Friday, February 29, 2008

Bill Buckley's Presidential Pick

Most conservative commenters are united in their belief that John McCain is not an acceptable conservative. It is hard to disagree with the assertion that McCain is not a conservative—his positions on amnesty for illegal aliens, campaign finance “reform”, and embryonic stem cell research pretty much disqualify him from calling himself a conservative.

The question over whether he is an acceptable candidate for conservatives, however, is unclear. Most of those conservatives who now vehemently oppose McCain supported Mitt Romney, which sets a pretty low bar. Rommey is as far left as McCain, but without the experience and with better pandering skills. If Mitt Romney is an acceptable conservative, it is hard to imagine that John McCain is completely intolerable.

Rush Limbaugh is probably John McCain’s biggest nemesis, and it’s not hard to see why. He is probably the most influential conservative alive today, and his words set a heavy weight of precedent. His opposition to McCain is significant, because of his respected place in the conservative movement. Of all the political thinkers and pundits of the last half century, he has probably had the second greatest amount of influence on conservative thought.

The man with the largest amount of influence, of course, was William F. Buckley, who tragically passed away a few days ago. He made the conservative movement into a political force. He was, in large part, responsible for the nomination of Barry Goldwater and the election of Ronald Reagan. It is no exaggeration to say that he was the guiding force behind Reagan conservatism.

With that in mind, it is informative to see which of the many Republican candidates he donated money to, as it is reasonable to assume that he believed that candidate would carry on the conservative principles he did so much to establish. He contributed money to only one candidate—John McCain.

UPDATE: I found this article by Buckley about McCain. It is not about McCain's presidential hopes, but Buckley obviously likes McCain a great deal.

Some years ago, after hearing what John McCain withstood in North Vietnam,
I pledged never to write a negative word about him, and over the years it has
required very few beads of charity to stand by him.

As I look at the presidential race more closely, I am starting to feel better about a McCain candidacy. I like both McCain and Mike Huckabee more than most Republican pundits did (which is still not very much), and liked Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani a great deal less than most conservatives did. John McCain was the best (with the exception of Fred Thompson) of a poor bunch this year, and he is probably better than most of the Republican parties recent nominees. (He is at least as conservative as George W. Bush, and is probably better than Bob Dole or George H. W. Bush). Conservatives are not getting a really good candidate in 2008--but I don't think they are getting a really bad one either.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Heroism of John McCain

It is a safe bet that the Obama campaign will attempt to neutralize charges that he lacks experience by pointing to his years spent living in foreign countries and his community work as examples of real-world experience. Neither of these actions really qualifies Obama for the presidency—after all, five years in Indonesia for five years as a middle schooler does not make one presidential material. Likewise, heading up the neighborhood get-out-the-vote drive may be admirable, but is not an important qualification for being leader of the free world. And representing civil rights and discrimination claims does not necessarily make one a superior president. Obama’s legal work may have been for good causes, but it is hardly presidential experience. Obama’s good deeds should be completely irrelevant, but will be used by the Obama campaign to enhance his reputation as a nice guy bringing change.

The only problem with this line of attack is that McCain has Obama beat easily in the irrelevant but heartwarming department. Obama’s story of spending five years in an Indonesian grade school just doesn’t sound as good when one considers that during that same time period, John McCain was spending five years in a North Vietnamese prison. And Obama’s tales of registering folks to vote just doesn’t have the same impact as John McCain’s early life.

Most people realize that John McCain is a war hero, but many don’t realize the full extent of his heroism. Before he even got to Vietnam, his plane was involved in an accident in which his fuel tank caught fire. McCain leapt from the cockpit, rolled through the flames, and reached safety just as his plane exploded. Over one hundred people were killed while trying to extinguish the flames. It makes for much more exciting viewing (security cameras caught the whole thing) than watching Obama head up the 1992 Chicago voter registration drive.

McCain’s years spent in the Hanoi Hilton are truly remarkable for their sheer heroism. He was broke both arms and a leg ejecting from his bomber, was tortured many times, and was kept in solitary confinement for two years. And the Viet Cong never broke his spirit. When he had the opportunity to go home, he refused to go unless the American POWs captured before he was were allowed freedom as well.

It is both uplifting and heart-wrenching to see McCain re-enter the United States after peace was made with the North Vietnamese. He limps off the plane, gripping the railing with his good arm. His youthful, handsome face is in stark contrast to his grey hair. (Stress may not cause one’s hair to grey overnight, but apparently does over time). He looks very beaten down physically—with his white hair, his crippled limbs, and his painful emaciation make him look almost like an old man. Almost, as his optimism and fortitude shine through his physical weakness.

McCain was appointed Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate in 1976, three years after being released from his prison camp. He quickly rose through the political ranks—he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 and to the Senate in 1986. His tale is truly an inspiring tale of hope and courage.

