Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two takes on John McCain (by Johann Hari & Michael Medved)

I don't really endorse either of these, but in their different ways they're usefully thought-provoking and informative--even more so in combination.

The first is a blistering critique of McCain by the British democratic-left journalist Johann Hari (someone who supported the 2003 Iraq war, on humanitarian and anti-fascist grounds, and now regrets having done so). Here are some highlights, beginning with the title and lead, which convey the basic message pretty clearly:
John McCain is the Republican to fear most

A lazy, hazy myth has arisen out of the mists of New Hampshire and South Carolina. Across the pan-Atlantic press, the grizzled 71 year-old Vietnam vet John McCain is being billed as the Republican liberals can live with. He is “a bipartisan progressive”, “a principled hard liberal”, “a decent man” – in the words of liberal newspapers. His fragile new front-runner status as we go into Super Tuesday is being seen as something to cautiously welcome, a kick to the rotten Republican establishment.

But the truth is that McCain is the candidate we should most fear. Not only is he to the right of Bush on a whole range of subjects – he is also the Republican candidate most likely to dispense with Hillary or Barack. [....]

He was a standard-issue Reaganite corporate Republican – until the Keating Five corruption scandal consumed him. [....] McCain took the only course that could possibly preserve his reputation: he turned the scandal into a debate about the political system, rather than his own personal corruption. [....]

But McCain has distinguished himself most as an uber-hawk on foreign policy. [....] His most thorough biographer – and recent supporter – Matt Welch concludes: “McCain’s programme for fighting foreign wars would be the most openly militaristic and interventionist platform in the White House since Teddy Roosevelt… [it] is considerably more hawkish than anything George Bush has ever practised.” With him as President, we could expect much more aggressive destabilisation of Venezuela and Bolivia – and more.

So why do so many nice liberals have a weak spot for McCain? Well, to his credit, he doesn’t hate immigrants: he proposed a programme to legalize the twelve million undocumented workers in the US. He sincerely opposes torture, as a survivor of it himself. He has apologised for denying global warming right up to 2000, and now advocates a cap on greenhouse gas emissions – but only if China and India can also be locked into the system. He is somewhat uncomfortable with the religious right (while supporting a ban on abortion and gay marriage). It is a sign of how far to the right the Republican Party has drifted that these are considered signs of liberalism, rather than basic humanity.

Yet these sprinklings of sanity – onto a very extreme programme – are enough for a superficial, glib press to present McCain as “bipartisan” and “centrist.” Will this be enough to put white hair into the White House? At the moment, he has considerably higher positive ratings than Hillary Clinton, and beats her in some match-up polls. If we don’t start warning that the Real McCain is not the Real McCoy, we might sleepwalk into four more years of Republicanism.
I think Hari's attack on McCain is actually overstated and unfair in significant respects. But it raises some issues worth thinking about, which are bound to generate a lot of discussion if McCain becomes the Republican candidate, so it's worth reading. (Also note the links to Hari's other discussions of the US presidential election at the end of this piece.)

=> The second piece is a strong defense of McCain by the Republican journalist Michael Medved, "Six Big Lies About John McCain". Medved tries to explain to right-wing Republicans suffering from McCain Derangement Syndrome why accusations that McCain is not a "real" Republican and efforts to demonize him as a traitor to the conservative cause are false, absurd, and/or dishonest. I think that on the whole Medved makes a pretty solid, well-informed case ... and, in the process, brings out some of the key reasons why I couldn't vote for McCain myself, despite the fact that he is the only candidate running for the Republican nomination for whom I feel much respect. Read the whole thing HERE.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub