Friday, September 5, 2008

John McCain is AWOL

Poor John McCain.

He is now officially Absent Without Leave from the culture wars surrounding him on all sides. He persists in an irrational delusion that political division is based on political egos, rather than on rational and profound disagreements on the nature of our social contract: individual rights vs. group obligations, political freedom vs. economic liberty, role of religion in politics and society, constitutional guarantees vs. public safety, freedom of expression vs. cultural comfort, parental vs. societal interests in the protection and upbringing of children. The list goes on and on, with perhaps two-thirds of Americans ready to shout at the top of their lungs over each of these issues.

Who is this Solomon John McCain to settle our legitimate disputes by dividing the baby in two? Maybe on tax policy, but what about gay marriage? Reproductive freedom? Separation of church and state? These are land mines in American society. You can steer left or right of them, but compromise will end badly.

John McCain was short on specifics in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. I will add my own commentary [in brackets], pointing out where he and I do not see eye to eye. I find myself siding with the Christian Right on this one: there is a culture war going on, and John McCain is nowhere to be found. For indeed, managing this war is the true role of the modern American Presidency, and there is no room for appeasement.

I'm grateful to the President [whose name he dares not utter here...] for leading us in those dark days following the worst attack on American soil in our history and keeping us safe from another attack many thought was inevitable; [and for no other reason?]....And I'm grateful to the 41st president [whose name he also strangely fails to speak aloud] and his bride of 63 years, and for their outstanding example of honorable service to our country. [Shockingly, he fails even to allude to Ronald Reagan, the very founder of the modern Republican coalition!]

Finally, a word to Sen. Obama and his supporters. We'll go at it over the next two months. That's the nature of these contests, and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. [Utter silence descends on the audience here] Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other. We're dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. No country ever had a greater cause than that. And I wouldn't be an American worthy of the name if I didn't honor Sen. Obama and his supporters for their achievement. [So McCain is saying that the vast majority of hard-core Republican supporters are unAmerican? No wonder the audience went silent...]

And I've found just the right partner [actually, the Christian Right found her for you] to help me shake up Washington, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. She has executive experience and a real record of accomplishment. She's tackled tough problems like energy independence and corruption. She's balanced a budget, cut taxes and taken on the special interests. She's reached across the aisle and asked Republicans, Democrats and independents to serve in her administration [does this remind you of a certain former "compassionate conservative" governor?] . She's the mother of five children. She's helped run a small business, worked with her hands and knows what it's like to worry about mortgage payments and health care and the cost of gasoline and groceries. [Oh, and did I also mention in passing that she is a fundamentalist Christian, a card-carrying member of the NRA, and an anti-choice extremist, none of which are presumably worth mentioning here?]

She knows where she comes from [rural America, tired of urban domination] and she knows who she works for [God].

I'm very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country. [Actually, she and the country seem to have gotten very well acquainted without his mediation, seeing as he apparently chose her only days before her nomination].

You know, I've been called a maverick [or loose cannon, if you are less charitable. My friend Brendan reminds me that an honest politician is "one who stays bought"!]; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you. [Who exactly is the "you" here? A solid majority of Americans have a strong affiliation with a political party that they feel does authentically represent their "special interests".]

I've fought corruption, and it didn't matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. [There are roughly three main Republican themes: God, Country, and Wealth. Care to guess which one has recently fallen out of favor?]

I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do. [I have to give him this one! Clinton failed this test of conviction with her once-bitten-twice-shy triangulation strategy.] And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war [leaving aside of course the larger question whether it was wise for the Republicans to have started the Iraq War in the first place.]

I fight for Americans. I fight for you [not in my name, please...] I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market. [Ok, I confess this example leaves me dumbfounded. Are we really to feel sorry for a (presumably) working-class couple that borrowed money they couldn't pay back to gamble on a get-rich-quick scheme flipping houses? Say it ain't so, John!]

