Issue of Oct. 17, 2008
With 19 days until Election Day, it is not too soon to say that the 2008 presidential campaign has been fascinating. One man’s candidacy was written off as the impossible dream on account of his race, yet Barack Obama knocked out the shoo-in candidate and went on to secure his party’s nomination. The other candidate’s race for the White House nearly fizzled for lack of cash, yet John McCain regained his footing and his fundraising and went on to win his party’s nomination.
For much of the last six weeks the campaign was dominated by endless discussion, not of the candidates, but of their running mates. Surely no candidate for the vice presidency has inspired as much passion for and against as Governor Sarah Palin — even Dan Quayle, who was running for re-election with George H.W. Bush in 1992 when we learned that he couldn’t spell potato.
As the post-Cheney era approaches, it seems clear that future veeps are likely to loom large in the administrations they serve. Even so, all the talk about whether Palin or Biden is better prepared to assume office in an emergency is a smokescreen. For all of Governor Palin’s political ability, Senator Biden is clearly the better prepared today to be president but, as it happens, he’s not running for president. And there’s no reason to assume that Senator McCain, now 72, wouldn’t live to serve out a four-year term. That political calculus is better left in G-d’s hands since He’ll be the one making the decision.
Of more immediate concern is that four of the last five presidents — George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter — entered the Oval Office via a governor’s mansion and with significant executive experience. Even Carter — a nuclear engineer who turned out to be a moron, and inarguably one of the worst chief executives ever — was Georgia’s governor for four years. This time we’re choosing between two United States Senators. In other words: not executives, but legislators.
Neither candidate has significant executive experience, true, but one does have a lifetime of experience in making tough decisions in the service of his country, while the other was barely in the U.S. Senate for half a year before he presumptuously announced that he would seek the presidency.
In 1992 Bill Clinton ousted George H.W. Bush from the White House after a single term partially on the strength of a famous internal campaign mantra which read, in part: “It’s the economy, stupid.” It was how his advisors maintained the discipline to stay on message and talk about what they correctly surmised voters most wanted to hear about (the rest of the message reminded them also to discuss change and health care).
In this campaign, in which the ‘October Surprise’ was the one the markets sprung on all of us, that slogan seems highly apt again. The economic crisis has only served to further highlight the starkly different views each candidate has of the world, and of our nation’s future. Still, we urgently argue that voters must not lose sight of our national security concerns, which have all but fallen off the election radar. Logic dictates that terrorists will seek to attack while we’re distracted by other weighty concerns. (Wouldn’t that would be SO Bin Laden?)
Senator McCain, in our view, is considerably better equipped to react to threats to national security, if for no other reason than because he is more likely to actually see them.
Senator Obama is likable on the campaign trail and in debate — perhaps more so than Senator McCain — but his charm and appeal don’t forgive other failings, chief among them the naïve, simplistic manner in which he interprets and plays down the dangers posed by radical Islam.
Obama proposes to only very modestly reduce taxes on the middle class, and would raise taxes on capital gains. McCain’s tax plan would lower taxes more steeply overall. Neither man offers a solution to the problem of the federal deficit. Both offer proposals to expand health insurance coverage. Both plans are expensive and neither seems likely to be enacted anytime soon.
There is much to dislike in the Obama platform, but we can’t claim to love every McCain proposal, either.
McCain has been fairly accused of not being his maverick self lately on the campaign trail, instead morphing into a candidate more of the politics-as-usual variety. It’s a fact of life that campaigns often make candidates do strange, out-of-character, things in their need to appeal to key segments of the electorate and there’s every reason to believe that after Nov. 4 Senator McCain will come back to himself and his long record of acting on his true convictions.
Senator Obama’s record in the Illinois legislature suggests that he, too, is toning down his inner Barack so as to appear a centrist, which his voting record shows he is not. His true colors worry us.
The latest polls show a growing majority of voters who seem to feel that Senator Obama is better equipped to handle the still brewing economic crisis that the next president will undoubtedly inherit, and that he therefore deserves to win. We reject that view. No president will decide our economic course all by himself; there will always be a coterie of specialized advisors. The overall mindset of the man, and the sum total of his life experiences, is a much more urgent barometer of suitability.
Some people fall for sweet talkers. We can see why Americans of a liberal bent might dearly wish to see a man of Senator Obama’s formidable rhetorical talent as president, some day. Were he of a more moderate sensibility, which he is decidedly not, perhaps so would we. But not now. Especially not now.
Presidents have a way of rising to occasions, but that doesn’t mean we should elect someone who right off the bat clearly lacks the needed seasoning.
Of the two candidates before us, now, more than ever, John McCain is the man we need in the White House.