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Archive for the ‘McCain’ Category

A commenter on Larry Auster’s website put it best:

I couldn’t help thinking that this string of improbable election results—Christie in New Jersey, the Virginia clean sweep, Brown—in addition to the widespread Tea Party protests, have been powerful confirmation of what you said more than a year ago, and what I was thinking when I refused to vote for John McCain. Obama has galvanized and revived American conservatives in a way that no liberal Republican president ever could. I think it’s pretty well beyond serious dispute that if John McCain were president, we’d already have amnesty and none of those federal and local seats would have gone to a Republican. Moreover, people have coalesced around fierce opposition to a President whose leftist agenda and sheer, brazen contempt for the American people has awakened real panic and outrage.

I wrote too, around May 2008, that Obama would radicalize conservatives. So far so good.  But it’s not a costless thing; we are in a painful recession, and the “solution” of deficit-stimulus spending guarantees another bigger dip some time down the road, as whatever bubble is being inflated deflates unexpectedly.  Let’s just hope we’re not eating Soylent Green and taking our money in wheel barrows to the farmer’s market before it’s all over.  But hopefully we’ll come to our senses on the economy, fiscal profligacy, immigration, national security, and much else before this joker is through. But even that means a national decision to slowly, steadily climb out of this terrible hole and get our books in order.

Hopefully too “change” will become a bad word and we can, once again, remember John Randolph’s admonition that “change is not reform.”

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Bill Clinton was a polarizing figure, in spite of his popularity. For both friends and enemies, he was the true torch-bearer of the 60s and the Baby Boomers: idealistic, flabby, occasionally elitist, urban, self-indulgent, draft-dodging, and all the rest. His lifestyle fed into stereotypes held by Reagan Democrats and blue collar Americans about liberal elites, and his gun control measures and perceived hostility to religious people–not least in the Waco Massacre–did much to fuel an anti-government paranoia among conservatives during that time. In its more mainstream manifestation, this included measures like the Contract With America and the attempted alliance of paleoconservatives and certain libertarians in venues like Chronicles magazine and the John Randolph Club. The most extreme variant included the militia movement and the Timothy McVeigh bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Much of this feeling dissipated after 9/11 and the 2000 election. Many conservatives channeled their feelings of alienation and fear at Islamic terrorists. Bush’s perceived moral clarity was welcome, and a new kind of bellicose populism became prominent in the movement, even if the democracy-spreading stuff was dismissed as necessary window dressing. This turned out not to be so.

Bush, who was frequently called “more conservative than his father” behind closed doors in Republican circles in 2000, turned out to be quite a bit more idealistic and more liberal than his father. His foreign policy was less steeped in realism. His embrace of Hispanics, including illegal immigrants, as the future of the Republican Party did much to alienate social conservatives and Reagan Democrats, who became more concerned about mass immigration in recent years.

I believe Obama has the capacity to have the Clinton effect, uniting conservatives who have now lost the distraction of a non-conservative president leading us into hopeless backwaters like “spreading democracy in the Middle East” or expanding home ownership to bad credit risks. After all, without the albatross of the first President Bush after 1992, conservatives united around a truly conservative set of themes and did much to scuttle Clinton’s dumbest ideas. As with Clinton, Obama’s big spending, dubious heritage, increasingly hackneyed rhetoric, and recent anti-gun noises will likely trigger the anti-government, anti-spending feeling that conservatives always seem to find again as soon as they’re out of power. I may be wrong; the demographics have changed considerably since 1994. Many millions of newcomers have arrived since then. And younger people are less likely to marry and have children–these milestones being major inducements to conservatism among not particularly political folks. We’re still here though. Obama has been fearless about confronting conservative on various hot button issues–criticizing the US in Turkey, mocking Christian beliefs in his stem cell decisions, kowtowing to Mexico on guns–and the intense backlash is brewing, along with that old time conservative anti-government rhetoric. While this message fell on deaf ears during the inflationary boom, there is always a group that views big government spending as profligate and short-sighted during hard economic times. Such views connect directly with those of our Founding Fathers and have even penetrated the once pro-New Deal Reagan Democrats as they have climbed the economic ladder. When combined with the more culturally-based opposition to amnesty, which Obama seems surprisingly poised to advocate, Obama may accomplish what Bush could not: uniting conservatives around a small government, neo-nationalist set of views.

