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Monday, September 29, 2008
Newsweek hot for "Mr. Cool"
My mid-morning guest-post at HughHewitt.com critiqued Newsweek's critique of the two presidential candidates' temperaments.
[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)
Last week's narrative from the Obama campaign was "John McCain can't be trusted because he's impetuous and lacks a presidential temperament." Thus, when McCain recognized the urgency of the credit crisis in the nation's financial markets and returned to Washington to participate in discussions and negotiations for desperately needed legislation to address it, Team Obama had to insist that the Republican Party's presidential nominee, one of its most senior senators, had no business being in Washington to, you know, do his day job. No doubt they also hoped that McCain would, without much provocation, go unstable during the first presidential debate and do something, anything, that they could paint as rash. McCain thoroughly disappointed them.
What to do, then, if your GOP opponent won't be rash on cue? Why, of course, turn to your friends at Newsweek. The Obama campaign's friends there promptly produced a piece called The Vices of Their Virtues, whose theme is summed up by its subhead: "John McCain's impetuosity is either thrilling or disturbing. Barack Obama's cool is either sober or detached. It's clear now how each would govern."
McCain, we're told, has "emerged as Mr. Hot, a candidate who makes no apologies for his often merry mischief-making." Obama, however, is "Mr. Cool, at once impressively intellectual and yet aloof," with a "measured responses to the news of the season and his steady insistence on projecting a cerebral image." And in case that's too subtle for you, in terms of helping you make up your mind how the really smart people at Newsweek think you should vote, they spell it out:
Our view is that if you are among the 18 percent or so of undecided voters (the current figure in most national polls), we think you now have more than enough on which to decide. McCain and Obama see the world differently, and you can see how; they behave in their own skins differently, and you can see how. The drama of the autumn has served perhaps the noblest end we could hope for, shedding light on how each man would govern. McCain is passionate, sometimes impulsive and unpredictable; Obama is precise, occasionally withdrawn and methodical.
To refine that down a bit: McCain=Hand Grenade, Obama=The Sum of All That's Good and Rational.
Oh, but lest you think that even being "occasionally withdrawn" or "aloof" is a bug, the good folks at Newsweek rush to assure you that that's really a feature:
At moments during the past two weeks of dizzying market gyrations and grim economic tidings, he seemed more like a bystander than a player. This may, in fact, have been the wise choice, both for the country and for his political fortunes. He understood that, by butting into the delicate negotiations between the White House, Treasury and Congress to shape a rescue package, a presidential candidate risked injecting politics and partisanship into a situation that demanded statesmanship and discretion.
What nonsense! If the prospective president of the United States cannot be trusted to play a constructive role in a national crisis, what business does he have being his party's presidential nominee? May he not be expected — as John McCain has done — to intervene in the most partisan of disputes, working across the aisle to present the concerns of his own partisans, while twisting his own partisans' arms not to block reasonable compromises?
By all accounts, that's what John McCain did. And as he told George Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning, if the Democrats want to deny that McCain played any role in the late-night agreement in principle reached after his post-debate efforts on Saturday, that was fine with him. "They don't like him very much," Newsweek quotes an unnamed "McCain adviser" as saying of unnamed "Republican Hill leaders," and John McCain would be the first to tell you that in many cases, that's absolutely true. But likability and effectiveness are very different things, and at a minimum, John McCain did not go Missing in Action (which was the "withdrawn" and "aloof" reaction of Barack Obama).
Newsweek strains most in searching among the great leaders of history who've been their own day's version of "Mr. Cool":
History can belong to the bold — to the Churchills and the Reagans, to men who stand when others sit or surrender, to men who seem to move through the world to a soundtrack of trumpets. But history also belongs to the careful, and to the prudent. Churchill needed FDR's caution and his competing intellectual understanding of the war and of the world that was coming into being; Reagan required George H.W. Bush's grasp of diplomacy and sense of balance to complete the end of the cold war and create a new (and, for Bush 41 and for Clinton, successful) model for American military action in a post-Soviet world.
Whoever wrote that claptrap hasn't got the foggiest clue about history. Winston Churchill's time of heroic triumph was from the fall of 1939 to December 7, 1941 — the time he was standing alone against Hitler, waiting and praying for an event that would bring America into the war. FDR's "caution and his competing intellectual understanding" is what gave us Yalta and subjected an enormous chunk of the world to Communist tyranny for another half-century.
As for Reagan and Bush-43, Newsweek has it exactly backward: It took Reagan's uncomplicated and principled worldview to prepare Poppy Bush to be a fine president in his own right. It was Reagan's example (plus a timely reminder from Lady Thatcher that Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was no time to go all wobbly) that inspired G.H.W. Bush to lead the Coalition to victory in the first Gulf War. But frankly, even on the most wobbly day of his life, fellow naval aviator Bush has had more in common with John McCain than with Barack Obama — which is to say, a spine, a willingness to take risks, and the courage to get back up even after being literally shot down.
No, the "Mr. Cool" of modern American history whom Newsweek conspicuously forgets to talk about is the "nuclear engineer," James Earl Carter. Temperamentally, it's Jimmy Carter whom Barack Obama most resembles of any recent American president. Gas lines, a combination of record inflation and unemployment, a dispirited military, America as an impotent giant being humiliated by jubilant crowds of chanting Iranian hostage-takers — that's what "Mr. Cool" brought to America the last time we tried one. As far as I'm concerned, that's enough of any example of "Mr. Cool" in the White House for my entire lifetime.
Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Newsweek hot for "Mr. Cool" and sent a trackback ping are listed here:
(1) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 29, 2008 9:23:10 PM | Permalink
Dear Mr. Dyer: Holy cow. Concord grapes have nothing on this paragraph of yours:
"Winston Churchill's time of heroic triumph was from the fall of 1939 to December 7, 1941 — the time he was standing alone against Hitler, waiting and praying for an event that would bring America into the war. FDR's "caution and his competing intellectual understanding" is what gave us Yalta and subjected an enormous chunk of the world to Communist tyranny for another half-century."
Being a bit more precise, Churchill's time of "standing alone" was from the collapse of France in June 1940 to Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. One year, not two and a fraction.
"Heroic triumph?" I'll grant you the heroic part, particularly from May-October 1940, but the triumph is hooey, bunk of a very high order. Remember what Churchill himself wrote in THE HINGE OF FATE, about the battle of El Alamein in October 1942, ten months after the cutoff in your paragraph:
"Before Alamein we never had a victory; after Alamein we never had a defeat."
This too is dubious, but much less so than your assertion. There were a few victories before October 1942; there were some defeats afterwards.
Next, the notion that FDR's excessive caution gave us Yalta is 200 proof hooey. Obama himself would be jealous of this brew. There were advocates of the contrary view of "On to Moscow!" notably George Patton, but they did't get far. Why should they? I'd like to hear your candidate for Prez who could have fought Germany with the Soviet Union as ally from 1941-May 1945, and then bawled "On to Moscow!" The result, in my view, would have been yet another war---a civil war in the US, as all the left quacks and suckers went into conniption fits at the thought of fighting Uncle Joe, and attacked the US armed forces with miles of red tape.
Yalta and its aftermath was a bad business, dictated by conditions on the ground when it was negotiated. But the alternatives looked worse, then and now. It wasn't the first time this had happened and as Hungary in 1956, the Berlin Wall in 1961, and Czechoslovakia in 1968 showed, not the last time. Pretending that Yalta could have been reversed is a pernicious revision of history, though not quite so bad as the notion that Vietnam could have been won, as the Reagan haters claim. It blinds true understanding of the past that may help us decide on courses of action for tomorrow.
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