It is inspiring, but isn’t a qualification for the Presidency. After all, George McGovern was a war hero as well. It does, however, neutralize one of Barack Obama’s strengths. Obama often counters charges of inexperience by reminding people of his life story. But when you compare his life story to John McCain’s, that particular defense just doesn’t work very well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

America's Future

Right now, the balance of power in America is almost evenly divided between the far right and far left. There is almost a 50-50 split in the electorate, and no party has really established a permanent majority. American politics is very cyclical—parties seems to average a decade in power before being voted out. (Democrats were in power for most of the Sixties, Republicans and Democrats split the Seventies, Republicans controlled the Eighties, Democrats controlled the Nineties, and the Republicans have controlled most of the new millennium). American politics does not seem to revolve around a center—rather; Americans keep alternating between rightist and leftist governments.

The gap between Republicans and Democrats is considerable—yet neither party seems able to get a mandate. Instead, the voters keep putting first one, then the other party in power, meaning that sometimes libertarian capitalists run the country and the other times big-government socialists run the country.

This will not work for much longer. These two systems of government are completely incompatible, and alternating between the two will lead to disaster.

Liberalism (or socialism, at least as we know it, is founded on creating a giant welfare state and giving the government control over almost every aspect of life. This requires a massive bureaucracy, high taxes, and a lot of regulation. A socialist state cannot work without these conditions.

The services a socialist state provides includes universal health care, environmental protection, and protection of civil rights. It does none of these things particularly well, but socialism survives because it ensures that all these benefits exist for everyone in some form.

Conservatism, on the other hand, is based on the premise that the liberty of the individual is the highest good. It requires very limited government intervention, low taxes, and few regulations. In the absence of these circumstances, a conservative country cannot flourish.

In America, though, the constant ideological shifts cause only the popular segments of each philosophy to remain as campaign promises. This survival of the fittest ideas means that both parties promise universal health care, low taxes, individual liberty, and strident environmental protection.

Of course, these promises are incompatible. Universal health care with lower taxes? Won’t work. And fighting global warming sounds good on paper, but will not be possible unless the government takes control of how people live. These ideologies cannot coexist in the same country.

Very soon, America will need to make a choice. It can either be a government run socialist state run on the European model, or it can choose conservative values and principles. Half measures will not work.

If America chooses socialism, then it will need to change a few things. It will need to impose higher taxes—not just on the rich, but on everyone. Taxing only the rich doesn’t work, since they will a) find a more accommodating place to live, or b) they will stop creating new wealth. And where will you go when the rich run out of money? Taxes will need to be raised on everyone—on the poor, on the middle class, and on the rich.

If America decides to follow the conservative path, then it will have to drastically reign in entitlements. This will be very, very hard. Americans have grown accustomed to entitlements—it is probably no exaggeration to say they are part of our way of life. We will have to end Social Security as we know it. (Social Security will probably go bankrupt in about thirty years anyway, though). Americans will have to wean themselves off of the way of life that government handouts allow. This is possible, but it will be very hard.

Whatever direction America chooses, it cannot be the one we are presenting going. America is over nine trillion dollars in debt. We will have to pay that back someday. Entitlements consume about sixty percent of the budget. The choice is clear. We must either raise taxes, or cut entitlements. There does not seem to be any third way.

Neither of the Presidential candidates will really push the country in one direction or the other. John McCain is more conservative than some give him credit for, but he is still very moderate. Barack Obama is a very far left liberal—but he is a very pragmatic, work-towards the center type, so it is doubtful that he will move the country very far to the left. Both candidates are correct to call for change—but neither of them will provide it in any meaningful way.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hillary's Last Stand

I watched the Democrat debate tonight, which was a significant debate because there is a fairly good chance that this is the last time we will see a Clinton in a national debate. Obama has a pretty clear road to the nomination, and unless he does something unfathomably dumb, he will almost certainly win. Much like Rudy Giuliani, Hillary seemed to have it all going for her, and then suddenly lost all of her momentum.

In tonight’s debate, most pundits agreed that Hillary had to hit Obama really hard. She spent a lot of time accusing Obama of deceitfulness, and defending herself from Obama’s accusations. Unfortunately for her, she sounded more like Captain Queeg than John F. Kennedy. She seemed unable to stop talking, and spent a lot of time arguing points that really weren’t that important. (Does anyone care that her plan mandates health insurance, while Obama’s does not?)

But even more than Hillary’s final curtain, the most noticeable aspect of the debate was Barack Obama’s performance. If this debate is any indication of his debating ability, John McCain should be able to wipe the floor with him in a head-to-head debate. Obama is good at soaring speeches, but when it comes to the rough-and-tumble of a debate, he loses some of his glamour. He has already committed at least one major debate gaffe (his “you’re likeable enough” line to Hillary immediately prior to the New Hampshire primaries), and really hasn’t dominated any of the other debates. He did not do terribly poorly tonight, but it should be noted that Hillary is really scraping the bottom of the barrel for some of her attacks.

