Taking advantage of a lull during finals week, and prompted by a classmate, I've decided to look at John McCain in this installment, with the next one focused on John Edwards. This post will follow the precedent established by my posts on Ron Paul and Bill Richardson, dissecting his opinions as they are best made available to the public. I have articles written by him in issues of Foreign Affairs, and comparing the two takes will be an interesting approach for later. Selling the intelligentsia requires such a different set of skills than selling "the masses", as it were, so it would be unfair to bring that in for this post.
I chose McCain for a few reasons. Firstly, I used to like him. In 2005, I wrote a report arguing that the way around partisan bickering and frustration was a center-center party, a collection of electable moderates who were willing to forge ahead with solid compromise solutions. I envisioned something like the political balance from 1820 to 1850, with a series of landmark compromises. At the head of this new electorate, I placed John McCain, and I chose him over the other reigning moderate Hillary Clinton. Hillary struck me as too much of a centrist, always gravitating towards the most universally minimally offensive position, and often falling in line with the president. McCain, I thought, was a man of some conviction, who was a moderate but ranged from left to right on his stances, and held strong opinions that allowed him to chose the right path for the nation. In 2005, I laid out an idealized version of John McCain, circa 2000. As I was working on this report, John McCain threw himself at the religious right, and later on helped authorize torture. This was off-putting, and I've been left with an impression of him as little more than a hack, trying desperately to flee from the left he once willing worked with. McCain is here to complete the trio of Ron Paul the idealist, Bill Richardson the pragmatist, and John McCain the hack.
Edit: Finals got the better of me, so this is coming out after he was endorsed by Lieberman; I would have cheered this in 2000, especially in 2004, but now it's a rather bleak turn of events.
John McCain through the Lens of Kelsey Atherton
Government Spending, Lower Taxes, and Economic Prosperity - He gets points here for attacking the deficit, which is a damn good move from those of us who like a nation with a realistic ability to pays its bills. He loses all of them when he says that pet projects are what should be cut, offers to cut taxes, and devotes priority funding to the military. The war is running up the deficit, Mr. McCain, and there is no realistic way around this unless you cut war spending. As for pet projects, they are a way of life, and while they are frustrating on the national scale, they are going to be almost impossible to get rid, ingrained as they are in the American political process. As for cutting taxes - Really? We have a tremendous deficit and you are proposing tax cuts. Really? That's what you're doing here? That makes no sense. None. At all. Reaganomics failed for a reason, and the Clinton economy worked for a reason. That reason is taxes.
He goes on, here, talking about transparency (good), changes to social security (questionable), and then talks about how low taxes only work with low spending, because this will spur private investment. It's a common line of thought; my frustrations with it are that it doesn't account for jobs the private sector is unwilling/unable to provide for all people. It's a problem that stems from frustrations with privatized education, but it applies everywhere - if we want something to be available for everyone, it has to be a public good provided by the government; if we want something to be exclusive, allowing access only to those with the means to obtain it, we hand it over to the private sector. Much of what government does I am unwilling to see handed over to the private sector.
He ends with a note about opening up new markets. Okay, sure. If you include Cuba and other nations we've long been petty-spiting, I've no reason to object to this. The time to object would have been when China was opened up, and that isn't going to be undone anytime soon.
Lobbying and Ethics Reform - This section is full of wonderful little gems of wordplay; "John McCain would shine the disinfecting light of public scrutiny on those who abuse the public purse" being my favorite. He attacks pork barrel, he calls for ethic reform, and it is all decent stuff, if unlikely to happen (under any administration, not just his). He looks at campaign finance reform, and says that the free society practice of giving money to candidates a person supports should be allowed; this isn't quite saying that it should be free market, but it is interesting. He follows it up with a compromise that I'd been looking for in his rhetoric: "enforce long-standing prohibitions on corporate and union contributions to federal political parties". This is a party-balanced measure, aimed at limiting reliable donors two both parties, and its a good move. Realistic if not ideal, and what I would have expected from him in 2000.
The Consequences of Failure in Iraq - My problem with this plan is that I like it. Not the posturing, not the "staying in Iraq" bit, but as far as execution of a policy I disagree with, this is very good. There's a bitterness to his plan, a sense of atonement for Vietnam (see "Win the Homefront), and he is trying to restructure the United States into a position of strength, so that we can more effectively posture at Syria and Iran, political moves of which I don't approve . However, despite the faults, he sees the importance of stable military leadership, of the whole "rebuilding" process, of a more valid approach than small zones of control for US soldiers to more safely exist in, and of a stable national authority in Iraq. I disagree with the policy so much that I can't support him in his goals here, but it is a strong showing for undersecretary of defense. A step down, sure, but it deals with political and military realities, and it would be a useful position for him.
