One Independent’s Cut

April 22, 2008 on 2:59 pm

Though an Independent for some time, it has only been in this election that I have been so with purpose. Beginning in late 2006, the idea of a website for Independents gradually emerged, finding final form with IDn’s launch in November 2007. In this time, I have refined and confirmed my identity as a political Independent. And in writing the foundation document and other pieces for IDn, I have found a place in the political process from which I can participate actively in it.

As I have listened, learned and written, Election 2008 has unfolded apace. And as the field narrowed to the three left standing, the watch word has been discovery – of candidates, of issues and of parties, all seen through the prism of an unprecedented compendium of domestic and international issues and challenges. Who are we as a people? What do we value? What is our place in the world?

And who is to lead us in this passage? One of three candidates, not one of whom has ever run anything larger than a political campaign. There soon will be two candidates, each of whom will largely dictate to their parties what the platforms will be. They will select vice presidential nominees and, perhaps, indicate who will serve in their cabinet if elected. And come January 20, one of them will take the helm of state, charting a course that will, in fact, both reflect and determine who we are, what we value, and what our place in the world is to be.   

What follows is one Independent’s cut on the three left standing.

Sen. John McCain has several things going for him. First, of course, he is to be the Republican nominee and has a several month head start on his national election campaign. This is not to say that he’s made particularly good use of the time, but it is an advantage, nonetheless.

Certainly his biggest advantage is the Democrats’ quadrennial rite of self-immolation. Sen. Clinton has claimed so many identities it’s hard to know where to start. At one level she is so “other” driven that you wonder why she didn’t join Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Next thing you know, she’s a vodka swilling momma, ducking bullets in Bosnia, spinning yarns about out blowing away ducks pecking corn behind her gran’ pappy’s barn. For his part, Sen. Obama has served up morels of every sort, from Reverend Wrong! to the mortal sin of suggesting the downtrodden might be bitter (rather than frustrated) and clinging (rather than turning) to religion. The Clinton campaign’s 24/7 shriek on this may have gotten her a few primary points, but ultimately it serves only Sen. McCain’s candidacy.

As for November, though, Iraq seems likely to turn on him. Remember, it was his stalwart defense of “The Surge” that largely put him in a place to win in New Hampshire among Republicans and, later, South Carolina. This helped get him the nomination. The problem is, as we have lately learned from Gen. Patraeus and Amb. Crocker, the Surge was a tactical success in a war where tactical gets trumped seven ways to Sunday by cultural, political and strategic realities that are as implacable as they are historical. In the context of the issues facing Iraq, and our presence there, the Surge changed nothing. We are, in fact, in a war we cannot control with an army that is at great risk of running out of people. Maintaining current force levels there and elsewhere, most critically Afghanistan, for just five years, let alone 100, seems impossible without a draft, and how likely is this with a Democratic Congress, or any Congress?  

Next for McCain is the economy. It is now weak and likely to get weaker. Certainly there will be more folks out of work and even more worried they are to be next. He gives every appearance, even to flat out admission, that he has little knowledge of and no instincts in this area. He may be able to meet some concerns here with the right vice presidential nominee, but on the hustings, he sounds weak and often uncaring, and this will cost him votes. Whether you put healthcare under economics is a matter of semantics. The fact is, he has little to offer the 40+ million people who don’t have any insurance, and the Democrats are just drooling to strut their stuff about it.   

McCain’s biggest problem, though, is his unavoidable association with Bush and his war, his deficits, his recession and his 28% approval rating. Try as he might, McCain can’t get too far from the current Administration. And not necessarily because he doesn’t want to, but because he’s already said that there is no retreat from Iraq and that he will make Bush’s tax breaks permanent. These latter are now commonly taken as heavily favoring the rich and McCain has stuck himself to them. It may even be beyond the Democrats’ genius for self-hate and loathing to put McCain in the White House.

In an earlier posting it was suggested that with either a McCain or Obama victory, 2008 would be a hinge election. As events have unfolded, the primary impact of a McCain election is likely to be a National Republican Party with some centrist inclinations but whose conservative traditions will weigh heavily at every turn. Not much of a bargain against a guaranteed four more years of Iraq, a deteriorating combat arm and little prospect of meaningful progress on domestic direction or issues.

For the Democrats left standing, the first question is who gets to run in November? Obama is the frontrunner, plain and simple. Even if things go badly for him in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana and everywhere else, all concede that he will have Clinton on points.