John McCain is not a master debater like Mike Huckabee, but one gets the impression that he will always hold his own in a debate. Running against Obama is seen as a near impossible hurdle for the Republican nominee. It will be difficult, but far from impossible. Obama has some limitations as a candidate, and a debate with John McCain would expose some of those weaknesses.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Should Conservatives Vote for McCain?

There are some conservatives who are seriously considering withholding their vote for John McCain on the grounds that he lacks sufficient conservatism to be the Republican nominee. The idea is that a Republican loss due to lack of conservative support would so shock the Republican establishment that a Reagan conservative would be virtually guaranteed the 2012 nomination. These people do not wish to compromise their principles and vote for someone whom they consider less than a true conservative.

While voting strictly on principle seems attractive in theory, it doesn’t work in practice. Letting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama win the Presidency would simply cause too much harm. John McCain has liberal tendencies, to be sure, but is nowhere near Clinton or Obama.

Some conservatives focus so much on McCain’s liberalism that they forget that he does have many conservative views. He has opposed earmarks for years. Granted, earmarks make up a relatively small portion of the federal budget, but they usually form the most useless and corrupt parts of the budget. (The infamous bridge to nowhere got funding through an earmark). McCain’s crusade against earmarks could save taxpayer money, and would provide valuable ammunition against the Democrats.

On the issue of life, too, John McCain is far better than his Democrat opponents. He has expressed his opposition to Roe versus Wade, and has promised to appoint pro-life justices in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. While he is not perfect on life issues—for instance, he supports embryonic stem cell research—he is vastly better than Clinton or Obama.

Conservatives have criticized the mainstream media for dropping the Iraq issue as the situation in Iraq has improved. But conservatives do the same thing. Before the surge’s results were revealed, the most important issue for most conservatives (particularly the talk radio bunch, plus some the neoconservatives at National Review and the Weekly Standard) was the War on Terror. Now that the war is running relatively smoothly (thanks in part to a strategy advocated by McCain), suddenly Iraq is not so important.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are just as bad on national security now as they ever were, and the Iraq War is just as important issue now as it ever was. It is clear that having Obama or Clinton in charge of Iraq would be a disaster. Given the blood our brave soldiers have spilled there, is it right to allow their sacrifice to go for nothing?

Imagine what the world will look like four years from now if John McCain becomes President. He will have had the chance to appoint at least one, and possibly two, Supreme Court justices. (John Paul Stevens will almost certainly retire, and there is could easily be another retirement by another elderly liberal justice). It is a good bet that his picks will look a lot more like John Roberts than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The War in Iraq will probably be won, or almost won. If McCain has his way, the Bush tax cuts will be renewed. McCain will, of course, endorse some liberal policies, and things could change, but I believe that the above scenario is a not unreasonable one.

If Barack Obama becomes President, consider the situation four years from now. We will probably have two young pro-abortion justices on the Supreme Court. The state of affairs in Iraq will make George Bush at his worse look like Julius Caesar conquering Gaul. Taxes will skyrocket; private enterprise will be limited. Obama will introduce universal health care, giving the government control of yet another area of American life. An Obama administration (or a Clinton administration, though it appears unlikely that she will win the nomination) would hasten America’s descent into European style socialism.

John McCain is not the best the GOP has to offer, but we cannot afford President Barack Obama. Often, it is better to support the lesser of two evils, and John McCain is definitely the lesser of two evils in this case.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

How Liberals View Castro

The Huffington Post is one of the more popular liberal blogs; a sort of liberal combination of the Drudge Report and National Review Online. It doesn’t really have much in the way of news—most of its headlines are recycled from Drudge—and its political commentary consists in large part of C-list celebrities airing stupid views. Its bloggers are just as dumb as the ones at the Daily Kos, but are usually less rabid. Of course, its commenters are the same aggressively dim-witted type found on all liberal blogs.

For the most part, HuffPo bloggers stay away from controversy, and simply spout liberal pieties. However, a post published Friday by Frank Mankiewicz crosses so many lines that it bears notice. Mankiewicz tells of a long ago interview with Fidel Castro as a sort of eulogy to his reign as dictator of Cuba. It is one of the most disgusting things I have seen in a long while.

Frank Mankiewicz was a television reporter, and he tells about one of his interviews with Castro. He starts, inevitably, with the standard liberal mentions of Castro’s alleged wit, charm and intelligence. Mankiewicz marvels at Castro’s “astute” observation that the Palestinians are the “Jews of the Middle East”. (Except that Jews tend to not carry around rocket launchers and slaughter innocent civilians).

