The Republican Party tends to be more sceptical about government, tends to support tax cuts and tends to be supportive of strong national defence, but it is also attracts evangelists and other conservatives, some fanatical enough to want to significantly erode the separation of church and state. It tends to lack those willing to support individual freedom against moves to protect national security, or "the family" through censorship endeavours. It is more fiscally conservative and nationalistic. The more libertarian and secular wing of the Republican Party pulls against the statist, religious conservative wing. However it has centrists that would be as comfortable with parts of the Democrats.
The Democratic Party pulls in different directions. It believes in government to fix economic problems, to fix social problems, it is interventionist. It is closer to environmentalism, and rhetoric that questions whether "the rich" are "paying their share". However, it tends to more staunchly defend the secular state, and be liberal on some social matters.
What a choice. Oh the Libertarian Party? After all I support Libertarianz in New Zealand, why not a legitimate vote for a party that is, on the face of it, similar. Well, I did use to think that. This year though the Libertarian Party chose Bob Barr as its Presidential candidate - in short, a man whose libertarian credential seem rather "new", whereas his conservative past seems very solid. He supported the "war on drugs" until very recently, he opposed same sex marriage until very recently. In short, he seems like a convenient high profile figure to put the name "libertarian" on. I simply don't buy it.
So McCain or Obama? I've been highly critical of Obama. The momentum behind him has been like that of a rock star, except he doesn't play music, he uses intonation, expression and words well to sound credible, passionate and trustworthy, but it is vapid. Change to what? Well it's pretty clear it's higher taxes and more government. His manifesto is almost entirely about government programmes and interventions to make things better - not about stopping doing things, not about ending programmes that distort. Of course he wants to put up taxes during a recession. If you think it's about rhetoric then check out that Obama voted to increase US agricultural subsidies, McCain opposed this. He's willing to further contribute to screwing around with world food prices with more subsidies for no production, and subsidies for further over production. Great. So he's on the left of the Democratic Party, nothing special there. Nothing exciting, and it isn't so much "change" as turning the clock back to the 60s and 70s. For those of us seeking change in world trade to open up markets, he isn't offering much.
However, on foreign policy he is all over the place. He did not support the US overthrowing Saddam Hussein, but furthermore wants to withdraw. Withdrawal at a time when violence in Iraq is at a low, when the Islamist insurgency that wants to turn Iraq into an Islamist theocracy, would be disastrous. Obama would rather play into the hands of isolationists than recognise what the situation on the ground is. More widely he wants to talk to everyone, which some sees as being groundbreaking and encouraging - assuming you can have something in common with the regime that sponsors Islamist terrorism and wants an ally destroyed. Kim Jong Il would no doubt think it were a coup if President Obama flew to Pyongyang to talk about things - you know like withdrawing troops from South Korea, chilling out about nuclear weapons and providing aid. The Castro clan will enjoy that too, as will Burma's junta and even Robert Mugabe - nothing so good for propaganda as the US President being willing to meet you.
Now it probably wont be like that, but Obama is clearly offering a major change in foreign policy. Naively he says "if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda" How many Islamist insurgents does he want? He assumes that Islamists that aren't al Qaeda aren't a threat - that's just plain stupid. He doesn't think diplomacy is exhausted on Iran, but then isn't saying what happens if it doesn't work other than economic isolation. So Iran can continue as it is going and face, talks.
However, his policies go further. He wants nuclear disarmament. Not unilateral disarmament, except he wants to cease development of new nuclear weapons and negotiate reductions with Russia - as if that authoritarian kleptocracy is at all trustworthy. Naive is the best word for it, the USA stands still while Russia, China and others continue to develop nuclear weaponry. Not exactly change I want to believe in.
Now he says he wants to increase the military, maintain policy on Israel and be pro-active on Darfur - all steps I agree with, but overall he proposes three major changes - withdraw from Iraq, be willing to negotiate with anyone and not develop new nuclear weapons. In a world where there IS evil, and is resides in regimes from Pyongyang to Tehran, from Rangoon to Harare, it seems odd Obama is willing to step into Sudan and Congo, but not support peace in Iraq or isolation of evil.
So nothing to be happy about that. Obama has a more serious problem though - credibility. Nothing has been more damaging to this than the church and pastor he has attended for years, which as part of the ludicrous US attachment to religion, may or may not reflect a genuine religious belief. After all, he wouldn't be the nominee if he declared himself to be an atheist. I'm not distracted by nonsense about claims about him being a Muslim, which are banal and unsubstantiated.
