Friday, June 6, 2008

Who to Vote For - Part 2

It's going to be an interesting campaign.

A few weeks ago I wrote down some thoughts about Barack Obama and I said then that when I got around to it I would do the same for John McCain. The waterfall of comments on my musings around Obama– which contained some mildly radical views – suggests that many are waiting with great anticipation for what’s coming here. (there were no comments).

John McCain is old. His speech is clipped. He is not eloquent or inspiring. His current wife is at least his second, and may be his third. I don’t know which. I’m not sure that matters all that much. John McCain is a Republican. For some reason, in this day and age, apparently that’s a bad thing. I’m not sure it is, but it seems like a lot of pretty influential people – namely everyone who runs a TV station or a newspaper – has decided that it is. Fox is the exception, but their “Fair and Balanced” view is embarrassing in the other direction, so they don’t count either. But I digress.

One very interesting thing about these two candidates is that they are very much archetypes of the core values of their parties. In a nutshell, that means that Obama thinks the best ways to solve the country’s problems is to concentrate program and policy in Washington. So we're seeing him pitching a national healthcare program, a national energy program and spending a lot of time and energy talking about the government’s responsibility to protect the working class from the ravages and greed of big business. Conversely, you will hear McCain talking about cutting the federal budget, cutting taxes, and redistributing power to the state, local and family level, as these are the core tenants of what used to be the Republican Party.

It is refreshing that we won’t be hearing about abortion, gay rights and lots of other things. Neither candidate seems interested in allowing the campaign to devolve to this level. Rather, they seem focused on the big problems of the country and on highlighting their very different views on solutions.

It is important to point out that McCain’s perspective on a lot of things is pretty centrist. This is a dangerous road because he runs the risk of alienating the “right wing” of the party. Without their votes and enthusiastic support, it is thought that he can’t win. But if you page back through his 21 year career in the senate you will find that he has often gone against the more extreme sides of the party. McCain/Feingold, his campaign finance reform bill was co-sponsored with a democrat and the conservative pundits said it would be the end of McCain’s career. Joe Liebermann has always been one of his best friends in the senate. They have fought for the various causes they both felt were good for America, yes – including the Iraq war and the surge, and have at times rattled their respective parties. (Liebermann actually lost the democratic nomination in his own state in a reelection campaign in which the democratic party aggressively backed another candidate. He ran as an independent and won reelection in a landslide). Much has been made of McCain’s time in a POW camp. Much should be made of it. There is merit in the statements he makes about the military and about war simply because he has been there and he’s been through the worst of it.

Obama says that McCain is running for Bush’s third term. Well, let’s take a look at that. Perhaps the most outspoken critic of the Bush administration during the Katrina relief debacle was John McCain. He called the Bush administration’s handling of the crisis “disgraceful” and his voice was heard very early. He opposes many of the Bush administration’s war policies, chief among them the use of torture techniques such as water boarding and has been an outspoken critic of the secrecy surrounding conditions at Guantanamo Bay. He stops short of saying that it should be closed though … It is true that he supported going to Iraq. At the time everybody else did too. Obama was in the Illinois state legislature. What he thought at the time doesn't matter. He didn't have the same context as the majority of the senate and house who voted to go to war. If he had, he may have had a different view. Both men want to bring the troops home. They disagree on the practical time table.

On balance, it is clear that John McCain is an honorable, stable, experienced and conscientious man whose focus is to try to do what is right for America. His body of experience is massive. His views are his own. He is not the puppet of the Republican Party or the Bush administration.
Is that enough to make him president today? I’m not sure. I think we need a president who inspires us. I think we need a president who can build a bridge with younger people around the world, so we can start rebuilding the country’s stature in the international theater. I think we need a president who can look at the problems we face and who will try to sponsor new solutions. I haven’t yet seen enough of what John McCain wants to do to know if he can accomplish any of these things.

Like I said, it’s going to be an interesting election.

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