For a eulogy, the typical Castro treatment is apparently not sufficient, so Mankiewicz feels the need to tell a story about how Castro, even after the interview was supposed to be over, offered to give Mankiewicz a tour of Hanava. Castro personally drives Mankiewicz around Havana, and is surrounding by cheering crowds, giving our intrepid reporter plenty of time to wonder, as so many liberals and few Cubans have, why the Cuban people love Castro so much. (Oddly, Cuban immigrints don’t seem to feel the same affection for Castro, and he has never allowed free elections). Mankiewicz marvels that Castro feels so confident, even though he issued every citizen a rifle to fight off potential American invaders. (Yes, he took them back, but still).

Mankiewicz finishes his piece with a “touching” story about an interview Castro gave him—it seems Mankiewicz needed an exclusive interview, and Castro took time out of his busy schedule to oblige him. Who knows how many torture sessions Castro missed while giving a reporter a break. I’m sure that all those Cubans who were tortured or braved ninety miles of water in an open boat to escape to the United States will forgive him now.

Mankiewicz’s obvious admiration for Castro is pretty repellant—but the reactions of the HuffPo commenters is even worse. A sample: abbiehoffmansghost:“Castro '08”. littleblackcat: “It remains a fact that Fidel Castro has treated his people better than any republican has ever treated United States citizens”. Pantelleria01: “Fidel is a real man, real leader. Stand george Bush next to him and see what kind of nothing corporate America has set up for us”. Boyaca: “He is a great man.” Kafkaesque: “Fidel is my favorite dictator and I would be proud to have him as my president. The dictator we have now has done nothing but harm to his people and brought shame to our country. Que Viva Fidel.”

I equate Castro’s admirers with those who admired Adolf Hitler. Not those who admired Hitler in 1938, but those who admired him in 1947. Castro, it is obvious, was always a brutal dictator. He massacred thousands of his own people. He brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962. Tens of thousands have fled his brutal regime. Castro is not Hitler, but not for lack of trying.

It is important to note that I do not believe that these Castro admirers hold brutal dictators in esteem because they support totalitarianism ; they are not evil. They are merely stupid and morally blind. They are so obsessed with America’s shortcomings that they cannot see the true wickedness of Fidel Castro. It is testament to the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of modern liberalism.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Many conservatives have an intense dislike for John McCain. Some even have declared their intention of casting their vote for a third party candidate in November instead of John McCain. These people consider McCain’s deviations from conservative principles too great to overlook, and cannot cast their vote for the comparatively liberal McCain.

This position is reasonable, though I disagree with it. However, most conservative attacks on McCain have merit, and degree of nonconservatism acceptable in a candidate must vary from person to person. The attacks on McCain from Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and others are, for the most part, reasonable and understandable. However, some of the emerging conservative attacks on McCain are getting ridiculous.

The words “Ann Coulter” and “ridiculous” often go together, and it should come as no surprise that she is leading the charge of crazy conservative attacks on McCain. Her column for this week examines the reason that no Reagan has emerged to lead the Republican Party to victory.
Does the answer lie in the fact that Reagan was a once in a lifetime leader who we should not count on seeing again? Or in the fact that even Reagan wasn’t perfect and that it is stupid to expect a demigod as a Presidential candidate? Or that many influential party members (including Ann Coulter) rejected the candidate most similar to Reagan, Fred Thompson?

Of course not. The reason we do not have another Reagan, according to Coulter, is…John McCain. When Reagan ran for the governorship of California, he (unsurprisingly) ran his campaign in a way that would not be allowed today, in the wake of McCain-Feingold. Coulter seems to think that McCain-Feingold is single-handedly stopping either party from ever nominating anyone in the mold of Reagan.
Now, McCain-Feingold is unquestionably a bad bill. But not that bad. Ann Coulter does not seem to have any idea of what campaign finance laws allow. She declares that “Friends of Reagan”, a group that raised money for a possible Reagan run, would not be allowed today. Although given that Fred Thompson formed “Friends of Fred” along much the same lines, it is hard to see why.

Coulter does make a point when she points out that fundraising under McCain-Feingold is much harder today, and is right to point out that it shouldn’t be. There is no reason to think that Reagan would be particularly deterred by that, but the absurd campaign finance laws on the books today are a pressing issue.

Soon, though, Coulter is back to stupidity. She says that Reagan couldn’t have won anyway, since federal election laws make it almost impossible to unseat an incumbent. This is a point that would be a lot more convincing if California’s present governor hadn’t gotten the governorship by unseating an incumbent in a recall election.

Coulter decides that, thanks to McCain-Feingold, we have four classes of men willing to run for office. There are men attempting to compensate for unhappy adolescences, such as Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani (never mind that all of these men started in government long before McCain-Feingold), billionaires like Mitt Romney and Steve Forbes, celebrities and “name candidates like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hillary Clinton, and media-anointed candidates like Barack Obama and John McCain. Except that the media-anointed candidates were Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. And anyhow, Reagan would fit into that list very comfortably, in the celebrity slot.

