Some reflections on John McCain

It looks as if John McCain will be the Republican nominee. He has fewer than 100 delegates at this point, out of the 1,191 he needs to win the nomination. But McCain looks likely to emerge from Super Tuesday with approximately 750 delegates to Romney’s 325. (The source of the calculation is a Romney supporter.)

McCain_flight_suit.jpg  On the war in Iraq, McCain comes out as the obvious successor to President Bush:  he claims that America should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes, even if that means 100 more years.

But McCain is hard to pigeonhole. He adamantly opposes torture. He is extremely compelling on this topic because he speaks from personal experience:

“One of the things that kept us going when I was in prison in North Vietnam was that we knew that if the situation were reversed, that we would not be doing to our captors what they were doing to us,” he said.

When Mr. McCain brings up the issue of torture, he is often met by a complex response. Many of the Republican voters he courts do not agree with his opposition to aggressive interrogation techniques that many have condemned as torture. But they are often captivated by his discussion of the issue, in some cases even moved to tears, as was the case in Boone.

On the campaign trail, Mr. McCain does not dwell on the personal details of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war, the “torture ropes” in which he was bound day and night, or the beatings he endured. But as he speaks, the physical reminders of his wounds are there for all to see, from the stiffness of his arms, which to this day he can only painfully raise above his head, to the shortness of his stride, a result of injury and subsequent beatings.

(Note, in passing, how mealy-mouthed the New York Times is on this issue: “aggressive interrogation techniques that many have condemned as torture”. The USA is doing worse things to detainees than the “torture ropes” and beatings that McCain endured. Does the Times seriously deny that McCain was tortured? But I don’t mean to pick on the Times, because the US media in general equivocates like this.)

The other shocker is McCain’s position on climate change. He’s a believer:

He was co-sponsor of the 2003 McCain-Lieberman legislation, a failed attempt to achieve a cap on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. And there’s no doubt that McCain is much more serious about taking mandatory action than other Republican hopefuls, like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney–who has been bashing the Arizona senator repeatedly for being too strong on the climate issue.

Imagine John McCain vs. Barack Obama in the presidential campaign. Both candidates will be committed to end torture and to take real action on climate change. No matter who wins, we’ll see an end to American torture.

On climate change — I’m not so sure. The US economy is tilting toward recession, and both McCain and Obama have other spending priorities. McCain will continue to finance American military operations in Iraq; Obama has promised to introduce a universal health care program. If the economy continues to stutter, action on climate change may be deferred, yet again.

How likely is a Republican victory at this point? Not long ago, I would have said it was extremely unlikely. But with McCain as the Republican nominee?

I’m convinced that McCain would beat Clinton. McCain can appeal to the right on military issues, and appeal to moderates on torture and climate change. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of Americans will never vote for Clinton under any circumstances. She can’t afford to bleed many votes to her Republican opponent.

And what would Clinton’s platform be? “I voted for the Iraq war, too”? “I’m enough of a hawk to stare down the terrorists”? “I am the candidate of experience”? Those have been the main planks of her campaign against Obama. But Clinton stands in McCain’s shadow at all three points.

Clinton can’t even reach out to immigrants, because McCain is to her left on that issue. Her appeal will be limited to core left-wing issues like abortion and health care.

Whereas Obama will present a clear contrast to McCain. One is pro-Iraq; the other has been outspoken in his opposition to the war. One represents experience and continuity with the Bush administration; the other represents a new generation and a dramatic change of course. And McCain’s “straight talk” will be a foil to Obama’s soaring rhetoric.

Andrew Sullivan is confident that Obama would beat McCain. I’m not so certain. McCain’s appeal is obvious to me, and a downturn in the economy may work in his favour. But Obama can successfully appeal to moderate, “swing” voters, and that may be enough to put him over the top.

I wouldn’t venture any rash predictions. The Republican race has been fascinating. The Democratic race will continue to be fascinating, even after Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Tuesday. And the presidential race itself may be just as compelling.

This is quite a year for anyone who enjoys politics! (I extend my sympathies to the rest of you.)

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Emerging From Babel » Some reflections on John McCain
  2. Bridgett
    Feb 01, 2008 @ 13:04:57

    Quite a year for those who enjoy politics, but I have to say as someone who has to vote on Super Tuesday and then again in November, it makes me sick to think of it all. If McCain wins the nomination, the democrats are doomed, because you’re right, Clinton cannot beat him. I would have a hard time voting for Clinton in the general election. Eh. I’m now a clear cut Obama supporter, with Edwards out of the campaign (I was putting off any decision making for that moment because I couldn’t do anything until Tuesday anyhow).

    I guess we’ll have to see it play out on Mardi Gras. And then I’ll go to mass on Ash Wednesday and curse the darkness?


  3. Jack
    Feb 08, 2008 @ 13:01:56

    The USA is doing worse things to detainees than the “torture ropes” and beatings that McCain endured.

    I think that we tread dangerous ground when we try to delineate “levels of torture.” And I’ll be the first to say that my personal views on what is torture are muddled.

    That being said I would take McCain over Obama in a heartbeat. Obama is a fine orator, but anyone can say/promise anything. I haven’t seen him get into specifics about how he is going to affect change. I have a problem with his lack of experience.

    I don’t agree with all of McCain’s policy, but much of it resonates with me.


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