democratic nomination represents a better approach:

Also, you heard it here first: if McCain loses, he’ll deliver an extremely gracious concession speech. The Republican base will hate him for it, but the media will swoon.

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In which I attempt to analyze polling data

In comments, John Schwenkler argues that Republicans’ generic advantage on national security has declined significantly in recent years. I’d certainly like to believe him. It would be downright perverse for the party most responsible for Iraq to retain any credibility on issues relating to homeland defense or terrorism.

And yet McCain is still perceived as more trustworthy on national security. A majority of the public remains convinced that we’re “winning” the war on terror. And according to this recent Pew Survey, voters who think national security and terrorism are the most important issues overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates.

Other polls are a bit more mixed. This survey from September suggests that Republicans are still overwhelmingly favored on national security and terrorism. A more recent report from October shows the parties about even.

I don’t think Republicans’ advantage on national security is completely insulated from Iraq, but the war hasn’t provoked any sort of sea change in public opinion. At best, Iraq has equalized the playing field between Democrats and Republicans on national security, which is a lot less heartening in a world where liberals have taken to aping Republican belligerence. Another odd thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t associate competence on Iraq with other issues related to homeland security. The Pew Survey, for example, shows that Democrats are favored by voters who think Iraq is the most important issue, but a majority of voters who prioritize terrorism and national security continue to support Republicans. Hardly encouraging stuff for anyone who hoped that the past eight years would prompt a broader reevaluation of our foreign policy priorities.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Liberalism (Left)