The political disaster would be for some opportunist without a thorough understanding and ability to articulate these views to become the face of conservatism. This is why McCain, Huckabee, and Palin each present different risks to the party. None is a real conservative steeped in the nationalist and small government strains of thinking that have grown so robust under Bush’s pseuedo-conservatism, and each would become a lightning rod for conservatives, while in fact being a populist or militarist imposter.

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Lawrence Auster has a good piece on Obama that discusses the pros and cons of his election, which the chief positive being that he would focus conservatives and purify our beliefs, something I argued in May. I still believe this would happen, and it would happen in a particularly healthy way: his overreach, enabled by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, could revive our respect for limited government and the traditional criticisms of the welfare state, remind us of our latent wariness of foreign adventures, and hopefully degrade the health of political correctness and taboos on race and immigration. The latter is particularly important, and would depend upon his policies revealing themselves (as they have been his entire career) to be narrowly tribal and tinged with the rhetoric of class warfare rather than unifying in any normal sense of the term. Arguably, this radicalization was the effect of the Carter Administration, which functioned as a capstone of the craziness of the 1970s. Only after that long and dark decade could Reagan explicitly attack the pro-government, pro-welfare, anti-defense, and anti-American foundations of much of contemporary liberalism. In other words, the times created Reagan as much as he responded to the times; only really tough times made worse by Obama’s policies could revive a healthy conservative political voice in American life. Continuing with the faux conservatism of Bush or McCain, which is in fact populist militarism, would discredit conservatism on many fronts: this approach does not work, it is not responsible, it causes too many conservatives to compromise on their core principles, and such policies, by rejecting free markets and replacing them with managed corporate welfare, does not command the respect of the vast majority of natural conservatives among small businessmen, folks that take pride in self-sufficiency, and the “leave us alone” coalition in general.

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I think this is a useful observation by Mark Thornton over at the Mises blog:

On top of all that, people suffer psychological consequences as well. The people most involved in the bubble are confident, jubilant, and self-assured by their apparently successful decision making. When the bubble bursts they lose confidence, go into despair and lose confidence in their decision making. In fact, they lose confidence in the “system,” which means they lose confidence in capitalism and become susceptible to new political “reforms” that offer structure and security in exchange for some of their autonomy and freedoms.

In this manner, great nations of people have given away their liberties in exchange for security. The Russians submitted to Communism and the Germans submitted to National Socialism because of economic chaos. In 20th century America, economic crises–and fear more generally–provided the justification for the adoption of “reforms” such as a central bank (i.e. the Federal Reserve), the New Deal, the Cold War, and even fiat money during the economic crisis of the early 1970s. Fear of terrorism after 9/11 resulted in a massive transfer of power to government at the expense of individual liberty. Submission of liberty and individual autonomy in exchange for security and the “greater good” is now often referred to as choosing the dark side.

The reason economic crises create fear and submission of liberty is that people do not generally know what caused the bust or economic crisis and generally do not even know that there was even a bubble in the first place. In fact, as the bubble is bursting many people will deny that there is a problem and believe that the whole situation will quickly return to what they consider normal. The average citizen thinks very little about what makes the economy work, but simply accepts the system for what it is, and tries to make the most of it.

People want practical goods from government and from the economy: predictable laws, a job, safety, order, and prosperity. The government’s failure to provide those things (or the conditions for them) as a consequence of its own mistakes–subsidizing housing and lending with loose money for over a decade–does not lead most people to demand that government steps back. Instead, its apparent power is intoxicating. Our intimate familiarity with this power and an ignorance of the ways it leads economies astray leads for calls for new, radical expansions of government.

