Monday, November 27, 2006

A Warning About John McCain

I'm one of those who likes John McCain even though I often part company with his ideas - on Iraq for example. However my fondness for the guy has turned a bit shakey after reading an article on McCain by Matt Welch in today's L.A. Times which depicts the Arizona senator as a wolf in sheep's clothing:

"Sifting through McCain's four bestselling books and nearly three decades of work on Capitol Hill, a distinct approach toward governance begins to emerge. And it's one that the electorate ought to be particularly worried about right now.

"McCain, it turns out, wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions. He'll kick down the doors of boardroom and bedroom, mixing Democrats' nanny-state regulations with the GOP's red-meat paternalism in a dangerous brew of government activism. And he's trying to accomplish this, in part, for reasons of self-realization.

"'A rebel without a cause is just a punk, ' he explains. 'Whatever you're called — rebel, unorthodox, nonconformist, radical — it's all self-indulgence without a good cause to give your life meaning.'

"What is this higher power that ennobles McCain's crankiness? Just as it is for many soldiers, it's the belief that Americans "were meant to transform history" and that sublimating the individual in the service of that "common national cause" is the wellspring of honor and purpose. (But unlike most soldiers, McCain has been in a position to prod and even compel civilians to join his cause.)

Liberals and conservatives alike fail to truly reflect his views, McCain writes, because 'neither emphasizes the obligations of a free people to the nation.' His main governmental inspiration is Teddy Roosevelt, the 'Eastern swell who became a man of the people,' whose great accomplishment was 'to summon the American people to greatness.' In Roosevelt's code, McCain writes approvingly, it was 'absolutely required that every loyal citizen take risks for the country's sake.' This is an essentially militaristic view of citizenship, one that explains many of McCain's departures from partisan orthodoxy. Unlike traditional Republicans, he will gladly butt into the affairs of private industry if he perceives them to be undermining Americans' faith in government; unlike Democrats, he thinks the executive branch generally needs more power, not less.

"If his issues line up with yours, and if you're not overly concerned by an activist federal government, McCain can be a great and sympathetic ally. But chances are he will eventually see a grave national threat in what you consider harmless, or he'll prescribe a remedy that you consider unconscionable. Nowhere is that more evident than in his ideas about the Iraq war.

"McCain has been banging the drum from nearly Day One to put more boots on the ground in Iraq. 'There are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this,' he said on "Meet the Press" on Nov. 12, 'but they all require the presence of additional troops.' McCain is more inclined to start wars and increase troop levels than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. He has supported every U.S. military intervention of the last two decades, urged both presidents to rattle their sabers louder over North Korea and Iran, lamented the Pentagon's failure to intervene in Darfur and Rwanda and supported a general policy of "rogue state rollback." He's a fan of Roosevelt's Monroe-Doctrine-on-steroids stick-wielding in Latin America. And — like Bush — he thinks too much multilateralism can screw up a perfectly good war.

"The price of all this war-making, in money and manpower, would be staggering; it's hard to imagine without a draft (McCain has long been a fan of mandatory national service, at the least). But the costs to his political ambitions may even be greater. The nation is in no mood for the war we've got now, let alone a doubling-down on Iraq and ramped-up unilateralist tough talk in the Middle East. The trend lines of public opinion on these counts are not pointing in McCain's direction."

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