Bill Kristol: How McCain Wins *chuckle*

John McCain is on course to lose the presidential election to Barack Obama. Can he turn it around, and surge to victory?
He has a chance. But only if he overrules those of his aides who are trapped by conventional wisdom, huddled in a defensive crouch and overcome by ideological timidity. […and listen to me, the guy who is constantly wrong.]
Op-Ed Columnist – How McCain Wins – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com

Ol’ Kristol’s at it again. This time he’s weaving a tale of Republican hopes and dreams that’s more myth than anything.

Now, I’m not arrogant enough to call the race for Obama. There’s still three more debates, and a little over a month left- anything can happen. I will confidently say, however, that the foundation of Bill Kristol’s advice is fatally flawed:

McCain’s impetuous decision to return to Washington was right. The agreement announced early Sunday morning is better than Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s original proposal, and better than the deal the Democrats claimed was close on Thursday. Assuming the legislation passes soon, and assuming it reassures financial markets, McCain will be able to take some credit.

Let’s tackle this one wrong statement at a time. Kristol states that the deal that came out of Sunday is “better than the deal the Democrats claimed was close on Thursday,” but he doesn’t explain why he thinks it’s better. Other than the fact that the House Republicans apparently aren’t going to block it anymore, what exactly is actually better about it versus the bill the other parties seemed to agree to last Thursday?

As far as I can tell, the chief difference with Sunday’s bill is that the government (read: Paulson) can opt to sell insurance over troublesome mortgage-backed securities rather than buying them outright. First of all, the insurance idea had reportedly already been rejected by Paulson, so it seems a slim chance that he will put it to much use. Second of all, the idea has several fatal flaws to it, as a recent article from Slate explains.

McCain can claim some credit perhaps, but he certainly doesn’t deserve a share of it. By all accounts, McCain offered nothing by way of an actual negotiation between parties over this. He admitted to not having even read the three page original Paulson plan as of Tuesday, September 23. The Paulson plan was made available the previous weekend, and a modified version by Chris Dodd on Monday.

For something so important as to cause McCain to “suspend” his campaign and rush over to Washington to deal with- it seems odd that he couldn’t find the time to read a 3 page proposal. Yet we are to believe that McCain somehow brokered a compromise between the House Republicans and the rest of the Congress and the Administration? If you believe that, you probably also believe that the fundamentals of our economy are strong.

You can tell a sitting dog to sit, and claim the credit for it, but it doesn’t mean you accomplished anything.

[McCain] can explain that dealing with it requires candor and leadership of the sort he’s shown in his career.

McCain barely uttered a word at the Thursday summit that he reportedly pressed Bush to call- a meeting that ended with some angry shouting- and no agreement. But McCain called upon the “candor and leadership of the sort he’s shown in his career” to help bring cooler heads to prevail and make progress toward a resolution, right?

McCain did not suggest how he thought the impasse could be overcome or ask any questions, another participant said.

McCain’s top economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, complained to NPR that much of the meeting “was not constructive. I mean, there was a lot of finger-pointing. People were yelling at one point. It was a meeting that did not meet the senator’s goals, which was to make progress toward an agreement.”
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/washingtondc/la-na-mccain27-2008sep27,0,7166605.story

So, as the meeting heated up after Boehner made clear the House Republicans were not ready to play ball, McCain was unable or unwilling to take a stand on anything, and nor did he do anything to help make peace. When the going got tough, McCain got silent.

Likewise, McCain remained just as dodgy on the subject during Friday’s debate, when the candidates were asked what their position on the current bailout bill was. Not surprisingly, neither candidate was going to pigeonhole themselves on a bill which was still undergoing intense negotiations, but while Sen. Obama reiterated the four principles which he expected the plan to fulfill, trying to get any specifics from McCain was like nailing jello to the wall.

In fact, throughout the entire issue last week and this weekend, McCain’s modus operandi has seemingly been to float around Washington without any guiding principles, not actually have a hand in any specific negotiations, and tell everyone that he would vote for whatever bill everyone else agreed upon. That’s what I would expect from a senator who does not sit on the relevant committees and who has, on numerous occasions, proclaimed his ignorance on economic matters. Whatever you might call that, however, it’s hardly “candor and leadership” in my book.