Anyway, the lack of conservative candidates can be traced back to a time long before McCain-Feingold. In 1996, we got Bob Dole, “tax collector for the welfare state”, and in 2000, we got George “Deficits” Bush. Are those candidates McCain’s fault as well?

John McCain has faults, and conservatives should take him to task for them. But they should criticize his many real faults, and not find crazy imaginary ones to complain about.

By the way, if you want to read Coulter's article, it is here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The New York Times and John McCain

When John McCain was running for the Republican Presidential nomination, the mainstream media gave him mostly neutral coverage—they didn’t fawn over him (as they did over Mike Huckabee), but didn’t attack him much either. In fact, many left-leaning newspapers endorsed McCain. Certainly, the media didn’t blatantly and unfairly smear him.

Now that he has the Republican nomination, though, the media has no qualms about smearing McCain. Today’s New York Times article about McCain is an example—it implies a Clintonian style affair with a lobbyist. The evidence provided? A couple of anonymous disillusioned ex-McCain staffers say that some people thought there might be a romantic relationship between McCain and his lobbyist friend. And out of that insubstantial bit of evidence, a New York Times story is born.

The article has more than just accusations of sexual improprieties. It accuses John McCain of long-running corruption. It refers to the admittedly ugly Keating Five scandal as a “formative scandal”, implying that it was the first of many for McCain. However, McCain’s efforts against corruption are simply a “new chosen cause”, suggesting that McCain simply pretends to oppose corruption as a smokescreen.

John McCain has his faults, but corruption is probably not one of them. This very piece could have run in December, before McCain had won the nomination. However, in what is probably a pure coincidence, it happens to run a few weeks after McCain wins the nomination. McCain deserves better, and the New York Times is again revealing its anti-conservative bias.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Surrendering to Islam

It seems clear that many Western institutions are terrified of offending Muslims in any way. After the infamous Danish cartoon controversy, exactly two American newspapers, the Weekly Standard and the Free Inquiry, dared to publish the cartoons.

Several of the cartoonists were threatened with death. Only reasonable, some Muslims argued, as some the cartoons implied that Islam was a violent religion. Some people just can’t appreciate irony.

In Canada, author Mark Steyn was sued by a Muslim advocacy group for “flagrant Islamophobia.” A Canadian Human Right Commission has actually agreed to hear the case. Apparently, “human rights” in Canada include the right not to be offended, and that right seems to extend only to Muslims.

This capitulation to Islamic threats should be seen as a disturbing sign. Often, multiculturalism and political correctness are fairly harmless. It is usually unnecessary, and quite often unfair to non-minorities, but most examples of political correctness have few long-reaching effects.

Multiculturalism is usually a method of extending a stupid and counter-productive courtesy to minorities. (Case in point of political correctness’s counter-productivity: fifty years ago, nonwhites were referred to as “colored people.” Now, “progressives” call nonwhites “people of color.” Thank God for progress). But quite often, especially when dealing with radical Muslims, it seems that many Western leaders do not seem to extend special treatment to Muslims as a mere courtesy, or an expression of guilt (as with affirmative action). Rather, their treatment of radical Muslims seems to be borne out of the idea that, really, both cultures are equal. The West may have disagreements with radical Islam, but, really neither culture is better than the other.
This concept is nonsense. Radical Muslims do not believe in most of what the West considers human rights. They do not believe in the concept of freedom of speech, or freedom of religion, or of democracy. (It is no coincidence that the more Westernized countries, such as Kuwait, are relatively nice places to live, while the fundamentalist countries, such as Iran, are places no one wants to go). The ideas held by radical Muslims and those held by those influenced by Western thought are incompatible.

Radical Muslims are entitled to hold their beliefs. (That is, of course, a fundamental idea of Western thought). But there is a wide and unbridgeable gap between it and our beliefs—and it is foolish to pretend otherwise.

Also, one of the most disgraceful aspects of the Danish cartoon controversy was the craven refusal of virtually all American newspapers to publish these cartoons. With that in mind, here they are. Enjoy (or not).

Monday, February 18, 2008

A (Very) Brief Note About Missile Defense

Next Thursday, the Navy will attempt to shoot down a malfunctioning satellite. Of course, this sort of challenge is almost identical to the difficulties in hitting an inbound missile. For years, Democrats have ridiculed the Republican enthusiasm for missile defense, saying that such measures are over-expensive (when have the Democrats ever worried about expense?) and ineffective. Now that our missile defense system will get some use, one wonders if any liberals are reconsidering their opposition to this program.