I fight for Jake and Toni Wimmer of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Jake works on a loading dock, coaches Little League, and raises money for the mentally and physically disabled. Toni is a schoolteacher, working toward her master's degree. They have two sons; the youngest, Luke, has been diagnosed with autism. Their lives should matter to the people they elect to office [as opposed to my life, which doesn't? Just making sure...]. They matter to me [which is why he will do what exactly for them? Increase federal spending on autism research? Pray for their souls? Feature them in his acceptance speech?]

I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger [while George W. Bush searched in vain for his lost Veto stamp?]. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both (!) parties and Sen. Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. [Both parties? Flash quiz: which party received the most donations from Big Oil? Guesses anyone? Actually, no need to guess. Here is the breakdown for the last twelve years. Notice a pattern?

Donations to both political parties by the oil and gas industry

I think we can guess where 3/4 of the corruption has gone.]

We lost their trust, when we valued our power over our principles. [I assume by "we" he means "the Republican Party"?]

We're going to change that. [You will have plenty of time to do this while serving some well-deserved time-out in the penalty box.]

We're going to recover the people's trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics. [Excuse me? I will give you Reagan. But Lincoln and (Teddy) Roosevelt? Lincoln freed the slaves from the Dixiecrat bigots that fled the Dems in 1948 and whose fellow Southerners now make up a major constituency of the Republican party. Teddy Roosevelt set aside huge tracts of the West for preservation, not oil drilling. And he left the Republican party out of the same disgust that McCain must be feeling about now.]

We believe everyone [or maybe just American citizens?] has something to contribute and deserves the opportunity to reach their God-given potential [except gays, who cannot get married, or atheists, whose potential is not God-given] from the boy whose descendants arrived on the Mayflower to the Latina daughter of migrant workers. We're all God's children and we're all Americans. [We pause while Mr. McCain clears this first with his Republican base...]

We believe in low taxes, spending discipline and open markets. We believe in rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor [provided of course that you have nepotistic connections, access to capital, and the privilege of birth and race lotttery, good education, and a social safety net when risks fail].

We believe in a strong defense [i.e. America first], work, faith [in Christ], service, a culture of life [i.e. anti-choice but pro-death-penalty], personal responsibility, the rule of law [created by those in power], and judges who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench [such as in Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Gideon v. Wainwright, Lawrence v. Texas, and yes, Roe v. Wade. Should I go on?]

We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities. [Who doesn't, unless their prejudices should infringe on my constitutionally guaranteed rights.]

We believe in a government that unleashes the [economic, not social] creativity and initiative of Americans. Government that doesn't make your choices for you [unless God commands it], but works to make sure you have more choices to make for yourself [unless your choice is to terminate your pregnancy or get married to a same-sex partner].

I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can [across the board, so the very rich get most of the benefit]. My opponent will raise them [albeit on the richest 5% of Americans]....I will cut government spending [unlike his own party currently in power, which has increased federal spending more than did any previous President and Congress ever before]. He will increase it [no doubt to pay the trillion dollars (!) that the Iraq war will cost the U.S. Treasury].

My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance. His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government-run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor. [Actually, a bureaucrat does stand between me and my doctor. He is a bean counter for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of California, and it took six months and testimonials of medical necessity from two oral surgeons, a primary physician, an orthodontist, and a dentist, along with implied threats of a lawsuit, to prevail on appeal in a routine and very necessary lower jaw surgery authorization. Lucky for me, there is no government bureaucrat interfering in this relationship!]

Keeping taxes low helps small businesses grow and create new jobs. Cutting the second-highest business tax rate in the world will help American companies compete and keep jobs from moving overseas [and possibly even trickle down to the masses enough to maintain their political support]. Doubling the child tax exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 will improve the lives of millions of American families [though not mine]. Reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs will let you keep more of your own money to save, spend and invest as you see fit.

For workers in industries that have been hard hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower-paid one while they receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage. [Is this a loan or a gift? Guarantee of work? Wage supports? What party does McCain belong to again?]

Education is the civil rights issue of this century. [Not the right to vote? The right to sit on any bench and drink from any water fountain? The right not to be imprisoned without due process of law or even habeas corpus? The right to be presumed innocent until found guilt in a court of law?]