And McCain can note that the financial crisis isn’t going to be solved by any one piece of legislation. There are serious economists, for example, who think we could be on the verge of a huge bank run. Congress may have to act to authorize the F.D.I.C. to provide far greater deposit insurance, and the secretary of the Treasury to protect money market funds. McCain can call for Congress to stand ready to pass such legislation. He can say more generally that in the tough times ahead, we’ll need a tough president willing to make tough decisions.

The problem with this advice is that McCain, as stated, doesn’t actually understand enough about economic issues to credibly make these claims. (Also, I wonder if McCain actually has any “serious economists” as part of his campaign. Obama seems to have dibs on that Rolodex.) After hiding in the shadows of the real negotiations for a week, making an appearance only for the occasional credit-bogarting photo op, McCain will suddenly sell himself as Professor Economy, talking to Americans about FDIC insurance and money market funds? You’ve got a better chance of getting him to look Obama in the eye during a debate.

I do agree with Kristol on the last sentence though. That is– it’s perfectly likely that John McCain will come out with some empty rhetoric about being “willing to make tough decisions”. You know: the kind of tough decision that put country before party. This, despite the lesson of the past week when McCain was seemingly unable to make any decisions– first “suspending” his campaign, but still sending surrogates out to campaign for him; threatening to pull out of the debate unless there was a resolution to the bailout, then leaving DC to attend the debate despite lack of a bailout resolution; not able to voice any coherent position on any of the bailout alternatives up in the air from Thursday until Sunday, and yet pledging that he would support whatever the consensus came out to be. I’d be surprised if the man can decide what he wants for lunch!

McCain picked Sarah Palin in part because she’s a talented politician and communicator. He needs to free her to use her political talents and to communicate in her own voice.

Apparently, Bill didn’t see last week’s disastrous Palin interview with Katie Couric. It was so bad that to mock her on SNL, most of Tina Fey’s lines were direct quotations of the real Sarah Palin!

Now, I know that Palin is able to communicate more intelligently than she did with Couric. However, all evidence seems to indicate that it’s only a limited range of issues- specifically those having to do with Alaska, and with her personal social views (including that, yes, humans walked alongside dinosaurs– she’s seen the footprints).

Throw Palin a question that’s outside her comfort zone, however, and she seems to get easily confounded. Based on her limited media time as the VP nominee, she’s doesn’t seem to be very good at deflecting or BSing her way through such questions. Biden sometimes flubs one. He recently mentioned how FDR got on TV in 1929 to assuage Americans’ fears (FDR wasn’t president in 1929, and the television was still being invented at that point). The different is that (a) Biden actually does know a thing or two about a thing or two, and (b) even when he’s talking out of his ass, he’s good at sounding convincing about it.

So, by all means, release Sarah Palin to the media! Don’t hold her back! I, for one, would like to hear more about her views on the Wall Street bailout, the Middle East, and her Flintstones theory of history.

In the debate, Palin has to dispatch quickly any queries about herself, and confidently assert that of course she’s qualified to be vice president.

Ah yes… the old “if you repeat a lie enough times, people will believe it” strategy. I suspect that most people who are not already under Palin’s spell (and that seems to be more and more people as time wears on) are not going to accept a mere assertion of her readiness in place of an actual demonstration of her readiness.

For many, Obama has had to prove his readiness to be president through his demeanor and command of the issues. Last Friday’s debate was an excellent example of this. Through his performance, he dispelled a fair number of doubts among the independents and undecideds, and hopefully he’ll continue to do so in the next two presidential debates. Likewise, if Palin wants to dispel the doubts about her readiness to become vice president to a 72 year old POW cancer survivor… then simply asserting it is not enough- she’s got to show it. The question is: can she?

The core case against Obama is pretty simple: he’s too liberal […] the fact is the only Democrats to win the presidency in the past 40 years — Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — distanced themselves from liberal orthodoxy. Obama is, by contrast, a garden-variety liberal.

