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Thursday, September 25, 2008
In the current financial crisis, only McCain is indispensible
The non-Palin guest-post that I've just put up at HughHewitt.com is probably my all-time strongest praise for John McCain. The current financial crisis is the prompt, but the specific subject which drew that out of me is "leadership."
[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]
(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)
Hugh's summary of today's events, posted earlier tonight, is exactly accurate, and I agree with it all. With his, and your, indulgence, here's my own very similar (albeit far more wordy) take:
A politician can declare that he is a leader. His political party can declare that he's a leader. And hundreds of thousands of acolytes around the world can swoon devotedly at his feet, and he can rack up all the trappings of leadership. But none of that in fact makes him into a leader if he actually isn't one.
Crises reveal, make, and define leaders. When the crisis is over, it's easy to recognize in hindsight who the leader was, even if there was some doubt as to that during the crisis itself. Looking back, we can recognize a leader because he's the one who the other potential actors and decision-makers actually followed.
I do not care what anyone says today, or what buffoons like Michael Moore said at the time: George W. Bush led through the ruins of 9/11/01 and kept us safe from further attacks on our soil for the seven years thereafter. However much nuance future historians may put on his two terms in office, that will be the one-sentence verdict of history as understood and remembered by the public. Well-educated eighth graders in 2088 will know that even if they know nothing else of his presidency.
More one-sentence verdicts which we also all know: Washington gave this nation its birth of freedom in the Revolutionary War. Lincoln saved it from self-destruction in the Civil War. Teddy Roosevelt brought us recognition as a world power. FDR led us from Pearl Harbor through the defeat of fascist empires in Germany and Japan. Truman stood fast at the beginning of the Cold War. And Reagan won it.
Sometimes the one-sentence verdicts of history are not flattering. Grant, a great general, was an inept president unable to control corrupt cronies. Hoover lost the country's confidence that he could deal with the Depression. Carter collapsed when America was first confronted with radical Islamic terrorism. And Clinton, in a time of no particular external crisis, nevertheless let his ego and appetites rule him, in the process bringing shame to the Office of the Presidency.
Now is a time of crisis too. I don't think it's remotely as great a crisis — not yet, anyway — as those mentioned above. But it's the biggest one we've faced since we were confronted with the immediate prospect of a humiliating defeat and surrender in the post-war occupation of Iraq.
John McCain shares credit, with Bush-43 and a far-sighted general named Petraeus, for surmounting that crisis too. And therefore it should be no surprise that when this one abates — when a deal is struck, a bill is passed and signed, the markets calm, and the nation gratefully exhales — we'll see that McCain once again put his campaign, his potential presidency, and his entire legacy at risk in order to exercise responsibility. And we'll see that when he did that, others from both parties followed.
I'm acutely aware of John McCain's many flaws and faults, and I have a list as long as my arm of mistakes I think he's made in the past and instincts that I think he needs to guard against in the future. He'll make more mistakes; he'll infuriate me and many others from time to time; he'll get some things wrong in the future, too. But I have no doubt whatsoever that John McCain is a genuine leader, one who other decision-makers will actually follow in a crisis — even if they're from the opposing party, even if they don't particularly like him, even if they're not at all sure that he's right and they're mostly just grateful he stepped up because it helps them cover their own precious butts.
When immediate action is essential, John McCain will act, and they will follow. And thus, in the present financial crisis in September of 2008, now that everyone agrees that immediate action is essential, John McCain is simply the one indispensable man in Washington.
It is vastly premature to try to predict the one-sentence verdict of history on a McCain presidency. But we can be entirely confident that it will not be: "He froze, he panicked, he ducked the responsibility, and he talked a good game but let precious and fleeting opportunities pass him and his country by."
Such is my prediction. I am on record. Amen.
What's already abundantly clear in this crisis, however, without the need for any hindsight, is that Barack Obama has failed to lead.