Friday, February 15, 2008

McCain and Waterboarding

Many conservatives have complained about John McCain’s opposition to waterboarding. McCain is absolutely against it. Many conservatives consider waterboarding an important national security measure, and one that should be a major argument against McCain.
John McCain deserves a great deal of the rancor he receives from conservatives, but they are wrong to make so much of this issue. Personally, I support the use of (very) limited waterboarding. However, this is indisputably a very complex, difficult moral issue. Given McCain’s experiences as a Vietnam POW, his opposition to anything close to torture is understandable. While I don’t agree with him on this issue, I can respect his beliefs regarding waterboarding.

Many conservatives do not, however, and their reasons for doing so are almost as confusing as Hillary Clinton’s stance on Iraq. According to these types, waterboarding is essential for our national defense, and we hardly ever use it anyway. They are right about the “hardly ever use it” part, as the United States has employed waterboarding for less than five minutes over the entire extent of the War on Terror, and it has been used on only three of Al-Qaeda’s worst, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Abu Zubaydah. It makes one wonder why, if waterboarding is used so rarely, it is such a point of contention with so many. Can something used to rarely really be absolutely essential? It is undoubtedly a nice option for interrogators, but a ban on waterboarding probably would not greatly affect the War on Terror one way or the other.

Conservatives have a multitude of reasons to oppose John McCain. Waterboarding should not be one of them. It is not such a clear-cut moral issue that anyone could reasonably say that their stance is absolutely, undoubtedly right. Conservatives should remind themselves of McCain’s flaws, but should be fair in doing so.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Contrasts on Iraq

One of the unfortunate things about this early Presidential campaign is the assumption on both sides that nothing has changed in Iraq. Both parties seem to be under the impression that strategies designed last year are still practical today. However, changes on the ground have made both the Democratic Iraq strategy and the McCain strategy outdated.
John McCain’s Iraq strategy is to deploy a troop surge. A perfectly good strategy, except that it has already been done. It worked. Al-Qaeda of Iraq is reeling. Violence is down. Public opinion in Iraq is starting to shift towards America. John McCain was perhaps the earliest proponent of the surge, and can be proud that his strategy worked.

But we need more now. The Democrats were right to want a plan for withdrawal from Iraq, but they went about it wrong. We cannot simply pull out—but we should have some strategy to leave, eventually. McCain has rarely mentioned any ideas he may have regarding this goal.
We still have over 70,000 troops in Germany, a holdover from World War II. (In comparison, we have around 160,000 in Iraq and about 30,000 in Afghanistan). McCain, presumably does not want a similar situation in Iraq. We should ensure that Iraq has a functional government before we leave, but that entails making the creation of a functional government there a priority. The Democrats were correct when they pointed out that the Iraqi government is doing a very poor job. (Almost as poor, actually, as the job the Democrats themselves are doing).

McCain’s Iraq strategy is excellent, but incomplete, given the results of the surge. The strategies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are incomplete, outdated, and misconceived. They clearly have no clue as to the conditions in Iraq. In fact, they don’t seem sure of what their own plans would entail. Both plans involve ending the war, but have idea of how to accomplish that goal. Both want to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, except for the ones they will keep to protect our embassy and diplomats. And the ones stabilizing Iraq (which they will somehow do on the way out). Plus the ones going after Al-Qaeda. It makes you wonder what they think our troops are doing now.

Then, both would start up some diplomatic initiatives. It is not clear why, if we have no military presence there, any Iraqi leader would care about what we would have to say. And Obama and Hillary don’t plan on just giving the odd bit of advice, either—Obama would call a constitutional convention, which he would not adjourn until an agreement had been reached. Obama and Hillary seem to be under the impression that the warlords and terrorists fighting (although they are not fighting so much anymore, thanks to the surge) actually care what the others have to say. They don’t.

Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s plan will not work. John McCain’s has. McCain needs to expand on his Iraq strategy. However, he has been right so far. It is very probable that the next phase of his Iraq strategy will be equally successful.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Can McCain Win?

It is official—John McCain is the Republican nominee. Mitt Romney represented the only conceivable obstacle to his nomination, and his withdrawal from the race has made McCain a lock for the nomination.

John McCain is in good position to win the White House—I am not sure that he could hope for better. He emerged relatively unscathed from the primary process. As the rest of the candidates battled it out, McCain’s lack of frontrunner status served him well. While the frontrunners took heat from all sides, McCain stood out of the fray, emerging as a favorite after many of the candidates had been eliminated.

Helping McCain even more was Mitt Romney’s mature and well-considered decision to withdraw from the race. It was nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Romney could have won the nomination, but he could have hurt McCain’s chances in the general election by hammering home the theme that McCain is not a conservative.

However, his withdrawal gives McCain time to attempt to win over conservatives. In addition, while the Democrat nominee takes relentless fire from his (or her) opponent, McCain will have the luxury of attacking his opponents while they are distracted, as they attempt to win the nomination of their party.

