Chances are no one, looking back on the early stages of the current presidential nomination ordeal, will be tempted to write "Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive." There was, indeed, a dawn, though dawn, by definition, does not last long. Seems like only yesterday when some Republicans who should have known better were looking to Fred Thompson as the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan. Now we have been reduced to watching John McCain recreate the presidential campaign of Robert Dole. It should be a good year for the Democrats.
The original Robert Dole isn’t dead yet, though it’s not certain anyone will be able to tell the difference when he is. But can we have a reincarnation of Bob Dole while Dole is still alive? Can the planet stand two Bob Doles at one time?
Consider the similarities. Bob Dole ran for vice president in 1976 as Gerald Ford’s running mate against Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in a campaign to end all insomnia. Back then, Dole complained that all the wars of the 20th Century had been "Democrat wars." McCain has worked with President Bush to ensure that the 21st Century would begin with righteous Republican wars, hatched in a righteous Republican White House. Dole must be pleased.
As the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, Bob Dole promised a bridge to the past and then fell off it. He was, in my judgment, the worst major-party candidate for president in my lifetime. (John Kerry was second.) The man Newt Gingrich once denounced as the "tax collector for the welfare state" tried to don the conservative mantle, but it just didn’t fit. He read the Tenth Amendment as part of his stump speech and managed to give the impression at each stop that he was reading it for the first time. Bob Dole handling constitutional precepts brought to mind Archie Bunker’s warning to his daughter:
"Don’t go puttin’ none o’ them fancy ideas in your mother’s head, little girl, it’s like puttin’ lace on a bowlin’ ball."
Now I suspect McCain has only begun to demonstrate his ineptitude as a campaigner for the presidency. I admit the man is not dumb. But how smart can he be when, at a time when all indications are the economy is the dominant issue again, he announces that economic policy is not his strong suit? What is he going to do, ask Alan Greenspan? Oh, I’m sure he’ll have plenty of economic advisers. And if he’s lucky he might find two of them who agree one day.
Fear not, gentle readers. The world will little note nor long remember either Bob or John McDole. Unless, of course, McCain becomes president and starts World War III — or IV, as the neocons count them. But McCain’s ineptitude as a campaigner makes it unlikely he will be the president to lead us into Armageddon. Hillary Clinton will do that. Or perhaps Obama will. (Barack the bomber?)
If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, he will immediately be the sentimental favorite with the general public and even more so with the "mainstream media." There will likely be a seismic shift in his direction. But as we get closer to November, people will have more reservations about his relative inexperience. That will become a real liability if al Queda starts messing in some strategic part of the world and another military crisis looms. Then the electorate may turn to McCain, if he is the Republican nominee, and entrust the near future to his superior knowledge and military experience.
But what has McCain learned from all that experience? Well, he was an officer in the U.S. Navy, so he learned how to command men. He also learned how to take orders, often unquestioningly. How has that experienced served him in the U.S. Senate? Well, McCain has questioned a lot of the pork barrel spending that routinely goes on in Washington. But he has shown a callous disregard for his general orders, the Constitution of the United States. I have in a recent column gone over his cavalier attitude toward the freedom of speech in his championing of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act, so I’ll say no more about that. Except to add that the great maverick of the Grand Old Party said Moveon.org should be kicked out of the country for the crime of taking poetic license with the name of one of our generals and calling him "General Betray-us." Oh, yeah. Have I mentioned McCain’s open contempt for the freedom of speech?
So with McCain we would have a hot-tempered dictator with his hand on the nuclear trigger, instead of a cold-blooded witch with her hand, or her husband’s, on the same trigger; or a freshman senator who’s already been talking about invading Pakistan. Nice prospects for peace.
But McCain will bring back fiscal conservatism, some believe — or pretend to believe. Well, I’m kind of an old-fashioned fiscal conservative. I think if you are really going to slow the spending train down in Washington, you have to oppose more than the egregious pork barrel items that get the headlines and capture our attention. You have to be willing to eliminate programs and even departments of government, like the U.S. Department of Education, for example. Remember when the Republicans were going to eliminate that living monument to educational bureaucracy? Really, they were. Crossed their hearts and hoped to die, they were.
Well, they didn’t eliminate it. And they didn’t die, either. Instead they greatly expanded the cost and the reach of that department with things like the NO Child Left Behind Act, which McCain supported along with President Bush and their good friend Ted Kennedy. And again with his good friend, Sen. Kennedy, McCain supports a program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that will be expensive in both the public and private sectors. And how much will the amnesty he favors for illegal aliens cost U.S. taxpayers at the local, state and federal levels?
Finally, there is the question of McCain’s vaunted judgment — vaunted because Mitt Romney, his principal opponent in his march toward the nomination, and the "McCainstream media" let the senator get away with claiming he was right on Iraq. The "surge" is working and McCain was out there supporting it from the start, long before it had popular support — assuming that it does now. But that is an interesting way of framing the discussion about Iraq, as though it all started with the surge. Hey, were we all born yesterday?
Even the "drive by" media, which encourages limited attention spans and deficit memory disorders, should be able to remember that the congressional authorization for this war came in October, 2002 when it was voted on by both houses of Congress. McCain and the vast majority of his Republican colleagues and the vast majority of the Democrats, including Clinton, Kerry, Edwards, Biden, and Dodd voted for it. They, like McCain, swallowed uncritically the administration’s Emperor’s New Clothes argument for war. And McCain has never backed away from it.
Now Senator "Straight Talk" says we should be prepared to maintain a military presence in Iraq for 100 years. That doesn’t say much for his judgment, his experience or his ability to learn from experience. It doesn’t help his reputation for fiscal conservatism. As the president prepares to present to Congress a Fiscal 2009 budget exceeding $3 trillion, this sobering thought should come to mind. It would take an awful lot of "bridges to nowhere" to equal the wasteful spending incurred by the Bush-McCain-Clinton et al. war in Iraq.
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.