Politicians (including the politicians at the Fed and the Treasury) willingly oblige, and the voices of restraint are labeled as special interests, reactionaries, or worse. People are becoming desperate, particularly as we have become less self-reliant and more dependent on cheap credit than in the past. Combined with ignorance of the business cycle and a misplaced trust in government, we’ve seen the Federal Reserve and treasury step into uncharted waters like unsecured short-term commercial credit, ownership stakes in banks, and huge bailouts of the least necessary players in the investment world, i.e., Bear Stearns.

Isn’t it comforting to know that in this fertile soil we will soon make a choice between a pompous socialist with a cult of personality on one side of the ballot and a guy with little respect for the private sector who yearns to unify the people through soul-purifying historical change on the other?

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Barack Obama, like so many demagogues with a surrounding cult of personality, is now taking things surprisingly far, particularly as he has not yet won this election. He has enlisted law enforcement in Missouri to create a Barack Obama truth squad who will prosecute anyone who “lies” about Obama. The civil law of defamation and slander is apparently not enough for him, nor is it enough apparently for the Missouri law enforcement folks to at least give themselves a neutral label.

Obama is already in a bit of hot water for having his associates inundate news and radio outlets that host critics of Obama on the air, as if news is obligated not to criticize him.

This guy’s arrogance nearly cost him the primary. Middle of the road, working class, and elderly voters seem less impressed than young people and educated white liberals by his smooth talking schtick, seeing instead a guy with few accomplishments and a very exaggerrated sense of entitlement. (By way of example, in his debates with McCain, he said “As President” several times, rather than “if I’m given the privilege to be President . . .”)

This is actually scary stuff. Liberals have spent the last four years making both reasonable and unreasonable criticisms of the expansion of presidential power through items such as the Patriot Act and the Total Information Awareness project. Coupled with McCain-Feingold, Presidential power can easily be abused to alter an election. It’s something Bush has not done, to his credit. But can the Chicago machine politician wrapped up in the labeling of an ethical reformer promise the same? It’s hard to imagine this cynical guy who attached himself to some of the most unsavory people around–Tony Rezko, Jeremiath Wright, Bill Ayers–in a city famous for its corruption would not abuse presidential power in the form of various degrees of censorship for the narrow purpose of helping himself and his associates.

Political speech is at the core of First Amendment protections. It has long been safe from “prior restraint” and surrounded with broad protections, particularly in debatable questions of opinion and mixed questions of opinion and fact. It appears some overzelaous law enforcement perssonnel are going to shield Obama from the most anodyne criticisms under the rubric of combatting lies. Historically, the good sense of the American people, the news media, and the campaigns themselves performed this function.

What now will happen when people say Obama has associated with terrorists (he has) or visited Pakistan as a young man (he did) or went to a church that spewed anti-American hatred for twenty years (he did that too). Will these facts be labeled lies? Will the zealousness of his enthralled supporters undermine one of the most important American rights in the name of combatting hate and rumors? Obama’s rhetoric is the language of censorship nearly everywhere: it’s always cited as necessary to stop corruption and agitation. It’s the language of Huge Chavez and Valdimir Lenin alike.

Bush’s exercises of power are subject to a great deal of skepticism and media criticism, as well as resistance from his own party. This is overall a good thing. Who, however, will resist Obama when his favorite charge–racism–will be levied so promiscuously at those frail creatures of the media and the cultural elite, and elite which is easily stopped in its tracks by the very suggestion?

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Obama’s main schtick on the Housing Crisis is that it’s an outgrowth of an under-regulated culture of greed, where too many irresponsible people make too much money in barely regulated markets that endanger investors and, indirectly, ordinary Americans with economic turmoil. His solution: tax the rich. Hey, at least it has a certain narrative integrity. It ignores the cheap money problem, the problem with social policies at HUD and the mortgage secondary market, the problem of fraud, wage pressures from immigration, the desirability or not of risk-sharing instruments like securitized mortgages, and the problems with credit now and going forward , but at least it’s coherent. McCain has ebbed and flowed between an overly personalized account focused on individual malefactors and a not-very-convincing return to free market principles that demand these guys suck it up and go under in bankruptcy if need be.