McCain already tried to raise the “he’s too liberal” attack in Friday’s debate, and Obama easily parried it. The fact is that during most of Obama’s short career in the Senate, his votes have been against the majority Republican Party. His classification of “most liberal senator” comes from a conservative review that picks and chooses certain issues by which to gauge.

“Too liberal” is a label that will raise doubts in some people’s minds- but most of those people have already decided against voting for Obama. Meanwhile, I predict that Sen. Obama will continue to demonstrate a command over the issues that voters care about. After eight years of deteriorating health insurance, a deteriorating economy, and a deteriorating foreign policy, perhaps more Americans (like myself) are wiling to take their chances with a “liberal” — or perhaps they just don’t care.

During an election cycle in which every Republican is running away from George W. Bush as if he’s a leper, I find it odd advice to roll out the ole “liberal” label. “Oh sure,” the Republicans are presumably to say to us, “Bush’s policies were a disaster- but you don’t want those liberals coming in and offering alternatives do you?!”

At any rate, Kristol’s questionable advice here just highlights the fact that Republicans are simply out of new ideas with which to lead the country- and all they have left is their bag of old parlor tricks that worked so well for them 20 years ago.

He also has radical associates in his past.

The most famous of these is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and I wonder if Obama may have inadvertently set the stage for the McCain team to reintroduce him to the American public.

Oh, yes yes yes! I implore McCain to bring up Rev. Wright! Why? Because like the chickenpox, I believe that Obama has already been inoculated against this attack. Rev. Wright is so 5 months ago. Everyone who cares has already heard about Wright, has already seen the clips of him, and it’s either already affected their judgment or it’s already failed to.

I predict that if McCain tries to bring up Wright, or Rezko, or Ayers in a debate, he will accomplish two things. First, the audience will yawn- because they don’t care about these characters (any more than they care about Charles Keating). Second, the attempt will require such a labored effort to twist some debate response into a segue on these cats that McCain will just come off looking awkward and desperate. It doesn’t help that McCain has difficulty leveling personal attacks like this in person- so it’ll just be that much more awkward.

The only context in which McCain could conceivably bring up such skeletons and get any traction would be at his own partisan speeches– and anyone going to those already supports him.

Meanwhile, Kristol equates such attacks to the Obama campaign’s pointing out that McCain didn’t mention the “middle class” once in Friday’s debate. That in and of itself is laughable. While Obama is pointing out that McCain failed to mention the most critical segment of the electorate for success in November (a rhetorical argument at best, I grant), McCain is supposed to balance that by dragging out the name Jeremiah Wright?

Howabout instead, McCain starts talking about the middle class (you know, Senator… the little people)?

Kristol’s specific advice:

The McCain campaign might consider responding by calling attention to Chapter 14 of Obama’s eloquent memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” There Obama quotes from the brochure of Reverend Wright’s church — a passage entitled “A Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.”

So when Biden goes on about the middle class on Thursday, Palin might ask Biden when Obama flip-flopped on Middleclassness.

I suspect Palin will have enough on her hands Thursday trying to explain why the Wall Street bailout was terrible but necessary in order to secure health care so we can have a good economy and that it’s all about jobs. (Perhaps when she’s done with that, she can explain why 1/5 of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a map.)

I welcome the campaign to open up this line of attack though. While I haven’t read that part of “Dreams From My Father”, Rich Lowry over at The National Review (hardly a bulwark of liberalism) previously looked into this issue of “the pursuit of middleclassness”:

Harris-Lacewell, the Princeton professor, said the “disavowal of the pursuit of middleclassness” is simply an argument against materialism and the pursuit of the American standard of wealth. Many white Christian churches also preach against materialism.
The Corner on National Review Online

While I suspect that McCain (perhaps not so much Palin) might at least be consistent by questioning an argument against materialism, what with his marrying into fabulous wealth, his 7, 8 or 9ish houses, multiple cars, and private jet use, his family seems to be the poster children of materialism; I suspect such an argument won’t carry him very far. Again, I invite Sen. McCain’s campaign to fire that salvo- it will only bring him closer to the electoral grave.

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