Indeed, when the crisis engulfed them, those who've had the best first-hand opportunity since January 2005 to watch him try to do his job — his fellow senators, even the leaders of his own party who mouth the words about him being "the next President of the United States" and the hope of a new generation — didn't call a halt to everything and send out a plea for his personal presence in Washington. Their actions and in particular, this inaction, shows that they know in their hearts that Obama is no real leader. They know he's simply a well-cut, slick, but empty suit onto which the trappings of leadership have been projected. And when it comes to putting their own careers, their own modest places in history, on the line, they certainly didn't look to him for guidance.
The only reason for Obama's abrupt 180-degree pivot today was to provide his campaign and his party with a fig leaf: Now they can pretend that both his and McCain's presence and participation in Washington were essential to the striking of any deal. To do otherwise would be to cede the election to McCain outright.
Nevertheless: Except for the sole purpose of maintaining his campaign's dignity, Barack Obama is today the single most dispensable member of Congress.
That doesn't mean McCain will win in November. But it means that he should.
Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to In the current financial crisis, only McCain is indispensible and sent a trackback ping are listed here:
(1) Neo made the following comment | Sep 25, 2008 8:07:39 AM | Permalink
KROFT: Why you? I mean, why do you think you would be a good president?
OBAMA: Well, I was going to get to that.
KROFT: Go ahead.
OBAMA: You know, I’m a, I’m a practical person. One of the things I’m good at is getting people in a room with a bunch of different ideas who sometimes violently disagree with each other and finding common ground and a sense of common direction. And that’s the kind of approach that I think prevents you from making some of the enormous mistakes that we’ve seen over the last eight years.
Isn't this exactly what John McCain is doing ?
So it now takes an invitation from the President to get Obama to join in the discussions .. LOL
(2) A.W. made the following comment | Sep 25, 2008 10:10:51 AM | Permalink
One nit. As far as how history will remember GW Bush, I hate to say it, but I worry that the truth will never come out.
For instance, let me give you another biography. See if you can guess who I am talking about. In the 1830’s he fought against a state initiative to limit the vote to whites, arguing that white people and black people were equal. No, that is not a typo. He said that in the 1830’s, not the 1930’s. He went on to become the most powerful congressman in America. In his time in congress, he convinced Lincoln to issue the emancipation proclamation, he fought for the use of black soldiers and eventually got them equal pay, too. He was important but not critical in the framing of the Thirteenth Amendment, but he can be fairly called the father of the Fourteenth Amendment. He pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and by legislation he extended the right to vote to all African Americans in the south, and wrote the original draft of the Fifteenth Amendment (he died before it could be ratified). He advocated for the rights of African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and women (his original draft of section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment did not include the word male and he fought against its inclusion later, mocking the sexists as “fearing the rivalry of women” the way that democrats feared “the rivalry of the negro”). In his will he founded an orphanage directed to practice non-discrimination among all races and all faiths, including specifically Islam and Hinduism. And when he discovered that the plot he had purchased for his grave was in a segregated cemetery, he sold it and bought one in a desegregated cemetery, instructing that his tombstone’s inscription should explain that he had done so to illustrate in death his core principle: “Equality of Man before His Creator.”
Decades later, when Thurgood Marshall was searching for any evidence that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment were opposed to seregation, he found this mystery man’s words: “no distinction would be tolerated in this purified republic, but what arose from merit and conduct.” Marshall actually said “Hot damn! Here is something we can use that isn’t manipulating the facts!” (T. Marshall was the Supreme Court justice who was probably the most fun to be around.) He quoted those words to the Supreme Court in the second round of Brown v. Board of Ed. And frankly I cannot think of a better formulation on the difference between justified and unjustified discrimination than that.
It might be giving away the game to say that I firmly believe that it was an accident of birth—the fact he had a disability—that led him to became the mortal enemy of any and all unfair discrimination. He faced prejudice and discrimination all of his life because of it. When he attempted to enter the local bar association, they changed the rules to specifically exclude him. All of his life he was hated in terms that explicitly invoked his disability. It became clear that he took any discrimination against any person as a personal affront.