It’s sad to think our economic future hinges on these two highly political visions of what is wrong and how to fix it.  Michael Goodwin says it well:

Both flunked the sudden stress test the crisis imposed. Neither looked ready to be President.

They were bailed out, too. The rescue package took them off the hook of actually having to come up with solutions or even responsible ideas.

Yogi Berra‘s line that you can learn a lot by watching certainly proved to be true. Watching Wall Street panic and the leaders of Congress turn into fraidy-cats who only wanted to go home was bad enough.

Seeing the next President, whomever we elect, pretend to be bold and certain when neither had a clue was terrifying.

Grace under pressure was missing-in-action. Neither Obama nor McCain rose to the challenge history presented to them. Because the crisis hadn’t been poll-tested or posted safely on the TelePrompTer, they didn’t know what to say except that everything was bad and excuse me while I open a can of outrage.

The one thing they dare not say was the truth: that ordinary Americans are also guilty of overindulging in the credit binge. That might cost them votes.

McCain suggested a commission. Obama promised a meeting. And they blamed each other. Thanks for nothing.

Each made a lame claim that I-told-you-so, as though they had actually seen it coming. Hogwash. They had no clue before and no solution after. Nor did their armies of advisers and experts.

It was 9/11 all over again in that nobody connected the dots until the damage was done. George Bush was no better. Until he deigned to appear Thursday for a two-minute speech – no questions allowed – I assumed he was hiding with Vice President Cheney in an undisclosed bunker.

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I have to say, it didn’t inspire confidence.  She has the George W style of “gut” decision-making that disdains process, self-doubt, and inquiry, and I think this is coupled with a long tradition of how she tackled relatively straightforward business-style problems as governor and the evangelical tradition of anti-intellectualism. 

Further, she was as I suspected likely an empty vessel on many issues before a week long series of cram sessions with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Biegun, Mccain, and other uber-hawks.  They have filled her head with neocon talking points on Russia and Israel and Iraq. She didn’t even know Georgia attacked first and presented no coherent reason why Ukraine and Georgia should be set up as NATO tripwires.  Unfortunately, there’s no daylight between her and McCain.  I’m sure he considers foreign policy his strong suit, and she’ll naturally defer. (Of course, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if a limited government-oriented VP became his tsarina of economic policy.) She did say something frightful right out of the AIPAC play book:  that we could not and should not question Israel’s decisions in it’s own security. I don’t see why we can’t reign them in or at least protest in appropriate circumstances.  For example, if they attacked Iran by overflying Saudi or Iraqi airspace, that would be a major problem since our failure to shoot down those planes would amount to dragging us into supporting a perhaps unnecessary or unwise attack on Iranian facilities.

I did think Gibson was a bit unfair on his quotes from her earlier speeches and in his use of the ambiguous phrase “Bush Doctrine.”  I thought the doctrine meant nothing about preventative war, but rather the idea that terrorist-supporting-states will be treated no differently than terrorists.

That all said, politically I’m not sure it will matter. She appeared competent, and that will be the take-away of 70% of people who even bothered to follow it.  Further, her hawkishness is in line with the American exceptionalist view popular among at least a plurality of Republicans, including evangelicals.  Finally, there will soon be a mini-controversy on the unfairness of the “exact words” and “Bush Doctrine” questions.

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Fouad Ajami contrasts Obama’s wishful thinking internationalism with McCain’s American-exceptionalist neo-imperalism:

[During the Nixon-Kennedy election of 1960] The national consensus on America’s role abroad, and on the great threats facing it, was firmly implanted. No great cultural gaps had opened in it, arugula was not on the menu, and the elites partook of the dominant culture of the land; the universities were then at one with the dominant national ethos. The “disuniting of America” was years away. American liberalism was still unabashedly tethered to American nationalism.

We are at a great remove from that time and place. Globalization worked its way through the land, postmodernism took hold of the country’s intellectual life. The belief in America’s “differentness” began to give way, and American liberalism set itself free from the call of nationalism. American identity itself began to mutate.

