Barack Obama is an outstanding candidate. We can be proud our system has produced such a candidate. A non-white president would be a very good thing for this country. And Washington’s political culture does need shaking up, it needs a boat rocker. But unfortunately, Obama is not that man.
His entire career bespeaks a “go along, get along” approach, from playing the game of Chicago’s political machine, to his Senate term, to his presidential campaign. Never has he done anything to rock the boat of Democratic liberal orthodoxy, or that challenged any of the party’s constituencies or interest groups, like unions, lawyers, and pro-choicers. (His answer in the third debate was risible. He supports clean coal technology? Wow, that’s really sticking his neck out.)
Look instead at the key issue of trade. No reputable economist believes that free trade, as exemplified by NAFTA, is not a good thing for the American economy and consumers. But the Democrats’ left wing, and its unions, hate it, and Obama has obsequiously pandered to them by spouting nonsense on free trade.
He proposes numerous new spending programs, yet also tax cuts for 95% of “working people.” To pay for it all, he proposes to “tax the rich.” I have a better suggestion: repeal the shameful farm bill for which he voted. That was a biggie, and it moots all his rhetoric about change and “new politics.” That was old politics on stilts.
But Obama did do one thing that was new in presidential politics. Though he had originally pledged to abide by the federal election financing system, he broke his word and became the first candidate ever to opt out of it for a general election, in order to raise and spend even more.
John McCain, over two decades, has challenged status quo orthodoxy, and even his own party, again and again. He has never been afraid to rock the boat. And it wasn’t just tilting at windmills; unlike the silver-tongued talker Obama, McCain has racked up a long record of solid accomplishment.
He opposed President Reagan’s Lebanon deployment. He opposed George W. Bush’s original tax cuts. He consistently criticized the conduct of the Iraq War, from the beginning, being the first to call for Rumsfeld’s resignation, and for more troops. He rose above his own personal history to push for restoring relations with Vietnam. He bucked entrenched interests in both parties, and worked with reformist Democrats, to gain enactment of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. He opposed most of his party on global warming, and on immigration reform. He broke the logjam on judicial confirmations by leading a bipartisan coalition, the “gang of 14.” (Obama wouldn’t join.) McCain got an anti-torture bill enacted, despite White House opposition.
McCain has been the one senator who consistently has fought Washington’s pork barrel earmark spending culture. He is the one senator with no earmarks to his “credit.”
And, yes, he had the guts to vote against that vile farm bill.
He also voted against the energy bill, a Christmas Tree of park barrel excess. Obama, depressingly, voted for it.
It’s not that the issue of park barrel spending itself is such a big deal. It’s not. But the real point is how it illuminates the true contrast in the behavior of the candidates: one who does what’s easy and safe, the other willing to do the tough things. Unlike all the other presidential wannabees, John McCain was willing to lose Iowa rather than endorse the boondoggle of ethanol subsidies.
Democrats love to quote McCain saying he doesn’t really understand economics. He was way too modest. McCain understood perfectly why that farm bill, and that energy bill, and those ethanol subsidies, were bad deals for the great majority of Americans. And he understands how free trade truly benefits most American consumers and working people. This is critically important. It’s Obama who “doesn’t get it.”
The Economist says Obama is the least business-friendly presidential candidate in 25 years. I’d say “ever.” For all his talk about the middle class, he doesn’t seem to get that most middle class people get their paychecks from businesses; and if businesses aren’t healthy and profitable, the middle class will really be in trouble.
McCain does get it. His willingness to lead, rather than just doing what’s easy and popular, is the change we can believe in.