You see Jeremiah Wright, along with Obama's long affiliation with the hard-left of US politics speaks volumes to me. He attended Trinity Union Church of Christ Chicago for years, whilst Jeremiah Wright preached. Oprah Winfrey attended for two years in the 1980s before leaving because of the "incendiary sermons" Obama waited until May this year. Wright's preaching included saying the US brought 9/11 upon itself, damning the nuclear attacks upon Japan in WW2. So Obama went through phases of condemnation:
- First he rejected what Wright said (March 2008), remember he had been going to the church for the years since Wright said them;
- He denied he had heard controversial comments in church, before admitting that he actually did but didn't think it was a problem because Wright was going to retire. You have to wonder why you keep going to a church which says things you disagree with;
- He then did his famous "A More Perfect Union" speech where he couldn't disown Wright as it would be like disowning his white grandmother. He related a blood relative to a pastor.
- Finally he leaves the church, condemns Wright and turns his back on what he is meant to believe in.
Convenience? Perhaps, but it shows that when those in Obama's radical past emerge, he is embarrassed, not quick to condemn and move only when opinion seems to be swinging against him. That speaks a lot about character.
So what about McCain? He's definitely on the moderate wing of the Republican party, he's no religious evangelist which is an enormous relief. He is an advocate of tax cuts and has one policy that overwhelmingly appeals over Obama in domestic matters - opposition to pork-barrelling. Pork barrelling or earmarking is the corrupt practice whereby congress members attach special funding to any bills to fund pet projects in their state. It means that a consistent national policy on say education, agriculture or transport becomes dotted with "earmarks" for certain places to get projects that wouldn't be justified typically. Ending pork barrelled budgets would be an enormous step forward for the USA - it is widely acknowledged as being an issue, but far too many politicians in the US have careers based on the selective pilfering of the federal budget for their supporters. Quite simply if McCain does nothing else domestically than banish this practice, his Presidency will have been worthwhile.
On foreign policy it will be steady as she goes in Iraq, and maintaining much of the status quo on promoting free trade and being tough on Iran (unlike Obama he explicitly says all options are on the table) and North Korea. He doesn't support torture of terror subjects - much like Obama. So a step forward there. He has said Russia should be expelled from the G8, citing its authoritarian tendencies.
However beyond that McCain seems like a safe pair of hands. On foreign policy it would be business at usual, without torture. On domestic policy it may be less government, less pork barrel politics and more importantly less evangelism. Enough for a cautious endorsement? Yes.
An Obama Presidency risks more government, a lack of interest in reforming world trade and a rather haphazard attitude to Iraq, Iran and foreign policy generally. Obama changes his position according to what he sees as being popular and has been swept up in a hype partly due to race, partly due to his ability at public speaking that has not held him accountable for very much. McCain on the other hand promises to not be risky on foreign policy, and to make clear efforts to promote free trade and get rid of the infestation of pork barrel politics.
For that McCain gets my endorsement. He's no libertarian, but neither is the Libertarian Party candidate. There are good reasons to vote McCain to stop Obama from implementing his grow government agenda, and to not trust him on how radical he really is. Obama is clearly further to the left than any Democratic Party Presidential nominee for years. McCain is certainly to the left of the Republicans, but he is not on the things that matter - defence, tax cuts and trade. He also does not embrace the evangelical Christian conservative wing of the party, he is more distant from it than the two Bushs.
Now both candidate will choose a Vice-Presidential candidate to hold receptions and to share with the workload, but this wont make a fundamental difference to both of these men. At this time when US and Western success in the Middle East against Islamism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran is critical, when the global economy needs a US federal government that isn't taxing and spending, but shrinking, and with a US attitude to free trade that advances global prosperity, not hiding its farmers and producers behind subsidies and quotas, John McCain does offer a positive reason to vote. Not an overwhelming one, not unreserved, but also not just because Obama gives many reasons to vote against him.
I expect the coming months to see a campaign whereby the Obamaniacs will be confronted with questions about their star. I also expect plenty of nonsense to say that McCain is in bed with "big oil" to get more drilling for oil, but Obama wont say how he'd practically address oil prices except by taxing everyone to try to pick winners to replace it. Also expect plenty to say that McCain and Bush are one and the same, when credibly they are not - they ran AGAINST each other in the 2000 primaries. I expect "Demogogues" to play the final card - that if you are not voting for Obama it's because you're racist. Whereby maybe they should be reminded that it wasn't his opponents that stopped Muslim women wearing the hijab from appearing behind him when he speaks on podiums. Oh yes, the tolerance of the identity politics driven left ebbs away when power is the all important motive - isn't that right Michael Moore?