Border Security and Immigration Reform: This page is a quick read, a bullet point list of some overall plans, hitting upon such points as the need for business-friendly policy, the need to keep Latin America on our side, the need for a "flexible labor market", the need for immigrants to be properly instilled with righteous American values. It's textbook stuff, as it were, and while I'm surprised the Arizonan doesn't have a more definitive stance, it could just be that Arizona is the border state with the white-bread mildly xenophobic attitude we find cropping up elsewhere. He bothers me with they "shining city on a hill" metaphor; it's a phrase designed to instill a holier-than-thou attitude, and to say that we are the beacon of moral righteousness. I've more trouble with that metaphor itself (trouble better suited to an English essay), but the attitude itself is harmful, and it reflects siege mentality. We are a pious city on a hill, defending ourselves from the hordes of barbarians who try every day to assail our noble kingdom, and why don't we have a moat already? It isn't isolationist so much as it is imperial, or a fitting metaphor for a crusader state. Not what I like, and especially not what I like in regards to immigration policy.
Commitment To America's Service Members: Past And Present - Lots of benefits for veterans, interesting choice sponsorship of Troops-to-Teachers and an expanded G.I. Bill, and generally decent stuff about making the military, and part-time military service, a financially rewarding option, and with enough money to pay for families left behind. The troubling part in this section is that he "believes that the fundamental role of reservists has changed over the last decade", which is frustrating because it means that the Army could look to reservists as standard soldiers. This is bad because it means that the reserve will become more of an occupation force, instead of troops held back for dire circumstances/US invasion. Reserves just shouldn't be standard.
National Security - His intro here is a broad covering of why the US needs to be powerful, and why the US military needs to be the foremost military power in the world. China and Russia may come into play as regional rivals, he says, and it's bold, fighting words with Russia becoming more common of late than they have been for almost two decades. That's the secondary threat he mentions, though it is the threat that justifies high-end technological development. The main threat, of course are "Islamist extremists" (saying "fundamentalist Muslims terrorist groups" would have been too wordy and only, you know, correct). I'm going to disagree with anyone who thinks a 'war on terror" is a simple two-sided affair, and that terrorist attacks by private citizens is equivalent to the war engaged in by nations. Terrorism is a tool, utilizing terror against a government is an attempt to make the cost of some action that government undertakes too high for the government to continue to undertake it. If the US pulled out of the middle east, stopped supporting Israel, and gave up on the Saudi royal family, Al Qaeda's objectives on 9/11 would have been fulfilled. There is no forced surrender, and no desire to harm the US if they keep these things up. Terrorism is complex, and no amount of rhetoric pandering to Middle America will make it anything like simple. "Sacred responsibility" is a scary term for a secular government, and he uses it too much. Viewing terrorist doctrine as a doctrine of "hatred and despair" is wrong-headed and ignorant, and overlooks broader issues.
Missile defense is frustrating, as it increases the risk of nuclear war, while doing hardly anything (if doing anything at all) to increase the survivability of such a war. Also, North Korea isn't really a threat, much as they would like to be.
In his talk of funding, he uses the word "parochial" too much for my tastes; while pork barrel is nothing great, it's a misplaced attack, and he hammers it down.
McCain, in the phrase "knows that the most difficult and solemn decision a president must make is sending young Americans into harm's way" mistakes what a president can do for what congress should be able to do, and bad constitutionality is no good.
Lastly, while I disagree over most military matters, including his undiscussed troop increase, his idea for "a new mix of military forces, including civil affairs, special operations, and highly mobile forces capable of fighting and prevailing in the conflicts America faces." is slightly redeeming.
Stewards of Our Nation's Rich Natural Heritage: Despite the fancy title, McCain skimps in this section. He addresses global warming, he attacks liberals, and he believes in the government helping to further along things like nuclear energy and buying carbon credits as a way to help address this earth-changing phenomenon. It is an okay policy, and a republican addressing global warming is smart. The phrase "History shows that poverty is a poor steward." is an interesting one, and shows that he is putting economic concerns way up their in his environmental view, which makes sense, even if it is a tad disappointing.
Protecting Second Amendment Rights: He is in favor of citizens having guns. Safety's on the guns, ID checks everywhere, and harsher penalties for gun crime are the bones thrown to gun control groups. Removing restrictions on ammo clips, ammo itself, waiting periods for buying guns, and restrictions on what types of guns can be bought are all things McCain supports. I am in a tricky place on the second amendment, so I'll skip commentary.
I can't support McCain. I like him in congress, from Arizona. I have little fondness for Arizona, and so he seems to be the best of what the state could produce. As a president, he would be the champion of compromise solutions between the far right and the center-right. That fringe of the left would be meaningless to him. He works well with Lieberman independents and Hillary democrats, making comprises between the center right and the center center. He takes more stands, and mobilizes the unwilling to resist. He's a product of the Gingrich majority, and of the compromise that is one-sided. Ron Paul is preferable, and I disagree with Ron Paul on half of what he says.
McCain would be a desperate gambit, a bid from the Republican party to sway the center. Look to him for vice presidential nominations.