So who is this hero of the civil rights movement of the 1860’s? Even when I say the name Thaddeus Stevens, many still don’t know who I am talking about. But for the longest time, he was not considered a good man, but was vilified. Part of it was the changing morality of the times. In the 1920’s, one only had to say he was dedicated to equal opportunity between the races to denounce him. But even apart from that he was long vilified as a “vindictive cripple” who set out to “punish the south” for the Civil War, all of which was crap, frankly. Indeed, a stand in for him, “Arthur Stoneman” was one of the chief villains in Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” The fact that there was an old superstition that people with his disability, a club foot, were the children of the devil only contributed to that.
But looking at it the way I did I don’t see how you can say he is anything less than an absolute hero. He deserves to be in the same pantheon as James Madison. No, not as well known as the guys on Mt. Rushmore, but still generally known and admired. But that is not what has happened. And so I am pessimistic that it will ever happen with Bush.
Bush deserves to be rated a middling-to-good president. We might hope for a rational time in the future when the passions have cooled, and we look on these times as a man doing the best he could with a downright psychotic opposition. But most historians are liberals, so do you really expect that to happen anytime soon?
In the end Bush has to be satisfied that he and God knows his heart and the true value of his deeds. And you know what? I suspect that truly is enough.
Anyway, I suspect that you anticipated this concern by inserting the term “well-educated” before referring to 8th graders, but I wanted to expand on the point.
By the way, if you want another fascinating look at how history can ignore paranoid rantings, James Roger Sharps “American Politics in the Early Republic” is extremely instructive. Discussing the run up to the “Revolution of 1800” he discusses how polarized America was, then, in significant part because frankly Jefferson and Madison were downright paranoid the Washington was going to try to create a monarchy or something. For instance, Washington denounces the democratic-republican societies, and they panicked thinking he was about to start arresting people. It will ring eerily familiar to anyone who thinks the left has been nuts for the last 8 years. Obviously things are nuttier now, but it is a real eye-opener.
(3) Michael J. Myers made the following comment | Sep 25, 2008 1:08:18 PM | Permalink
A. W. I always enjoy your posts here. You take the long view of things. I doubt that you're taken in by the quadrennial bleating that "this is the most important election in the history of the Republic." Sometimes it is, but mostly it isn't.
As for Maverick McCain, I'm going to have to hold my gag reflex when I pull the lever on November 4. But he's acting like an infantry commander who knows that you will usually not be faulted if you go to the sound of the guns. And right now the guns are sounding in Washington and New York City. The President of the USA doesn't get to vote "present" in crises. He has to act.
(4) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 25, 2008 1:43:21 PM | Permalink
Dear A.W.: Fine comment, well up to your usual standard. Having sharpened my snickersee, let me go to work on it...
What you say about Stevens is true, but decidedly incomplete. The strength and force of his character took him far, rightly so. His racial views were far in advance of his time, gaining strength because they were rooted in a "color blind" view of the Constitution thirty years before John Marshall Harlan made the phrase (but not the practice) famous in his dissent to the notorious PLESSY decision---a decision that should give pause to such zealots for the judiciary as Cass Sunstein, but won't. But the bitter goes with the sweet. Winston Churchill's friend Lord Birkenhead once said, "Winston was often right, but when he was wrong, well my God." Stevens caused a lot of my Godding in his time. His roaring and blasting at Lincoln caused Old Abe much grief, to the point where Lincoln moaned that he'd rather be interviewed by Andrew Sullivan and Keith Olbermann jointly rather than listen to Stevens again, while sticking his head beneath the surface in the barrel of absinthe he kept in the Oval Office for the aftermath of Thad's visits. Stevens's obsession against slavery could have run the Civil War right off the track, and Harry Turtledove's notion might have come true: two Republics, not one, one holding on to slavery and rapaciously devouring Mexico and Central America, the other bawling for freedom while rapaciously heaving the tribes onto the reservations.