As for the April 16 debate, he picked his way through a mine field, much of his own making, did some counter punching, and made a fine closing statement. A half hour into it, on the second or third rehash of what his friends said and thought, I was looking for Jack McCoy or some Law and Order defense hack to call out “Asked and answered, your honor. Can we move on?” More important was the second half of the debate where it was clear that he is not as well schooled as Clinton on elements of government programs. He has been weak here throughout the debates and does not appear to have taken the trouble to get better, or maybe he can’t. Big question.  

Most notable, and little commented on, was his failure to challenge Sen. Clinton’s preposterous statement of a “massive” U. S. retaliation on Iran if it attacked Israel or Saudi Arabia. Two points here. For the world’s largest nuclear power, “massive” has to suggest the use of nuclear arms. Was Sen. Clinton suggesting such? Second, I am not aware that the United States has a mutual security pact with either country. Here we have a candidate who by all appearances would give all save her daughter (and only perhaps her husband) to get back her vote on Iraq, now ready to rain hellfire by bomber, carrier group and missile submarine on Iran. What next? Dick Cheney as her Secretary of Defense?

More important, though, why was Obama silent? Two possibilities suggest themselves. One, he was not aware of the nature of our defense obligations to Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is unsettling. The other is that he simply missed a golden opportunity to challenge her suitability as Commander-in-Chief. What could she have been thinking? And why didn’t he pounce? More questions.

Should Obama win the nomination, though, he will own the mantle of change for an American electorate that has every reason to crave it. Indeed, he invented the word in this election cycle, with Democratic and Republican candidates jumping on the band wagon. It is from this that his campaign can renew, that he can resist challenge from a Republican Nominee who by his own statements has charted a course of…dead ahead.

To be sure, there will be swiftboaters, and worse. But the primaries have seen large registration of new Democrats, including countless millennials, few of whom would appear to have much interest in a 70 something Republican whose primary asset in his party’s nomination was the Surge, i.e., hanging tough in Iraq with no way out.

As for Sen. Clinton, she is who she is, no matter the costume changes, no matter the fresh make up for every whistle stop. She is a big government Democrat whose strength is in program development and mastery with everybody in whether they like it or not. That’s her history, that’s what she’s telling us she’s going to do. Ironically, she offers the country not a return to the soaring 1990s, but a vaulting backward to LBJ’s Great Society, an era once declared dead by no less an authority than her own husband.

The greatest irony of her campaign is her claim to have been fully vetted, with a press corps taking that as of some material value and never mind the specifics. Well the specifics were not pretty. They were down right ugly. The Clinton Administration of which she is so proud was simply scandal ridden. Not a year passed without some mess to contend with, and all of it exposed by a media establishment commonly viewed as “liberal.” Her husband was impeached for heaven’s sake! He lied. He dragged the country, his party and his family through the mud of a national soap opera when a simple apology of wrong doing might have closed it all. And she wants to put Bill back in the White House, back in the lime light. Wonderful…

Then there’s her experience. What we know for certain here is that her imperious management of the Clinton Administration’s healthcare initiative, when the country was primed by the 1992 election to look at new approaches, was a disaster, plain and simple. It never even got to a vote in a House of Representatives that her husband’s party controlled. Her current campaign began with the premise of victory. In a nationally televised interview, she literally could not imagine not winning her party’s nomination, the one that she is now losing. Is this the kind of experience we need?

And of course there are the favorable vs. unfavorable and the trust things. In the former, she has routinely scored in the high 40s as unfavorable. Not good. On the trust thing, 60 percent say they don’t trust her. This is awful. The history of American politics is that a president starts with a high degree of trust on January 20 and then fights to keep it. How do you even start when well over half the people don’t believe you?

Should she get the nomination, it is hard to tell what the election would look like. It’s unlikley to be pretty, or fun. There would be McCain pushing forward on Iraq and fighting to keep tax cuts in the face of huge deficits as he tries to explain what he has already told us he does not understand: i.e., how an economy works. For her part, the last year or so has told us all we need to know about her campaign strategy:  i.e., win at any cost because only she knows what’s right, because only she can provide what she knows each of us needs, even if we do not.

So where does this Independent stand? Uneasily, at best. Our choices have been better. For myself, I choose not to go back to the past, which is where two of the three seem so intent on keeping or taking us. From the morass in which we now stand, any step away is a step up. Obama might be a gamble, certainly the least tested, but there is the intent, and some prospect, of renewal. Perhaps more importantly, there is the certain satisfaction that I didn’t sit here and vote for what I know is less than we can do and less than we can be.


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