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Friday, September 05, 2008

NARRATIVES, NOT IDEAS
McCain's Contradictory, Fearful Vision of the Next Four Years
James S. Henry

Amygoodmanarrest82008_3 Outside the Republican convention hall, Twin City cops and National Guardsmen in full-scale battle gear were arresting credentialed journalists like Amy Goodman and pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators -- though you didn't hear much about that from the respectable TV commentators who were safe inside, battling balloon drops.   

Inside the hall, we were treated to an odd combination of "Naughty Librarian" Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain trying for the nth time to appear natural while reading the teleprompter and bashing his own party, and 2380 raucous Republican delegates -- 1.5 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic, 32 percent female,  80 percent over 50, and nearly 100 percent over-fed  -- trying to appear jubilant, grinding to the heavy-metal rhythms that someone in Mccain904b_s_20080904214223the RNC hierarchy must have thought were a cool idea.   

We also had yet another recapitulation of the Arizona Senator's horrific five years in a POW camp, after being shot down on his 23rd mission over Hanoi back in 1967.

Indeed, if McCain somehow manages to win this election, he will have no one more to thank than Nguyen Van Dai, theAleqm5jgx4h7ojtbaavncigl6ogpzvda 68-year old retired  Vietnamese colonel who actually launched the SAM missile that downed McCain's A-4 Skyhawk on October 27, 1967.

In any case, after watching the Republican Convention from mind-numbing start to finish, it is now crystal clear that,  apart from McCain's 41-year-old combat narrative -- supplemented by the less familiar narrative about Palin's decade-long  battle to combine procreation, small-time government, and the Assembly of God's "Plan for Alaska" -- the Republican Party has become the equivalent of the US housing industry.

It is intellectually bankrupt, with almost no new ideas. As former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan correctly put it, "They went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives."

Worse than that, the Republican Party has also turned its back on many of its old favorite best ideas and brand values -- for example,  "small government," "balanWaroftheworldsced budgets," "non-intervention," "environmental protection," and "the US Constitution."

Palin's first 15-minutes of fame temporarily blinded many commentators  to this basic fact.  But even the most faithful die-hard Republican strategists now agree that, apart from the novelty of her Bat Mitsvah,  this abbreviated convention was a gigantic, expensive messaging mess -- and, on balance,  a gift to the hapless Democrats -- who are otherwise still fully capable of losing this race, even with a full-scale political and economic gale at their backs.

We'll explore the numerous contradictions in McCain's program below.

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008

CONTRADICTIONS EVERYWHERE

I. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN?

Obviously McCain is trying to jump on the "party of change"Change bandwagon. This is hardly a strategic insight,  given overwhelming popular discontent with the "country's direction" and Obama's success with this theme.

On the level of practical policies, however, it is a little late. 

Indeed, it has really been McCain's policy team that has been doing most of the "changing." 

>For example,  McCain has adopted the idea, which he once opposed,  of extending Bush's tax cuts for corporations and the rich -- the $10 trillion long-run cost of which  is even larger than th $7 trillion that Bush's cost.

Even if we abolish all future Congressional "earmarks," this scheme would cause the US deficit to soar even higher than its record $500 billion current level.

If we have learned anything from the last eight years, it is that such tax cuts don't pay for themselves or reduce government spending; they just produce larger government deficits. 

>McCain's gone completely quiet on the constitutional issues of torture, closing Guantanamo, and illegal surveillance.

To some extent so has Obama. But these were supposed to be the kind of "vintage maverick" issues where McCain spoke truth to power.
080328_mccaingramm_lerer
>He's got nothing to offer on the deepening economic recession or the national housing crisis, beyond more of the same.

His close friend former Senator Phil Gramm has resigned as Co-Chair of the campaign, but he is still likely to be named McCain's Secretary of the Treasury. 

Yet he is a leading banking industry shill and an opponent of tougher regulation, whose efforts helped contribute to the lax lending policies that have produced the joint housing/banking crisis.

> McCain's ideas about privatizing education, health insurance, Medicare and Social Security are all warmed- over versions of the same proposals the Republicans have tried and failed to implement for over a decade, despite their control of Congress for much of this period.

