Monday, October 13, 2008

Tragic failure of the McCain campaign

John McCain has sadly failed to demonstrate positively why he should be elected President of the United States. I say sadly because he is quite a man in and of himself. He is not of the socially conservative wing of the Republican Party, but unfortunately those who aren’t don’t get agitated enough to propel that party along.

John McCain could have campaigned as himself, a man who is deeply committed to the USA, committed to its security and opposed both in word and deed to the existential threats made upon it over his lifetime. At one point it was Marxism-Leninism, today it is Islamist led terrorism. He took his own principled, and unpopular stance in favour of overthrowing the murderous gangster Hussein regime, and in favour of the surge which has turned the tide of the Iraqi insurgency and granted Iraqis the peace and freedom they should have had after the fall of Hussein – but failed to do so because of the Bush Administration’s crass errors. The Middle East and the world are a safer place because of that.

Beyond that John McCain has been promising on two fronts domestically. Firstly he has opposed pork barrel politics in government spending, something that Barack Obama can’t ever say without his nose growing. The use of pork, a cancer of theft and corruption that infests so much of the US body politic, is something that war deserves to be waged on. A McCain Presidency could, at least, veto pork wherever it came up, to tame a Democrat dominated Congress. Not that the Republicans are averse to some pork – but McCain himself is. Finally, McCain’s principled belief in free and open trade has been a beacon of reason in a world where protectionism is becoming de rigueur once more, led by the irrational response of developing countries to high food prices, whilst Europe remains in a statist coma. A revitalised Doha round would have helped contribute to a global recovery.

There are many reasons to criticise McCain. His desire to move forward on health care reform while well intentioned has been misguided, although shifting tax preferences for private health insurance from employers to individuals would do wonders to shift this regulated market to one of personal responsibility. He is patently incapable of moving his party to a more liberal stance on individual freedom issues. His performance in the Presidential debates has been stilted and unfortunate, Obama is clearly the better speaker, and Obama also has the advantage of believing in what he says – even though most of what he says is drivel.

McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin was thought by some, including myself, to be inspired from a political point of view, even though on the face of it she didn’t offer much from my perspective. No doubt the selection of Palin was hoped to attract three different constituencies, a strategy that has backfired in several ways.

Palin was first and foremost intended to fire up the conservative Christian base – a base that re-elected George W. Bush in 2004, and a base that has felt distinctly neglected by the Republican primaries when both Mitt Romney and more importantly Mike Huckabee looked unlikely contenders. As an evangelical, it was thought Palin could connect with those voters and give them a reason to back the far more secular talking McCain. Secondly, it was hoped Palin being a woman would help swing middle America female voters who may have backed Hilary Clinton (and less enchanted with Barack Obama). As the only woman on a ticket, this on itself would attract attention. Thirdly, her youth was seen as a contrast to his age, almost a mirror image of the Obama-Biden camp.

She gained media attention, but beyond the superficial and the curiosity value Palin has demonstrated one thing overall – her inexperience. The Vice Presidential role is largely a symbolic one, I say largely because it is about stepping in if the President is incapable of acting – something that admittedly didn’t stop Americans voting for George Bush senior when he had the idiot Dan Quayle running with him. However, Palin has come across as a fool – indeed one that takes the stereotypes of insular, unworldly and ignorant and shows them up to be true. To talk of foreign policy experience because Alaska is close to Russia – to not be able to name a single newspaper she relies on for international news (even if she didn’t read it) – this is not someone that many Americans, including most definitely many women and young people want one step away from the ability to wage war with nuclear weapons.

Palin’s conservatism is unsurprising – perhaps the saddest tragedy of US culture today is the yawning gap between the closed minded authoritarian Puritanism of the conservative right, and the moral equivalency, sacrifice worship, anti-science statist identity politics of the so called “liberal” left. One side preaching God, the other side preaching the environment, collective identity and “all cultures are as good as each other”. One side preaching family, hard work and co-operative communities, another side preaching non-discrimination, respect for individualism and secularism.

Barack Obama is likely to win not because he offers anything substantial to the US voting public. He doesn’t. He is an image and a brand, with hype based on his race, his speaking style and his slogan of “change”. On foreign policy he is keen on putting more effort into Afghanistan, whilst pulling out of Iraq, and talking to “everyone” (although his position on what he’d say is far from clear). Domestically he believes in tax cuts for the “middle class” and tax increases for the “rich”, whilst he has an enormous plan for pork, subsidies and government spending that is understandable given his left wing political roots. He is suspicious of free trade, and his response to the global financial crisis is to inanely say it’s Bush’s fault. Meanwhile, he wants to force the health insurance industry to accept everyone regardless of risk.

He has fired up the Democratic base because of his short centre-left credentials, his race, and his inspirational way of speaking (without saying very much at all). That in itself should ensure his victory.

McCain’s remaining chance is small. He can’t ditch Palin and choose another. He can’t undertake the TV debates again, but he can be himself. He can talk about how the USA built its wealth on freedom, markets and business not government. He can talk about his consistent opposition to government programmes and spending at a time of recession, against Obama’s desire to spend his way out of the recession. He can talk about his strong determination to protect the national security of the USA, and willingness to be firm against its enemies, and to seek peace but not at any cost – and not at the cost of sacrificing Iraq to Islamism.

It is hard to fight with a media who is smitten with style over substance, who sees the relatively young multi-ethnic Obama as being more than what he is – and has little time for negative attacks on him – contrast its treatment of the Bush administration.

The campaign is not over yet – Obama could make an awful mistake, McCain could prove himself yet to be the one more Americans might trust, and perhaps some of Obama’s shady past could haunt him more than smiles and slogans can rebut. Whichever way the election goes it will devastate the party that loses. The question should be, at a time when the economy comes first and foreign policy a close second, who should Americans trust to lead them through this troubled time. Sadly the conclusion at the moment is that neither can offer inspiration and substance that is worth enthusiasm.

The best I can muster is that McCain appals me less than Obama - and that both appal me less than the vile Hilary Clinton. Great.


Anonymous said...

LS - If you think Hillary is worse than Obama, I urge you to do some research on Obama's background. For example, you could check out his relationship with Raila Odinga. Or the pedophile Frank Davis. Not to mention Ayers, Rezko, and Wright. Hillary as far as I know was never an actual member of a Socialist party. She didn't initially get elected by having every other candidate removed from the ballot.

Hillary supporters for McCain know a lot about Obama. Check out:

Obama is not a run-of-the-mill democrat. He is something much more dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Well, of course, Hillary, like Obama, is a member of the socialistic Democratic Party :) I am talking about something much more hard left: the Chicago New Party.

Ali Sina, the well-known muslim apostate, sees similarities between Khomeini's rise to power and Obama's. Both, he says, are charismatic and pathological narcissists:

Libertyscott said...

Ah, I don't think he is pathologically dangerous, just a clever shallow leftwing yesman.