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school [unless there is no room, which is certain to be the case in cities, or unless there are no other schools, in more rural areas]. Some may choose a private one [i.e. religious one or government-supported home-schooling, since non-religious private schools are too expensive to be funded by vouchers anyway]. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity. [Unless of course, other societal causes of academic failure predominate, such as broken homes, indifferent parents, peer pressure, lack of a home reading culture, single parents, urban violence, hunger, poverty, language difficulties, migrant parents forced to move constantly in search of work or, in the case of undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children, to avoid being deported.]

Sen. Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucracies. I want schools to answer to parents and students. And when I'm president, they will. [What unions? Teachers have a much higher approval rating than politicians do. And the main bureaucracy in education is controlled at the local level by school boards (with the one major exception of special education, which has strong and expensive government mandates, but perhaps Gov. Palin wants to remove these?) Maybe schools should be run directly from Washington? Or maybe the control desired is not quality but content of instruction, with local freedom to teach creationism or religion with taxpayer dollars?]

My fellow Americans, when I'm president, we're going to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades. We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. [No more bribing Egypt $1.3 billion per year to honor a peace treaty with Israel, incidently a lot less money than we would have to give to Israel to defend itself otherwise.] We will attack the problem on every front. We will produce more energy at home. [Goverment subsidies?] We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now [with the oil sold at world prices to China. After all, these are private oil companies, or does McCain plan to nationalize them?] We will build more nuclear power plants [although the economics of this are far from clear: according to Robert D. Glynn Jr., the chairman of Pacific Gas & Electric in San Francisco, "To order a new nuclear plant today, you'd have to be crazy."] We will develop clean coal technology [no such thing]. We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex-fuel [water and crop-intensive], hybrid and electric automobiles [solutions for global warming perhaps, but not energy independence. Oh, did someone forget the most obvious and effective measures of all: conservation, higher fuel efficiency standards, investment in public transportation, and yes, inflating your tires?]

Sen. Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling and without more nuclear power [no he doesn't, nor does anyone else. According to Gov. Palin herself, such a goal is not possible for a country as energy-hungry as the US: "Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems — as if we all didn't know that already."]. But Americans know better than that. We must use all resources and develop all technologies necessary to rescue our economy from the damage caused by rising oil prices and to restore the health of our planet. [Maybe he should check with his Vice-Presidential nominee, who had just gotten done saying the night before (and rather snidely too, if I can say that without being accused of sexism or "media bias"): "what exactly is our opponent's plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet?"] It's an ambitious plan, but Americans are ambitious by nature, and we have faced greater challenges. It's time for us to show the world again how Americans lead. [Shouldn't we make sure the rest of the world wants to follow? Maybe we should take the log out of our own eye before leading the Europeans, who are way out in front of us on environmental policy.]

We have dealt a serious blow to al-Qaida in recent years [in Afghanistan, although they are regrouping while we fritter our money and troops away in Iraq, where al-Qaida never had a real presence]. But they are not defeated, and they'll strike us again if they can. Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism and on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons [aided by our loss of credibility over WMD in Iraq]. Russia's leaders, rich with oil wealth [a little Republican irony here] and corrupt with power, have rejected democratic ideals [yet enjoy strong popular backing after the kleptocracy we helped to create after the fall of the Soviet Union] and the obligations of a responsible power [i.e. they want to project their power as we do ours]. They invaded a small, democratic neighbor [which awkwardly has its own domestic ethnic division and oppression, reflected in the nationalist drive to keep "Georgia for the Georgians"] to gain more control over the world's oil supply [as opposed to say the Saudis?], intimidate other neighbors [as we do with sanctions], and further their ambitions of reassembling the Russian empire. And the brave people of Georgia need our solidarity and prayers [but not South Ossetians, Abkhazians, Kurds, Roma, or other stateless people?]. As President, I will work to establish good relations with Russia so we need not fear a return of the Cold War [which naturally would require that both sides' needs are satisfied]. But we can't turn a blind eye to aggression and international lawlessness that threatens the peace and stability of the world and the security of the American people.

