Friday, May 16, 2008

The McCain Threat

Barack Obama faces a troubling strategic threat from John McCain. Obama has made his campaign all about change, but McCain might out-change him.

1. McCain is proposing actual concrete changes while Obama is mired in rhetoric. McCain proposed that they both adopt voluntary campaign financing reform; Obama rejected him. McCain is talking about ending partisan fighting and working together to get things done. McCain is talking about an end to negativity in campaigns. It really goes on much beyond that... Some argue that McCain is insincere, but I think his record and his current talk are really convincingly very sincere.

2. McCain might very well ask Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to be his running mate - both black and a woman. Rice is only 53, so we could easily have 12 more years of Republican presidents.

Rice is pretty impressive. Check out this video. She's good. Apparently her speeches are even better. As National Security Advisor at the start of the Iraq war she argued against the Rumsfeld strategy, but the then-Secretary of State overruled her. When Rumsfeld was ousted she was made Secretary of State to clean up the mess, and by some standards she has made progress in Iraq and Afghanistan - at least enough improvement to make a case that the McCain/Rice ticket is more qualified than Obama to get the US out of there.

If the election is about change and getting out of Iraq, Obama will face a formidable challenge in McCain/Rice. The main counter-attack is that McCain-Rice represents more of the same (a new nickname for McCain is "McSame"). There's some truth to that... not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but across the board in policy. The confusing aspect is that McCain also offers real change.

McCain/Rice is a relatively moderate ticket. (Rice even describes herself as "mildly pro-choice".) If they can hold on to the right wing Republicans, they might pick up votes to the center and left. Even I, who am horrified at the thought of 12 more years of Republican presidents, am concerned that McCain might be more able than Obama to tackle the difficult challenges ahead.

It would be a terrible strategic mistake for Obama to continue to aim his campaign at the left of the party - at rich people who are not vulnerable to economic downturns. Sometime soon he's got to drop his recently-acquired fake southern accent and start talking the way he used to before he entered the presidential race - pragmatically and with insight into important issues. All his empty rhetoric may have been enough to beat Hillary Clinton, but I don't think it will work against McCain.

An aside - the more I think about it, the more I think that Obama must choose a woman as his running mate. (No, this is not about Hillary.) If McCain recruits Rice, then he has both the black and female sides covered, and Obama would need to cover the female side as well.



Anonymous said...

Yes, Condi, so well spoken . . . so intelligent (looking). Yes, the first time I ever saw Condi speaking to the media was on Bush's "ranch" . . . her and the rest of the so-called shadow cabinet while the Florida debacle was unfolding, in the days before the election was "won."

There she was talking quite seriously to the reporters about the failures of the Clinton administration, about how their world-view was naive, sophomoric. And I thought, "Who is this person I've never even heard of before acting like she's the smartest person in the universe."

Well, now we know. She failed to heed direct warnings about Al Quaeda, focusing instead on rebirthing "star wars" for the first 9 months of the administration. She blithely marched the US off to a failed war in Iraq, who didn't attack the US on 9/11. Oh, and whose direct result, along with hurling insults at Iraq led to them steering far-right with a leader poised against any US or western interests. And now she blithely flitters about the mideast - always giving serious and intelligent (sounding) speeches as the foundation there shatters ever further. Oh, and the North Koreans march along with their nuclear program unfettered.

Yes, with that record of success from the smartest woman in US politics, I hope we all get on board singing her praises soon enough.

If she is the best they have - and the US voters actually allow her clown-act on stage for another 16 years - they will get exactly what they deserve.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world will have to suffer as well.

Give me a break . . . send that arrogant bitch back for some more piano lessons.

And that is not something I say lightly. There has never been a shine there, and I'm just sick of people singing her praises.

Anonymous said...

Only one correction (still not backing away from my final summation though its not a normal part of my vocabulary) is the reference to Iraq when I meant Iran when speaking of the regime that rode to power there as a direct response to the Bush administration (and Condi's) sloppy (some would say "sophomoric") handling of that file.

The Mound of Sound said...

Don't worry too much about McCain. He's welded to the Republican base. That's his Faustian deal and he knows it. If he's shown one thing, it's how readily he'll abandon his supposed values.