Similarly, Stevens was the driving force and often actual drafter of the Reconstruction Amendments. Had his vision been followed exclusively, the nation would have been spared much grief a century later. But that would have meant the turmoil would have happened in the 1860s, right after the Civil War. The uproar that Stevens's (and others, such as Charles Sumner, to be fair) did great damage to the nation, resulting in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, the weakening of the Presidency for thirty years (with the honorable exception of Grover Cleveland), and the worst of both worlds: enough of Stevens's program was enacted to enrage the frauds and sore losers who infested (and infest) the South, but not enough to make the difference necessary to complete a color blind America. His impeachment of Johnson, with the predicate cause the notorious Tenure of Office Act, is a great black mark on his record.
This brings us to Mr. Dyer's notion that McC showed leadership in the present situation. That's indisputable. What we don't know is if this leadership will cause a lot of my Godding in the future. McC's enthusiasm for the Administrative State has always been a source of unease and distaste among conservatives. I would be much more impressed if the plans I have seen did not make the Treasury buy the bad assets from the rogues. Why not loan money to the banks against the bad, such loans to be convertible into stock if necessary? This would keep the bad assets in the banks, and the rogues would have the task of either making them perform, or having the Feds convert the federal loans into stock, giving the Feds control and heaving the rogues onto the street, where the tar, feathers, and rail wait. McC may be making good political points now, but he may be buying a hell of a lot of trouble later. There's a high risk that McC's stunt may be the poltical equivalent of a Countrywide mortgage.
Finally Bush: I disagree with your notion that he will be a middling-to-good Prez. It may average that way, but the standard deviation is going to be much higher. He'll either be a great Prez (for his conduct of foreign affairs, getting the big issue right while letting some real howlers slip) or a flop (for his idiotic domestic policy, complete with unsustainable tax cuts, enlarging entitlements with the hideous prescription drug benefit, spending like crazy on everything else, no real progress on energy security, and above all, proposing the move the nation's capital to Mexico City.) No, Hero or Flop is the ticket for Geo. W. The notion that there won't be enough info, that the "real stuff" will somehow be suppressed seems unlikely to me. Stalin's image seemed unshatterable in 1953. Three years later, Khruschev denounced him in the notorious "secret speech." If the truth can out to Stalin, it will happen to Geo. W., whatever it may be.
"enough of Stevens's program was enacted to enrage the frauds and sore losers who infested (and infest) the South, but not enough to make the difference necessary to complete a color blind America."
Minor nitpick with that statement. The Reconstruction ruined my mother's family in Alabama. They were never slave owners and fought for the Union. When the war was over, they had to sign loyalty oaths. That humiliation and the lack of any help in re-building their farms turned them bitter and it was passed down to the next generation.
They were sore "winners" who lost everything.
Well, back to the present.
It's interesting how the two candidates reacted to the "crisis." Their responses can be called typical.
McCain initially ran off in three directions before settling down to listen to the conservative Republicans in Congress. We can hope for the best, but it would have been desirable had he thought before acting.
Obama initially succumbed to paralysis followed by a vote of "Present." He is not nor ever will be a true leader.
(7) A.W. made the following comment | Sep 26, 2008 12:12:45 PM | Permalink
In my humble opinion, the most important election in my lifetime was 1980 (to orient you, I was born in 1972).
And the most important one I ever voted in was... 2000. We just didn’t know it at the time. I have no confidence that Gore would have risen to the occasion after 9-11 half as well as bush did.
This election is important, though, but not super-duper important. I suspect that whoever is elected will be tested in terms of the war on terror. I have read what AQ says when they don’t think we are listening and this is what they think: that the American are weak and have no stomach for a fight. As for Bush, they admit he does, but they see him as an aberration, and the next president will be weak, no matter who it is. So I believe that no matter what anyone says, they will assume he will be weak (yes, including McCAin) and I fear AQ will drop the hammer on us, in the vain hope that being hit, 9-11-style, will make us crumble or retreat.