We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I'm not afraid of them. [Then George W. Bush has not done his job!] I'm prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better [like give up its lust of multibillion dollar cold-war-era weapon systems?], and what it should not do [like nation building or regime change?]. I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it [I'm glad you're omniscient. Just please don't look into Putin's soul, ok?]. I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who don't. I know how to secure the peace. [Here's one way: strengthen our alliances instead of alienating them with "old Europe" talk.]

We need to change the way government does almost everything.... [Whoa! A little reality check is in order. You have a country sharply divided along religious, regional, political, and class faultlines, with an aging baby boomer majority population interested in investing in only two things (their own retirement and health care) and a crumbling infrastructure resulting from the lowest taxes by far in the developed Western World. Perhaps a little focus and less ambitious agenda might be more productive?]

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 you. [If only! It's what happens when group A and group B have profoundly (and often legitimately) differing views on our social contract, and elect political representatives that attempt to accurately reflect the views of their constituents.]

Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That's how I will govern as president. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Sen. Obama does not. [Actually, we all have scars from eight years of an Administration catering to 51% of the population, with reckless contempt for the other 49%. It is a little unfair to expect bipartisanship to break out until we get our 8 years in office to undo the damage. To the barricades...]

I've been an imperfect servant....And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God. [Truly, John, you had me 8 paragraphs ago. Let me stipulate here and now unequivocally how much respect I have for your personal sacrifice in Vietnam. I know of no one who disagrees with this statement. I will not even quibble with your having made this the dominant justification of your candidacy (along with the Mr. Smith Goes To Washington fantasy). I certainly have neither the standing nor the desire to refute it, but hope you will understand that I do not consider it sufficient reason to vote for you.]

If you find faults with our country, make it a better one [I intend to with my vote on Election Day]. If you're disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our armed forces [or Peace Corps, as I did!]. Become a teacher [as my husband did!]. Run for public office [can't, people won't vote for a gay atheist]. Defend the rights of the oppressed [like gays and lesbians?]. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier [though I doubt that Gov. Palin or her supporters will!].

I'm going to fight for my cause every day as your president. I'm going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him: that I'm an American [also, God, thanks for making me a man, as the Arabs say, and decently well off and intelligent, and white, and having my education paid for by self-sacrificing parents, and all the other "privileges" I have You to thank for that make me better than lesser mortals in the hierarchy of divine favoritism], a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth [surely everyone on Earth can agree on this!], and with hard work, strong faith [in a Christian God] and a little courage, great things are always within our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me.

Trust me, John McCain. I will fight with you. With this blog, with my vote, with my very soul. Your party platform is toxic to my being, its beliefs anathema to my own. Your affiliation with the GOP has already established my opposition to your cause.

Not to worry. Your inspired choice of Gov. Palin will more than compensate you with lots of passionate new friends you never knew you had. Enjoy them with God's blessings. And if you should win, please believe me...I wish you a long and healthy Presidency!


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Weston,

Your column popped up in my Google alerts this morning, and I thought I'd respond just for kicks.

I agree with your point about the "honoring our opponents." Elections are not won with heaping shovel fulls of mutual admiration. He shouldn't expect the same from Mr. Obama.

I also agreed that the real estate example was not the best he could offer. "Real estate investments" was rather vague.

Finally, the sanctimony regarding campaign contributions rather galls me. It doesn't matter if it comes from Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Labor Unions or Hollywood.

I glossed over all sections about Republicans, like me, are ugly extremists, etc. etc. No offense taken.

I consider you in error regarding the TR Abe Lincoln comments. In listening to John McCain I believe he was embracing Republicans who did the right thing rather than what was politically expedient, and we need more like that--blah, blah.

I admire both men for various reasons, and I think it's always galled Democrats that they're in the Republican column, so much so that they make another error. Commentators will take these former presidents--a 19th century man and an early 20th century one--and place with within the context of the 21st century. They then try to say they'd be...Democrats.