Especially with the new, probably Democratic-controlled House and Senate, these proposals will be dead on arrival. We will not have "change," but four more years of stasis.

> McCain's only ideas for solving the energy crisis are (1) drilling offshore or in 061908_nuclearpowerplant Alaska, and (2) building more nuclear power plants.

Regardless what one thinks of them, these two tactics would both take years to have any impact.

Even if they could overcome the substantial state and federal regulatory obstacles in their way,  they would not produce any additional energy for at least 10 to 12 years.

In contrast, conservation and alternative energy sources like wind and solar produce benefits very quickly 

> McCain has nothing interesting to say about a whole host of pressing international economic issues, including the faltering WTO round, addressing global poverty, and reviving the global Kyoto accords on the environment.

>On the question of Iraq,  McCain still opposes the idea of a definite timetable for withdrawal, which even the Iraqi Government now supports.

> On the questions of Iran and Georgia, McCain has sounded even more aggressive than VP Cheney, who wisely did not even bother to attend his own Party's convention.

II. "ANTI-WASHINGTON?" 

At least since Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party simply can't get enough of portraying itself as "outside the Beltway," the underdog from the hinterland, and the victim of some vast liberal media conspiracy.

A visitor from another planet might be surprised to learn that  the Republican Party has actually won the White House 9 out of 16 times since 1948. And John McCain, in particular, has been a member of Congress since 1982.

Furthermore, it also controlled the US House of Representatives from 1996 to 2006, and the US Senate from 2000 to the present, with enough seats to prevent any Democratic initiatives.  It  has of course controlled the White House from 2000 to the present. Along the way, it has also taken control of the US Supreme Court and the leadership of key "independent"  federal agencies, like the Federal Reserve. Jackabramoffmain

The Republican Party has also recently compiled a record number of convictions for illegal lobbying activities -- indeed, shortly before McCain was deliver his acceptance, the legendary White House intimate Jack Abramoff was receiving a four-year jail sentence for corruption and bribery. 

The only "change" we can be sure of will come when -- as now appears likely -- the Republican Party  loses control of all these institutions this November.

III.  A BIPARTISAN MAVERICK? 

Maverick As noted above,  McCain has actually become less and less of a maverick, and more and more partisan, as time goes by.

The night before his own address to the convention, his own VP candidate could not have been more partisan in her feral attacks on Obama.

Indeed, just by nominating this hard-right, anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-libertarian for VP despite her self-evident lack of credentials,  rather than choosing any number of more talented, moderate Republican women (or men), McCain has clearly helped to polarize the national debate.

This puts paid to all the rhetoric about bipartisanship in his acceptance speech.

IV. OPPOSED TO BIG BROTHER? 

Romneybluffton We were amazed and delighted to hear Mitch Romney describe his party not only as "the party of ideas," but as being opposed to "Big Brother."   

It seems that Mitch should stick to pillaging troubled companies, his forte. Is he really not aware that it is the Bush Administration that has been conducting illegal wiretaps and e-mail surveillance on millions of Americans during the last six years?

V. NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERIENCE? WHERE'S OSAMA? 

 To listen to McCain, Bush, Giuliani, Romney, and Co., our visitor from another planet would probably conclude not only that 9/11 did  not happen on the Republican Party's watch, but also that the Iraq War was eminently justified -- indeed, in candidate Palin's memorable words, it is "a task from God".

Sitroom20070101 According to the rhetoric at the Republican convention, the war against Osama Bin Laden and  the Taleban in Afghanistan and Pakistan (remember them?  the original perpetrators of 9/11?)  must also be going so well that we can:

(1) Afford not to mention Osama or Afghanistan at all;

(2) Afford to extend NATO to Georgia and the Ukraine, right on Russia's borders;

(3) Afford to call Iran "the biggest supporter of state terrorism," and threaten it  with military force! 

When it comes to national security, Republicans do have this praiseworthy tendency to recall over and over again great moments of courage and honor that occurred long ago -- say 41 years ago.

But when it comes to all the shameful events that have happened on their own watch in just the last eight years,  they become forgetful.

In my experience, Republicans are systematically incapable of apologizing for anything, even when they are grossly in the wrong.  Indeed, that is a pretty good litmus test for a Republican.