So I fear we will be hit sometime in 2009, with another spectacular terrorist attack. And then the next question will be how we react. Now in terms of their perception, I don’t expect AQ to believe that McCain will be tough no matter what he says, because they don’t know him like we do; and Jesus, you know they won’t take Obama seriously. So then the question is what happens next. That is where it is important, because whoever it is has to say at that point, “time to hit them back and harder.” I fear Obama won’t figure that out, and will weaken the United States in a Carterian way.
Which isn’t to say that I won’t be holding my nose when I vote for McCain, but on the other end, it really isn’t a tough choice for me, I just wish I had a viable option C. Really, its campaign finance reform that makes it really hard for me, because McCain struck at the first amendment. But even on that issue, Obama is 100 times worse, recently threatening the license of a station running the NRA’s ads against him.
But really what I do know about Obama makes me feel a deep contempt, and what I am not sure of makes me worry that he is an extremely dangerous radical. And I don’t say that lightly.
Let me give you a concrete example: I work in health law and I can say with 100% certainty that if his proposals are enacted, he will destroy the medical insurance industry. Let me explain. He says that he wants to make it so that an insurance company cannot discriminate based on previous condition.
So you got that? You can go without insurance, and then if you are diagnosed with cancer, you can then call up the insurance company and get cancer coverage, and they have to pay.
That’s insanity. The entire concept of medical insurance is based on the idea that you buy it when you are not sick, on the fear that someday you will be. So when that catastrophic cost falls on you, the insurance company can spread around the pain by using the premiums of numerous non-sick people to pay for it. But that only works if the insurance company can demand that you join before you are sick. If you can wait until you are sick, the whole thing falls apart. To believe this would work, you would have to believe that you should be able to pay $300 to get $50,000 of medical care. The numbers don’t add up.
So, given that, how do we explain that? Is Obama stupid to say that? hard to imagine that he would be that stupid. Okay, then maybe he thinks we are stupid, and he is just saying that to get elected... and that may be true. But here is option 3: he wants to make this happen. He wants to destroy private insurance, so that then the universal government-run healthcare can come in and become the only game in town. So that is a perfect example of my feelings there. In know his official plans will destroy the entire industry. I wonder if that is intentional, suggesting a radicalism I think most of us would find troubling.
P.S. My joke with McCain is to say “of all the people who ran for president this cycle, including everyone who were merely in the primaries, McCain is the most likely to kill bin laden. And when I say that I don’t mean he will send special forces into Afghanistan or wherever. I mean he is the most likely to put on the war paint, parachute into Dirkdirkistan or wherever, find bin Laden in his cave, kill him with his bare hands, and carry his back to Washington on a pike.”
I’m not saying McCain is likely to do that, just that he is more likely than anyone else.
Well, I think even taking your criticisms for all they were worth, Stevens deserves to be seen as a hero on the level of Madison or John Marshall… kind of the second tier of great Americans. I mean Jefferson had some pretty twitty policies and made some situations worse, but he is on Rushmore and deservedly so. So taken as a whole, Stevens deserves to be remembered that way. But I suspect we will have to agree to disagree on that.
But in regards to Bush, I was giving my actual assessment when talking about what he deserved. I personally think he is middling-to-good. Better than average, but frankly we needed a Lincoln on 9-11, and bush couldn’t fit that bill. Again inho.
But in terms of what you predict historians will say, I think that might be true, too—either you love him or you hate him.
But I tend to think he is probably going to be vilified for a long while.
The one thing I find interesting, is that we are entering an era where potentially we can really allow our children to live history to a greater degree than ever before. For instance, they will be able to literally watch 9-11 on their TV’s exactly like we did, warts and all. By comparison, the only footage I saw from Pearl Harbor was some wounded ships afterwards. It will be interesting to see how that affects the debate, but I won’t pretend to know the exact effect of it.
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