McCain’s signature issues are turning into the dominant ones of the campaign. The Iraq War, earmarks and pork barrel spending, and corruption in government are all key issues in this election. McCain advocated the surge long before anyone else, which will be a significant advantage in the general election. McCain has been a crusader against pork spending and corruption. The Democrats promised to end these practices—and failed miserably. McCain can reasonably expect that voters might give a member of the other party a chance.

There is one enormous obstacle in the way of McCain: conservatives. Some will gravitate to him simply because he is the Republican nominee, others will move towards him after the inevitable media attacks overemphasize his conservatism. These folks will figure anyone attacked by the mainstream media cannot be all bad.

But there are a large number of conservatives who with seriously consider withholding their vote from McCain. McCain will have to win these individuals over.

One move that would attract conservative support would be to nominate a rock-solid conservative as his running mate. Someone like, say, Fred Thompson. Thompson is a longtime friend of McCain, and has unquestionable conservative credentials. If McCain nominates Fred, then a great many conservatives will bury their doubts and vote for McCain.

Another thing that McCain absolutely must do is to make his peace with Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh is intelligent, entertaining, and fair, but he also has a large ego. He sees himself as the standard bearer of conservatism, and he probably is. But as long as McCain retains his dislike for Rush, he will receive little support from talk radio.

He needs Limbaugh’s support. If John McCain wants to become President of the United States, he will have to find common ground with Rush. This will be difficult, but probably not impossible. Limbaugh probably does not wish to see Hillary Clinton in the White House, and may agree to support McCain, provided that he feels McCain will govern at least somewhat conservatively.

If he can, he will be in excellent position to win the election. Hillary and Obama will probably fight well into April, and possibly beyond. If Hillary wins the nomination, as seems likely, McCain he will get a huge number of anti-Hillary voters.

In order to have a realistic shot at winning in November, John McCain will have to appoint a conservative running mate, make his peace with Rush, and hope that Hillary gets the nomination. If all of these things occur, John McCain could very easily win the Presidency

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Is McCain Acceptable?

There are a significant number of conservative pundits who have stated that they will refuse to vote for John McCain if he is the Republican nominee. Some (the unhinged ones), such as Ann Coulter, say that they would rather vote for Hillary Clinton. Others, such as Rush Limbaugh, claim that they would rather just stay home.

I wonder if any of these individuals are familiar with the concept of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. The issues facing our country are too important to hand over to Hillary in order to make a point. Six of nine Supreme Court Justices are over the age of 68—in the next four years, there will almost certainly be at least one, and possibly two retirements. The face of the Supreme Court will be altered. I don’t want Hillary in charge of altering it.

The War in Iraq will need resolving as well. Earlier in the primary season, conservatives were unanimous in declaring that any Republican was far superior to any Democrat on this issue. That is just as true today. Hillary’s Iraq position is a disaster. John McCain’s is not. If McCain loses to Hillary due to lack of conservative support, conservatives may win an electoral battle—but we may lose a war.

There are a few circumstances in which I would not vote for McCain—for example, if he picks Mike Huckabee as his running mate. But provided he makes a reasonable effort to woo conservatives, I will give him my vote, though without much enthusiasm. He would make a poor President (although probably not all that much worse than Bush). However, while withholding support from McCain would certainly make a point, the cost would be too great. Hillary Clinton would do far too much damage in even one term as President..

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

McCain or Romney?

Nearly all conservative pundits are united in their opposition to John McCain. Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham all are against his candidacy. National Review’s contributors all abhor McCain. Rush Limbaugh has broken with his tradition to not endorsing in primaries to endorse McCain’s only remaining viable opponent, Mitt Romney. Conservatives agree: John McCain should not be the Republican nominee. Mitt Romney should.

I hate to disagree with Rush Limbaugh, but he and the rest of the anti-McCain bunch are wrong. There is virtually no difference between him and Romney. For every conservative apostasy McCain has committed, Romney has done something equally bad. In fact, was it not for McCain’s apparent love of tweaking conservatives (evidenced by his persistent support for his amnesty bill), he might very well be the better candidate. If the conservative coalition is built on a strong foreign policy, limited government, and traditional values, it is very probable McCain is closer to the conservative position on those issues on Romney is.

McCain is far better on the Iraq War. He pushed for the surge long before anyone else did, at the cost of considerable criticism. Had he been wrong, and the surge unnecessary or a failure, his political career would have virtually over. Whether one likes or dislikes McCain, it is important to give him credit on this issue.

Romney, while a reliable supporter of the war, did not foresee the surge. Few did. However, had McCain been President in 2004, the situation in Iraq would probably be much better. If Romney had been in charge, the situation would most likely be close to what it is today.