The celebrated political scientist Samuel Huntington, in “Who Are We?,” a controversial book that took up this delicate question of American identity, put forth three big conceptions of America: national, imperial and cosmopolitan. In the first, America remains America. In the second, America remakes the world. In the third, the world remakes America. Back and forth, America oscillated between the nationalist and imperial callings. The standoff between these two ideas now yields to the strength and the claims of cosmopolitanism. It is out of this new conception of America that the Obama phenomenon emerges.

The “aloofness” of Mr. Obama that has become part of the commentary about him is born of this cultural matrix. Mr. Obama did not misspeak when he described union households and poorer Americans as people clinging to their guns and religion; he was overheard sharing these thoughts with a like-minded audience in San Francisco.

Nor was it an accident that, in a speech at Wesleyan University, he spoke of public service but excluded service in the military. The military does not figure prominently in his world and that of his peers. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic Party convention, as was the case on the campaign trail, he spoke of his maternal grandfather’s service in Patton’s army. But that experience had not been part of his own upbringing.

Ajami seems to think Americans like McCain because he’s the more competent imperial administrator.  While that is true of some, I think the fact that he wraps his imperial vision in the rhetoric of nationalism is why he’s effective.  Between an anti-American cosmopolitan, and a bellicose ideological neo-imperalist, Americans, particularly Americans of a conservative bent, will choose the latter.  Why?  Because for conservatives who are uneasy about imperialism, it is still better to be in charge, even if the endeavor is self-defeating than to let other people, with similar but opposing imperial visions, to be in charge of us.

The standoff that Ajami speaks of is a tragic one, an unfortunate consequence of the domination of the Republican party by the neoconservative vision of foreign policy, a vision that demands intervention, the continuation of American power, and the erasure of distinctions of the nation and the foreigner. 

Missing from both candidates’ views, and the political scene generally, is a true nationalist voice that is neither excessively indebted to nor overly influenced by the rest of the world.  A humble view that is aware of our limitations and jealous of our advantages.  A view that does not seek to manage or influence world with the exception chiefly of providing a good example to others and protecting what is ours. 

This tradition, stretching from George Washington and James Monroe, to the so-called Know-Nothings, and more recently to Charles Lindbergh, Robert Taft, and Pat Buchanan has been the abiding idiom of American conservatism.  It’s absent from both parties, yet it finds support in what is likely a numerical plurality of working class ethnic whites, business-oriented conservatives, many Vietnam veterans, as well as a swath of anti-war Americans who come from a variety of traditions.

The nationalist is against the continuation of the Iraq War not because it is wrong or an evil to the Iraqis, but because it distracts us from our chief concern, which is our own flourishing as a people and the protection of that people and our way of life.

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McCain often identifies America’s problems in moral terms as opposed to ideological differences on policy. Is this really the root of political friction? Liberals of good will justify most of their proposed impositions on the market economy with the same language of community, sacrifice, and public spiritedness. For them and McCain too, America is a cause and a project, not just a place, a people, and an extended family. McCain’s defenses of free markets and limited government stand uneasily alongside rhetoric like this:

We have to catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in Washington.

The — the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn’t a cause. It’s a symptom. It’s what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not for you. . . .

Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier, because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

This rhetoric is reminiscent of Ross Perot’s. He was a similarly self-confident figure and an old-fashioned patriot who thought our policy differences could be easily resolved if only people of would abandon their blinders of self-interest. This is a natural enough instinct about personal vocation from McCain, whose entire life has involved government service, including honorable service in the military. But as a diagnosis of what’s wrong with our politics and how to solve them, this formulation seems wrong.

Bush, Clinton, and McCain’s triangulation obscures that there are deep disagreements since the 1960s about core values on issues ranging from free trade and abortion to immigration and the Iraq War. People’s disagreements on these issues, as often as not, do not flow from narrow self-interest so much as disagreements about policy, history, identity, and priorities. After all, self-interest is not why white males like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden support affirmative action or massive destruction of our economy to combat the alleged crisis of global warming.