>Lest we forget, Osama bin Laden, still safely ensconced in Pakistan (our putative ally), was the author of 9/11. Next week we'll commemorate the 7th anniversary of that date -- why has he not been brought to justice in seven years?

> Lest we forget,   it was the Bush Administration -- especially Condi Rice and George Tenet -- that ignored numerous signals that allowed 9/11 to happen.

> Lest we forget, Mayor Giuliani was the genius who located the World Trade Center's  Rudy_giuliani_kerik_thumb emergency command post right across from the Twin Towers with a diesel fuel tank (even though they'd been an obvious target since at least 1993),  ordered the cheap Motorola radios for NYC first- responders, and recommended the mobbed-up former Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik to be head of the Department of Homeland Security. 

>Lest we forget, it was the Bush Administration -- with the so-called "maverick/military expert" John McCain toeing the party line, unlike Obama -- that took us to war in Iraq on a pack of lies.

Osama_wherewaldoLest we forget, it was the Bush Administration that, once we got there, completely mismanaged the war effort -- for example, by choosing Kissinger protege  L. Paul Bremer to administer the situation.

Bremer's very first decision was to disband the Iraqi Army -- alienating all those thousands of Sunnis who have recently become our best friends in the "Awakening,"  and setting the stage for Al Qaeda's first real entry into the country -- on US coat-tails!

THE IRAQ/ AFGHAN CONUNDRUM

Finally, returning once more to the question of Iraq, it seems as if the Republican Party is trying to pull off the same game it played with 9/11.Splash

Rather than talking about responsibility for the original fiasco, the Republicans want to focus on claiming credit for what transpired after the event. 

In the case of 9/11, they took credit for managing the crisis after the attack, ignoring their utter mismanagement before.

In the case of Iraq, they are even more cynical:  McCain and the Republicans like to take credit for the progress since January 2007, ignoring the nearly four years of disastrous management after the March 2003 invasion.   

In this spirit, McCain also likes to talk about the "surge" a lot, which he claims is a big success. 

The surge was not his idea, but he takes credit for having supported it ever since General Petraeus and President Bush first introduced it in early 2007. 

Obama, he says,  opposed it,  preferring a timetable that  would have "lost the war."

In fact Obama has never insisted on such any such timetable.

He did, however, courageously oppose entering Iraq in the first place, which would have made the surge unnecessary.

In retrospect,  Obama's fundamental political and military judgment looks pretty astute, compared with "experienced" McCain.

If Obama had been in charge, we might have saved $2 trillion and thousands of young lives.

340x On the other hand, in McCain's case, despite saying that he "hates war," he has yet to ever oppose one.

He still actually believes, like George W. Bush, that the US made a terrible mistake by withdrawing from Vietnam in 1973! 

True, if we'd followed Obama's course, Saddam & Co. might still be in power, just like Kim Jong Il or Robert Mugabe or the tyrants in Burma (and China!)   

But Saddam would not have any more "weapons of mass destruction" than he ever had. Under the pressures of continued isolation, backed by the UN, his own people might have overthrown him, or he might have died of a heart attack. We can never say.

What is clear is that the main reason that the surge has "worked" is that we are now working closely with many of Saddam's former supporters among the Sunni "Awakening," who have turned on al Qaeda.

The Sunnis have "awakened" partly just because we finally decided to pay them, and partly because they got sick of being ordered around by these fanatical extremists -- who'd never taken root in Iraq before the US invaded the country, outraged the local population, and created a seedbed for insurgency.

It is also because many Shiites have wisely decided that the fastest way to get the US out of Iraq is to quiet down, supporting the Maliki government, probably with the backing of Iran.

Ironically, for someone so concerned about Iran's supposed threat to the region, McCain does not acknowledge the fact that the Iraq invasion, and the continued US presence there,  have only strengthened Iran's hand.

So it is as misleading for McCain and the Republicans to take credit for the surge as it is for them to take credit for fighting the (very incomplete) war against al Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan, in the wake of 9/11.

Once again, however, if you have no original ideas or solutions of your own, it is tempting to concentrate on telling stories about the past.

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008

September 5, 2008 at 07:08 PM | Permalink

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NARRATIVES, NOT IDEAS
McCain's Contradictory, Fearful Vision of the Next Four Years
James S. Henry
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