He's not the John McCain of eight years ago and he'll wind up paying for that. He's a lot more vulnerable than you imagine.

Ruth, you might want to read the piece in The New Republic that features Hillary campaign staffers candidly explaining how they and Hillary lost the nomination. They screwed up, plain and simple.

KC said...

Rice also has to wear the failures of the current administration (not good for the GOP). There is also some troubling symbolism to subordinating a black woman (Rice) to a white man (McCain) that the Republicans might want to avoid.

I also dont think its fair to say that Obama is all "rhetoric". Visit his website. He has plenty of policy there.

Yappa said...

Hi Joseph -

You might want to think about the way you worded that. When you say your reaction was "Who is this person... acting like she's the smartest person in the universe" and "send that arrogant bitch back for some more piano lessons" it sounds like you have some issues with women in power. I don't like Rice either, but the first time you saw her she was a highly respected political scientist and her opinions were as informed as any white man's - who you probably wouldn't have had that reaction to.

I think we're both on the same side, but if Obama supporters want the vote of women, they can't use the same rhetoric they used to demonize Hillary. I'm trying to transition myself from being a Hillary supporter to being an Obama supporter, and that sort of stuff makes it difficult.

Yappa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yappa said...

Hi KC -

You're absolutely right... I shouldn't say Obama is all empty rhetoric. Perhaps I should say that the reason he hasn't won the Democratic nomination yet (and didn't win my vote) is partly that his speeches have been inspirational vague optimism that some of us find to be at best shallow political posturing and at worst naive promises that he has no chance of implementing.

His advisors have written position papers on issues, but I want to know how he is going to change things. For example, I think McCain really won the campaign financing issue because Obama backed off from a reform promise due to political expediency. Obama needs to give us some reasons to believe his change message.

The reason it frustrates me is that this vaguely optimistic Obama is so different from pre-campaign Obama, when I looked to him as a super-smart person with fresh and wise insight into issues. It also frustrates me to hear him adopt the fake southern accent and fake preacher voice. And most importantly I'm worried that those affectations just won't play well to people other than youth, the black community and the far left. I don't want to lose this election.

Yappa said...

To the mound of sound -

I don't think McCain has changed from his moderate stance. I think he's just courting the Republican base and pretending to be right wing. If he wins he won't be seeking reelection, so I don't think he'll worry about the base that much - I speculate that he has things he wants to achieve and they'll be more in line with the rest of his political career than speeches of the last year.

I'm hoping he won't win, and the Democrats certainly have a huge advantage this time.

Thanks for the reference to the New Republic article. I don't think it added much to my understanding. I think coverage of this primary period has focused too much on personalities of campaign workers, political strategies, exit polls and other distractions from the issues. (See "The Medias Mini-Truths" in

I think to find the key to why Hillary lost, you should look at that two-week period (in December? January?) when she fell from 20% ahead of Obama to a tie. I could be wrong, but during that period the important causes of the drop seemed to me to be (1) misogynistic attacks on her cleavage, ankles, laugh, husband, daughter, etc etc. and (2) the painting of her as a corrupt member of the establishment - both of which I think were hooey.

But I have written about that sufficiently and am now trying to get myself into pro-Obama mode for the election. This post was actually supposed to be pro-Obama. I guess it's the best I can do right now. ;-)

WesternGrit said...

Interesting post. My biggest worry is McCain's appeal to the electorate - and how much of that electorate he appeals to...

In regards to this statement: "It would be a terrible strategic mistake for Obama to continue to aim his campaign at the left of the party - at rich people who are not vulnerable to economic downturns."

- since when were the "left" "rich"? That line almost seems like one coming from our NeoCon friends who try to equate "elite" with left. That line rarely crosses. Sure, they are trying to appeal to the "working class" which would traditionally be "left" voters, but tend to vote for populist right-wingers (until they realize that the right wing economics are bad for them - even if the "hot-button"/populist ideas did appeal to them). Still, the left tends to be populated by working class folk, left-leaning intellectuals, and always the "real poor". Captains of industry tend NEVER to be left wingers...

Maybe I misread you.

Yappa said...