McCain’s rhetoric, in spite of its superficially unifying character, invites greater conflict and acrimony. His confidence in his own pure motives and the call of history invites crude put-downs of his opponents, which he has indulged in repeatedly, as if folks what want to keep America’s population and demographics stable for cultural reasons are merely a selfish faction.

It’s true, the Democratic Party’s rhetoric often invites narrow self interest: join us and take money from the rich people! But Republican rhetoric does in some respects too: you should keep your money and do what you want with it. It’s better kept with you than the government. While pork barrel spending offends McCain’s sense of national interest, large and expensive government projects, such as “transforming the Middle East” or “defending democracy in Georgia,” do not. He seems a bit blind to the ways even well-meaning government programs can harm our collective interest in being able to pursue our individual goals, plans, and concerns. He also seems not to realize that one man’s pork barrel interest is another’s necessary local project to benefit “his community.” In other words, McCain’s lack of principled conservatism leads to a kind of dissonance in policy and does not equip him to resist calls for grand historical government projects that are exceedingly expensive. Prosaic, but necessary, big cuts in spending on entitlement programs do not appeal to his sense of grandeur and historical mission. For example, nothing in McCain’s view of the world would find anything wrong with the New Deal or the Great Society.

An authentic conservative political vision must acknowledge a few things about our times. While government is not the only problem, it is an impediment. The government has become too big, and its goals are often hostile to civil society’s institutions like private enterprise, religion, and the traditional family. Government is out of control only partly for reasons of narrow self-interest. Indeed, grand altruistic projects based in the “selfless” goal of equality like social security and Medicare cannot be easily reigned in through rooting out corruption. Their problems are structural; we need to make tough choices about priorities and spending and the purpose of government, and those tough choices will require shrinking government rather than expanding its commitments in the name of concern for the public good. McCain’s shown little appreciation for these difficulties the redistributionist agenda imposes on the private sector, partly, no doubt, because he is completely insulated from economic worries and the suffocating impact of taxes and regulation. Finally, in our ethnic politics, everyone is playing by the rules of power and self-interest except for whites.  What, after all, is the meaning of groups like the National Council of La Raza or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  McCain, however, to show his own bona fides is silent on affirmative action and repeatedly supports massive amnesty as a grand historical gesture.  Unfortunately, amnesty and continued mass immigration will an opening for greater disunity and stress our over-generous welfare state and public health resources.  The diminution of America’s traditional majority and leadership class will ultimately lead to a cruder, more Balkanized ethnic politics that we see in corruption-ridden places like Los Angeles and Chicago.  If McCain truly cared about America and could somehow connect the dots, he’d realize that keeping this country populated with native-born Americans is part of the formula for having the kind of national political culture he desires.

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The inveterate muck-raking of Sara Palin’s daughter’s personal life, particularly her unremarkable decision at 17 to have a baby and marry the father, is that it is not about her or her daughter.  Instead, it’s supposed to be a sign of McCain’s reckless decision-making and an implication that other skeleton’s lurk int he closet. 

That may be true for some, but that’s just a ruse.  It’s a cover, an alibi.  It’s obvious the collision of an evangelical Republican woman and her family’s ordinary problems is supposed to make us all despair.  No one’s good! Everyone’s a hypocrite! It’s like the thin tissue of relevance surrounding the Jon Benet Ramsey killing. In that case, we were all invited by the media to look in horror at her over-sexualized beauty contest performances.  The media claim they show us these images to demonstrate their awfulness and as part of the story.  But then they repeat the glamour shots ad nauseum. 

McCain should be judged on his merits.  If he rushed to pick her that should not be a surprise. This guy rushes to antagonize Russia, rarely knows the facts of any important issue, and is a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy.  He always has been. This is not news.  This is part of his appeal to some.

But even if he discovered Palin’s daughter was pregnant, should that have disqualified her?  Should he have not nominated her?  Hardly.  The Left’s cynicism and despair are a far cry from the moral realism of social conservatives, who are well aware that stuff happens, kids get pregnant, and that it’s far more admirable in this day and age to allow that unexpected child to live than to abort it, as Obama has implied he’d encourage his daughters in a similar situation. 

