Wednesday, June 04, 2008

McCain: A "But" President?

On Tuesday night, RSI had some fun with John McCain's disastrous New Orleans speech. But today is a time for some serious reflection on some of the disadvantages of a John McCain presidency.

The "But" President . . . . A John McCain presidency would be a "but" presidency. To win the election, McCain has to get a lot of voters to have thoughts like this. McCain has to get conservatives to say "I don't like McCain but I like Obama and the Democrats even less." For moderates, it would be "I don't agree with John McCain on anything, but I'm going to vote for him anyway." McCain has no constituency outside the the mainstream media, Arizona, and perhaps the military. Everybody else will be a "but" vote.

That means that a McCain administration would command no loyalty, draw on no reservoir of good will, and have no honeymoon. And he'll get tested early because of the war. Congress is going to have to vote to re-authorize funding for the war in Iraq and the Democrats are going to have bigger majorities in both the House and the Senate. If the Democratic leadership decides to push to end the war, they'll still have public opinion behind them. What's McCain going to do? If McCain wins the presidential election, he'll win despite his support for the war, not because of it. What's he going to do if spending bills arrive without authorization to spend more money on combat operations in Iraq. Bush was eager to shut down the whole government to get more money for the war. I have a hard time seeing McCain as being willing to go for broke like that?

Likewise, what happens when things get rough? When gas hits 5$, unemployment climbs over 6%, or the war in Iraq heads south again. Who is McCain going to count on for support? Republicans? That not only unlikely, but it's easy to see conservatives as trying to sabotage a McCain presidency unless he is willing to toe the conservative line. McCain won't do much better with the Democrats. If the McCain ship starts to sink, Chris Matthews will be the only person manning a lifeline.

THE EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL PULPIT. It was well known that McCain is a terrible public speaker even before he made his pitiful New Orleans speech on Tuesday. In this regard, McCain is the opposite of President Bush. Never being committed to disciplining himself before strangers, Bush has always been clumsy and tongue-tied at informal events. However, Bush has had effective moments in his set speeches. McCain can be extremely effective in informal settings but doesn't have the most elementary skills in formal settings.

But guess what? Presidents of the United States have to give a wide variety of speeches in formal settings both here and abroad. In fact, the "bully pulpit" is one of the most important ways for a president to get out his or her message. How can McCain be anything like an effective president if he makes all his speeches excruciatingly painful? Bush was an embarrassment to the whole country. Wouldn't McCain be even more so?

THE CONSTITUTION OR THE WAR. John McCain has flip-flopped on a lot of issues lately, including comprehensive immigration reform, taxes cuts for the wealth, torture, and talking with Hamas. But his most disturbing change of mind concerns presidential power. Last December, McCain answered a question about Bush's claim to have "inherit" powers that allowed him to override the law by saying that
I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.

However, during the on-going debate over warrantless wiretapping/telecom amnesty legislation, the McCain campaign has come out fully in support of the Bush administration approach.
neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Glenn Greenwald thinks that McCain has now adopted the right-wing's most extreme views on executive power.
In order to satisfy the right-wing extremists he now needs, McCain . . . is now spouting theories of the Omnipotent President virtually equivalent to those used by John Yoo, David Addington and Dick Cheney over the last seven years to impose radical changes in how our Government functions.

However, since the 2006 election, extremists on the right have become even more extreme about presidential power than Greenwald acknowledges. Right after the election, Newt Gingrich called for curtailing the First Amendment. Other prominent conservative spokesmen than began to pick up the theme after the Democratic leadership began moving to cut off funding for the war. Harvard University conservative Harvey Mansfield discussed the virtues of one-man rule in times of war while columnist Thomas Sowell wrote about military dictatorship as the only solution to American "decadence. " Likewise, former Reagan defense official and long-time neo-con think tank warrior Frank Gaffney spoke warmly about imprisoning anti-war members of Congress like Carl Levin of Michigan. For a lot of conservatives, commitment to the war in Iraq trumps their commitment to the American constitution and American political institutions. If democratically-elected institutions aren't willing to support the war, then they are willing to overturn the Bill of Rights, Congress, the Courts, and democracy in general.

This is an issue for John McCain as well. Does McCain follow this extremist line of conservative thinking or would he be willing to oversee an American military withdrawal from Iraq if an elected Congress refused funding or would he rather overthrow the Congress and establish one-man rule in the name of pressing on with the war. I know this question seems fanciful, but I believe that this is a problem that John McCain will face if he's elected president. There's going to be larger and more confident Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate next year. If Obama is not elected, the chances are good that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi could make an early decision on whether to pull the plug on the war anyway. At that point, "President" McCain would have to decide which he's more loyal too, the War or the Constitution.

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