Hi Westerngrit -

You're right, I phrased that very poorly. I guess all I meant to say is that I hope he starts to target a wider group of people. In the primaries he seemed to be targeting (besides the black community) people who are idealistic, ideological and not as interested in pragmatic solutions, and these people seem to be the far left; activists; youth; and well-off, well-educated people - people who are less vulnerable to economic downturn. I'm not at all sure that my analysis is correct, but his inability to win the nomination is an indication that he's not reaching a wide enough demographic. Hillary's landslide in West Virginia after she essentially is out of contention is a very troubling thing.

Actually, now that I think of it, I fit into the well-educated, well-off and activist part of that, but his speeches have turned me off. Maybe it's a female thing to prefer pragmatism and distrust ideology. I don't know how so many people can listen to Obama and think he's a great speech maker... when I watch him, I'm overly conscious of the way he reads his cue cards (swivelling his head to do so); his fake southern accent and fake preacher voice drives me nuts; and he doesn't seem to have a message. Yet I used to be a big Obama fan before the campaign started and he changed his entire demeanor (both style and substance). It reminds me of when Mulroney was PM: every time he came on the radio I dove for the Off button because I couldn't stand his insincere, condescending, stoned-on-Nyquil voice. (But I digress ;-)

Anonymous said...


I do appreciate your concern. We're more on the same side than you might imagine. I wanted Hillary to be the Democratic nominee all along, and am in the same place you are on reconciling otherwise.

But I have to admit my language is harsh on the topic of Ms Rice.

I honestly don't think it has anything to do with a woman in power. I think it has everything to do with the shear arrogance I saw in the very first comments I ever saw her give and all of the bull that has since passed. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people are now dead, and yet she still acts and people still respond, as if she's some great mental power.

Just because she has a bit more finesse and a much better vocabulary than her buddies in crime Bush and Cheney doesn't mean she isn't any less guilty than they are.

I just can't stand the love-fest with what her so-called intellect brings to the table.

The world would be a better place today if my (also intelligent) cat had been in charge of national security and US state affairs during the past 8 years.

Does that sum it up in a "more palatable" fashion?

Anonymous said...

One further thought on your analysis of my take on witnessing the highly respected Condi you might want to consider . . .

The arrogance of her remarks on that ranch in Crawford in the fall of 2000 stood out because here she was castigating the Clinton administration on their naivety and sophomoric view of the world at a time when the US was enjoying tremendous respect around the world, an administration who had deftly and cooperatively led forces into Serbia and had faced successfully many world challenges.

Yet she was standing there touting them as failures as she and the Bush clan were devising their administration plans. The audacity was stunning.

So after nearly 8 years of the bottom falling out, I think she's earned the title I've given her . . . and my very soul tells me it's not because she is a woman.

The Holy Trinity of Bush, Cheney, and yes, Rice, have led us here so I just can't abide by the brimming praise she still seems to gather long after her fellow clowns have been exposed.

Bottom line - I stand by my assessment.

The Mound of Sound said...

I think you need to put Hillary's landslide in West Virginia into perspective. No question she gets the Appalachian vote - in a Democratic primary - but a lot of those votes will inevitably go to the other side in a general election. The Dems may have to do without the hillbilly vote but they also had to learn to live without the southern vote when Lyndon Johnson enacted John Kennedy's civil rights programme.

Look at the turnouts. The Dems are attracting a lot of new voters, not the nearly-dead who form the core of Hillary's support.

And that notion that she is the candidate of hard-working, white Americans has already been put to bed in many states and will soon be again - in Oregon.

Certain white working people in the coal valleys of West Virginia or in the Rust Belt won't vote for a black but that's not where the future of America and of the Democratic Party lies.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm an American and right now, McCain is getting absolutely no attention. Obama is quite popular and today's spat between him and President Bush just shows how McCain is weighed down by Bush. Secondly, the racist Republican party will never support a pro-choice African-American woman as Vice President.

You may think Obama's speeches are all rhetoric but they really are quite full of policy. His website definitely has more policy than McCain's. The campaign financing thing is also a very obscure issue. Besides, you don't have to say how you're going to change things step by step to win. FDR only promised a vague "new Deal" in 1932 before actually unveiling concrete plans when he took office. And his "fake southern accent" is nothing compared to the way that Hillary changed her accent depending on the state. His message is also a hell of a lot more compelling than McCain's message of fear and endless war in Iraq.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon 9:41's observations are, if nothing else, inspirational. The evolving scenario he/she depicts would entail a tide change for American politics that's been overdue for half a century.