Palin’s daughter’s human weaknesses are far less of a commentary on either her or her mom’s character, whereas Obama’s admission that he’d encourage his daughters to have an abortion rather than be “punsihed witha  baby” shows him to be a callous, overly image-conscous human being. 

This will backfire on the Democrats.  There may be other legitimate concerns about Palin, such as her flirtation with the Alaska secessionist movement.  But things like her husband’s 20 year old DUI or her daughter’s pregnancy will only make the Left look mean-spirited and judgmental, traints which they project upon evangelicals without understanding in the least the basic vibe of Christian churches, which is very much the opposite.  Tales of lives gotten off track are not new to such people; any set-back is rightly seen in today’s Christian churches chiefly as an opportunity to get back on track and honor God going-forward.

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Sara Palin changes the race considerably.  She is by all accounts a decent woman, a principled pro-lifer, and a real conservative.  The problem is that she’s running with a guy that is impulsive, difficult, anti-conservative, pro-immigration, and foolish on foreign policy.  It’s hard to vote for McCain simply because he’s picked a solid running mate.

Further, she has been a conservative in a place where it’s easy to be conservative.  How will she fare when accused of helping the rich, being in the pocket of “Big Oil,” racism, “hating the poor,” and all the other typical charges of the media against principled conservatives?  Will she embrace McCain’s interventionist spirit which defines events in Georgia and Sudan as indistinguishable from those in Afghanistan or Mexico?  So far, she appears already to have backed off from the charge she was a Buchananite in ’96, as if that were disqualifying. It reminds me of my ambivalence about Harriett Miers, who sounded decent enough, but didn’t appear too sharp and obviously had no stomach for the name-calling one must endure as a principled conservative.  Further, any beef on her experience is kind of ridiculous considering Obama’s mediocre record and permanent candidate status in his two years in the Senate.  Moreover, Palin’s actually cut spending, cleaned up corruption, and made executive decisions when she was not out hunting Caribou and winning beauty contests.  This is more than Biden, Obama, and McCain can say for themselves.

McCain and Buchanan are about as far apart as two candidates could be in the Republican Party, and it is a bit of an idle hope that someone so young and devoid of a power base as Palin could turn McCain and DC in the right direction.  The opposite appears far more likely.

Nonetheless, her addition is a great positive for the Republican Party and as a purely political matter has reinvigorated McCain’s hitherto listless campaign.  Even if McCain loses, she would be well positioned in 2012 to lead the party back to its small government, self-reliant roots.

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I think Obama’s talk about McCain’s houses will not fly.  The usual implication of wealth in a political campaign is that someone is out of touch with and indifferent to the sufferings of ordinary people.  But as a former military man and POW, McCain will always have “street cred” with the working classes as someone who has suffered in his life, and, better yet, suffered for his country. 

These charges won’t stick.  It’s part of a general odd tone of the Obama campaign, as if any attack is equal to any other.  There is no narrative unity.  Consider Obama’s whiney argument that McCain (and his surrogates) should not question his patriotism, and in return he won’t question McCain’s.  Huh? McCain’s commitment to the country is undeniable. He might be wrong-headed and embrace a liberal version of open-borders, but his subjective intent and life experiences count for something.  Obama, by contrast, spent much of his life affiliating with people highly critical of the country and its core institutions, people like Jeremiah Wright and terrorist Bill Ayers.  Coupled with symbolic acts like his resistance to rituals like the national anthem, frankly his patriotism is questionable.  Either way, he should stay off the topic.  It is as if McCain were to say in pseudo-magnaminous fashion, “I won’t question my opponent’s commitment to civil rights.”  No shit.

By contrast,the Rezko stuff and Obama’s shady housing deals are easily coupled with Obama’s prep school years and Ivy League alma maters and occasional resentment of America to show him as a guy who thinks he is so smart and so worthy that the rules do not apply to him. Instead of reflexively suggesting that McCain’s snobbery is extant and equal to his own, Obama would benefit by contrasting his native smarts with McCain’s pig-headedness and bad judgment.  This character debate is a dead-end for Obama and ultimately helpful to McCain. 