I don't think so. You fall into this trap a little bit yourself. Abe Lincoln did believe slavery was wrong, and he took it to the South, thus preserving the nation. But Mr. Lincoln was a railroad lawyer who believed in the big government of the time, not help the powerless, but to encourage commerce. Even his admirers say his administrative tactics during the war were heavy handed at times and even violated the Constitution.

Teddy Roosevelt was certainly quite the preservationist. He was also a prude, a gun nut, a big game hunter, and believed women should be...well married. He also charged up San Juan Hill and believed in Big Stick diplomacy, using the Navy in creative ways to accomplish this.

What would Teddy think now? I have no idea, but based on what we know I think he'd be more likely to enjoy a cup of tea with John McCain than with Barack O'Bama.

I enjoyed your column.


Unknown said...


Please call me Dan. I loved every part of your response except its anonymity. If you too have a blog, you are depriving me of its wisdom by hiding your light. May I (gently) encourage you to "come out of the closet" and publicly join the discussion?

As to your comments:

I glossed over all sections about Republicans, like me, are ugly extremists, etc. etc. No offense taken.

None implied. I never said "all", and tried to be clear that (except for the word bigot with Dixiecrats, a charge I stand by) I did not judge the Right Wing in pursuing their beliefs. It is McCain who is passing judgment on this.

I consider you in error regarding the TR Abe Lincoln comments. In listening to John McCain I believe he was embracing Republicans who did the right thing rather than what was politically expedient, and we need more like that--blah, blah.

Oh, I guess I missed his point entirely. I thought he (or his party) was taking credit for their accomplishments and claiming historical continuity to them. It was this possibility that I thought AL and TR would object to. Both parties have evolved beyond recognition this last century.

Commentators will take these former presidents--a 19th century man and an early 20th century one--and place with within the context of the 21st century. They then try to say they'd be...Democrats.

Well, TR was the first U.S. president to call for universal health care and national health insurance. Sounds like a Democrat to me. Let's just call them historical figures and leave it at that.

But Mr. Lincoln was a railroad lawyer who believed in the big government of the time, not help the powerless, but to encourage commerce.

I don't think anyone advocated helping the poor until the Depression changed their minds. The political center has indeed moved left since.

Even his admirers say his administrative tactics during the war were heavy handed at times and even violated the Constitution.

Count me among them. His suspension of habeas corpus was unnecessary and used to suppress dissent. Can the end ever justify the means? Yes. The Lend-Lease program was inspired (though duplicitous) leadership. Abe had no such excuse.

Teddy Roosevelt...was also a prude, a gun nut, a big game hunter, and believed women should be...well married. He also charged up San Juan Hill and believed in Big Stick diplomacy, using the Navy in creative ways to accomplish this.

Guilty on all counts. Perhaps canonization is premature.

What would Teddy think now? I have no idea, but based on what we know I think he'd be more likely to enjoy a cup of tea with John McCain than with Barack O'Bama.

I agree (except that it's Obama, not O'Bama). I imagine they would compare Sarah Palin and TR's own VP Charles Fairbanks over that private cup of tea, and commiserate how for raw political reasons they had to take on a VP they could hardly stand (TR even supported his own VP's opponent in the next election).

Thanks again for enriching my understanding.

bjkeefe said...

Good to see you blogging again, Dan. This was an awesome effort.

Bess: If you ever check back, I'd be interested to know what phrase you have set for a Google alert that brought you to Dan's blog. Not that everyone shouldn't know about RoaCL, but the deserved acclaim is not there yet.

Back to Dan:

... except that it's Obama, not O'Bama ...


Unknown said...

Only a week before the election, and McCain still doesn't get it!

"You know, I didn't think she [Palin] would be so controversial," McCain said.

Huh? Even Palin's opponents acknowledge that she has pumped up her base. But remember that McCain picked her not to lure Bush voters (who would after all fall into line anyway) but Hillary voters. Oops.

Everyone but McCain understood what Palin stood for (at least until the $150,000 clothing fiasco) when she was selected. Can the man really be even now so clueless about the cultural division in this country and her role in exacerbating it?

McCain must be even more senile than I thought.