Romney and McCain are comparable on limited government issues as well. McCain claims that he fought hard against earmarks and pork. Apparently without much success, since the budget has skyrocketed. Romney hasn’t been very good on fiscal matters. To his credit, he did not raise taxes as governor of Massachusetts. He also balanced the budget in his state. His health care plan, however, requires citizens to purchase health insurance. (Barack Obama’s doesn’t.) He is not an enemy of big government. On social issues, McCain probably has the edge. He has been reliably pro-life. Not very pro-life, but pro-life. He supports embryonic stem cell research, which is an important issue for conservatives, but is also an issue whose importance is diminished by the fact that this practice has been made obsolete by new medical developments.

Romney claims to be pro-life, and there is no reason to doubt him, but he seems to have had a great many conversions on this issue. When running against Ted Kennedy in 1994, he discovered a family member who died on an illegal abortion. So he became pro-choice. Then he started researching stem cells, and his eyes were so opened by what he found that he had to switch over to the pro-life side, forgetting the sad case of his deceased cousin. Romney may be acceptable to those who oppose abortion, but it is not as if his continued opposition to abortion is a certainty. He has changed his mind at least twice on the issue.

I am aware of McCain’s lack of adherence to conservative values. But I do not see that Romney is any more conservative. Both candidates are more or less the same: awful.

Were I voting today (which I am not), I would probably vote for Romney, out of an allegiance to Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, and the rest of the conservative pundits I respect and admire. But for myself, there is not enough difference between the two candidates to make me like one more than the other. The GOP needed a good, strong conservative this year. They didn’t get him. There is not a good choice and a bad choice—only bad choices.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Post-mortem of a Campaign

Rudy Giuliani dropped out of the Presidential race Wednesday. He picked up only two delegates, and finished in the top three in just one state. Both the slightly crazy Ron Paul and the woefully underfunded Mike Huckabee ended up with many times his number of delegates. The Giuliani campaign was a disaster.

How did this happen? As late as early December, he boasted a commanding lead in national polls. His lead in Florida was considered a near lock, and he easily boasted the largest number of supporters among Republican pundits. The influential Sean Hannity seemed to be in his corner. (He attended a Giuliani fundraiser in Cincinnati). He had ample funds, and turned in commanding performances in the debates. How could these advantages translate into so little?

In my mind, there are three main reasons. The first is the end of the “inevitable” Hillary Clinton. Although many seem to have forgotten this fact, it is important to remember that Rudy used the oddly widespread assumption that he was some kind of “Hillary slayer” as a cornerstone for his campaign.

Hillary’s inevitability came to an end the night she flubbed Tim Russert’s now famous question about the feasibility of giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. (Opinion on this may vary, but Obama’s resurgence seems to have at started at that time). Giuliani’s demeanor and personality were perfect for a confrontation with Hillary—both are smart, pushy New Yorkers who have a great deal self-confidence. But Rudy wouldn’t match up so well against Barack Obama. Much of Giuliani’s support came from people willing to overlook his deviations from conservatism, provided he could beat the “inevitable” Hillary Clinton. But if Hillary wasn’t the Democrat nominee…Rudy wasn’t so essential.

The second reason was the story printed in several news outlets regarding alleged financial irregularities concerning the bodyguards provided for his then girlfriend, Judith Nathan. The story was false—and was exposed as such fairly quickly.

However, Giuliani’s handling of the situation was atrocious. The story in itself wasn’t all that damaging. It was just that Giuliani disappeared from the news cycle after it broke. Leaving voters with an image of possible wrongdoing and the image of a martial scandal.

Not a very favorable combination, especially since Giuliani didn’t give voters anything else to think about for several weeks. Romney got in his “Mormon speech”, Huckabee started his startling rise in the polls, and McCain gathered strength for a comeback. Giuliani made no effort to get headlines of any kind. The last major story about him managed to make him look both dishonest and sordid. His descent in the polls started there.

In some parallel universe, Hillary maintained her “inevitability” aura, and the press never published that damaging story regarding Giuliani’s mistress. So in that America, would Giuliani win the Republican nomination? Almost certainly not. A social liberal cannot win in the GOP (at least at the Presidential level). It has not nominated a candidate who supported abortion since Gerald Ford. The Republican Party is (or was) a three-legged stool of economic, foreign policy, and social conservatives. Social conservatives may very well provide the largest number of voters, while simultaneously demanding the least from the party. They are willing to vote for Presidents who refuse to attend the annual March for Life (George Bush has not attended even once since being elected, and Ron Paul was the only candidate to make it this year). They will vote for candidates who downplay any mention of abortion on the campaign trial. They draw the line at a candidate who actually supports abortion.

In the end, the Giuliani candidacy was a bit sad. Rudy Giuliani was a great mayor of New York City, and inspiring heroic after 9-11. I wish that he could have left us with those images, and not let our last picture of him be his ill-fated Presidential campaign.