Obama has another challenge. He has boxed himself in by campaigning like this post-political voice of reason.  Every time he strikes or strikes back, even if it’s reasonable on the merits, it hurts his main narrative and marks him as indistinguishable from every other politician.  You at least knew that Clinton played hard-ball the minute he got rolling in 1992.  Of course, this “post political” narrative should have been deconstructed a long time ago.  This charlatan rose through the ranks of Chicago politics and has played the race cards about as frequently and obnoxiously as McCain appealed to his POW credentials.  We have too power-obsessed biography candidates who avoid ever being clear about any real policy matters. 

In the end, this stuff is only of mild academic interest to me.  I find this campaign boring beyond belief, not least because I don’t plan on voting for either of the two front-runners, and I find them both to be slaves to political correctness, unserious in their treatment of our nation’s problems, and both represent different variations of consensus liberalism.

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Obama’s flip-flopping is more dangerous than it is for most candidates because it cuts against the central theme of his campaig:  that he was a new kind of politician who would speak plainly, deliver bad news, and work in good faith with both sides to address persistent long-term problems that are politically costly to address.  It’s not just a question of inconsistency or whether he is a closet liberal.  He is and inconsistent but quite obviously open and avowed liberal, when you listen carefully.  It’s a question of whether he is a coward, exemplified by his numerous “present” votes in the Illinois legislature and federal Senate.

Consider his latest statement on Iraq:

As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.

Talk about triangulation.  This 95% draw down of troops coupled with training cadres may be a good compromise.  But it does not match his primary rhetoric, which was explicitly against any involvemetn in Iraq.  Leaving troops to fight al Qaeda and train Iraqis is a huge exception that could easily metastasize into logistics support, force protection troops, etc.  Let’s not forget, Vietnam began with training troops and the addition of U.S. Marines to protect airfields in Danang, something I doubt Obama is too familiar with. 

I would ordinarily applaud the prudence of Obama on something like this, but I don’t think his more ardent anti-war supporters would.  And I’m reluctant to see anything all that encouraging, as I think on Iraq, as on everything else, his domestic political goal of accruing and keeping political power drives all of his decisionmaking, including on sensitive matters of foreign policy.  If McCain is driven by the politics of honor and grand historical gestures, Obama is driven by the small politics of popularity.

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Obama excited the Democratic base for several reasons.  He is young, obviously smart, thoughtful, a good speaker, and charismatic.  He is black, which excited blacks who are unusually tribal in matters political, but he also excited younger whites indoctrinated in multiculturalism since their infancy and unimpressed with the GOP’s conventional choices.  FInally, and most importantly, he was forthright on the war, an issue that seperated him dramatically from the cynical Hillary Clinton.  Even anti-war conservatives have given him serious consideration on account of this stand.  Now he’s damaged his credibility on this issue after weeks of damaging his credibility in general by making a move to the center. 

Daniel Larison remarks:

[I]t seems to me that the charge that Obama committed a first-class political blunder going into a long weekend is basically right.  Having already given substance to the idea that he will abandon important pledges made during the primaries with his flips on the FISA legislation and public financing, and having apparently reversed himself on at least a couple other questions in the space of a few weeks, it was an unusually poor time to be “inartful,” as they like to call it, about one of the central policy questions of the day.  Even if Obama’s remarks were completely consistent with past statements, which I think is not the case, he had nonetheless set himself up over the last few weeks to be attacked for yet another shift on a major policy.  If the McCain campaign has a problem coming up with a coherent message, Obama’s campaign has its own problems with message discipline.  Having just shaken the confidence of many of his supporters over the FISA bill and having opened himself up to being portrayed as opportunistic on something as fundamental as constitutional protections, this was hardly the time to start talking about “refining” anything.  The Obama campaign wants the candidate to display thoughtfulness, but they don’t seem to think very much about how the candidate’s phrases will be interpreted by supporters and critics alike. 

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Not to be too cynical, but this announcement is just in time to address nasty homosexuality rumors and allow him to be considered more seriously for the VP slot.

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