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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Unkindest Cut to McCain

I always knew the McCain campaign would not implode and consume itself in a fiery blast and go down to smoking ruin but would die a slow death of a thousand cuts. Still, George Will just inflicted a pretty big wound on McCain’s campaign today with this column.
Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journal to editorialize that "McCain untethered" -- disconnected from knowledge and principle -- had made a "false and deeply unfair" attack on Cox that was "unpresidential" and demonstrated that McCain "doesn't understand what's happening on Wall Street any better than Barack Obama does."
Ok, I don’t agree with Mr. Will or the WSJ about that last sentence. In fact, I believe Obama has a far better grasp of the Street than McCain ever will because the Arizona senator has chosen to insulate himself in a bubble with advisers whose anti-regulatory, free market ideology is largely responsible for this mess to begin with.

Nevertheless, one thing Will and other thoughtful, mainstream conservatives are starting to see, and this is where I agree with them, McCain is temperamentally unsuited to be president.
In any case, McCain's smear -- that Cox "betrayed the public's trust" -- is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people. McCain's Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law's restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending.
In addition:
Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?
McCain’s hot headedness has long been documented and it’s raised questions in the past among his Senate colleagues. Here’s the danger.

John McCain has been given a free ride on national security. The press and public both have assumed that he’s the stronger candidate on those issues and if the economy hadn’t so dramatically grabbed center stage, Americans would be giving their trust to a McCain presidency, especially if the crisis had been a military or national security emergency rather than an economic one. But McCain is no more worthy of trust in the area of national security and for much the same basic reason.

Experience and knowledge aside, does anybody want somebody with John McCain's explosive temper and unpredictable decision-making abilities having his hand so near the button? Would anybody even trust him to the serious job of negotiation with a foreign power? Let's face it, at 3 a.m., the last thing you need in the White House is a hot head having a temper tantrum because somebody he already considers evil has woken him up. What's needed in crisis, whether economic or military is a calm, cool and logical mind not somebody given to quirky bursts of temper.

As Will so aptly points out, experience can be gained. A temperament like John McCain’s cannot be corrected, especially in a 72 year old man so set in his ways. And frankly, his running mate, Sarah Palin, should inspire no greater faith than he does. She lacks experience and temperament. Like McCain, she is incurious, sees the world in black and white, and during her tenure as governor has lashed out and persecuted her enemies, both personal and political – that’s what Troopergate is all about.

So not by a thousand cuts, but George Will may have delivered the mortal wound to McCain’s candidacy, at least among serious, mainstream conservatives who still value their nation’s well being above shallow partisan triumphalism.

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