America is still the 60's "Ozzie & Harriet" mentality overriden by the 80's movement conservatists who have exploited just about everything good and noble about the United States and harnessed it for their ideological ends.

Americans are just beginning - it's only starting - to understand how they've been abused and manipulated these past eight years by a government, it's corporate backers and an indentured media.

Every pendulum must seek balance and maybe the American pendulum has begun heading that way. If so, let's hope somebody has the decency to do it thoughtfully this time so we don't wind up with a tyranny of the left replacing the existing tyranny of the right.

And that, ladies and reprobates, is exactly why I support Obama. It's not because of his gender and it sure isn't because of his skin colour. It's because he reminds me of a guy who swept us all off our feet in the late 60's, a guy who made us understand and believe in ourselves.

And he's the only one!

Yappa said...

Hi again mound of sound -

Thanks for your comments. They're all very interesting. I'm not disagreeing with your main points, but as to your last one...

If by the guy in the late 60s you mean JFK (actually he died in 1963), my dad likes to remind me that he wasn't so wildly popular before he was assassinated, and that his inexperience caused the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, and Viet Nam war. Something to think about.

The Mound of Sound said...

John McCain's main mission, as he sees it, is to distance himself from Bush in the public eye while adopting Bush's policies - and he has to do it in the open!

Look at the recent past. The one man who said the policies John McCain now wants to implement and continue, even expand - was John Sidney (to the best of my recall) Mccain. It's all on video, it's everywhere.

No, I'm sorry but Condi would be about as helpful to John McCain's campaign as snake bite.

There are plenty of John McCain tapes where he's actually making decisive sense are in the public domain.

John McCain's credibility is going to be destroyed by McCain's earlier, utterly oppositional credibility.

I think they can show that McCain knows astonishingly little about what troubles America most and that his "war to victory" in Iraq and Afghanistan is delusional.

The 2008 John McCain has been transformed into the "brittle" warrior, willing to go against so much of what he previously claimed in the drive to win the White House. And it doesn't look very pretty.

Yappa said...

To mound of sound again -

Ack! Stupid me. I'm a dual citizen and I was wearing my US hat when I wrote that last comment.

Of course you meant Pierre Trudeau. I love PET! The return of such a leader would be incredible... he may have been polarizing and he made some big mistakes, but he was the best PM I've known.

Whether there is any similarity between PET and BHO, I'll have to think on that. They're both populists, but poulism isn't something I'm all that comfortable with.

The Mound of Sound said...

You're right, I was referring to Trudeau. As for Kennedy, you're a bit inaccurate. American troops (advisors) were already in VietNam during the Eisenhower days. Kennedy continued that but there is evidence that, prior to his assassination, he was considering withdrawal. It was Lydon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin affair that really put the American match to the Vietnam war.

Bay of Pigs - ditto. That was a scheme hatched during the Eisenhower administration. Kennedy, however, allowed himself to be lured into it by the CIA. It appears the CIA was actually expecting that, once the Cubans had landed, Kennedy would back them with US military force. He didn't. He bears some responsibility for the failed invasion but it's nuanced.

The Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK didn't "cause" that in any way. It was Moscow that decided to place nuke missiles in Cuba. The United States simply compelled their removal.

The tectonic rivalry of that era between the Sovs and the US was being played out globally - in the Middle East, Far East Asia, Europe and on the Atlantic and Med. Cuba was much like a magnifying lens focusing the rays of the sun.

The missile crisis was probably Kennedy's greatest moment in that he confronted, and tamed, his own military leaders and brokered a deal (involving removal of Pershing missiles from Turkey) that kept both sides from going over the brink. I remember that weekend very well, everybody wondering if we were going to be vapourized.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Mound of Sound should look more closely at the Kennedy presidency, in particular at the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam war, and the Cuban missile crisis. Even though the planning for the Bay of Pigs invasion began during the 50s, Kennedy had to sign off on it. It was a disaster and his disaster. With respect to the Vietnam war, to be sure he didn’t start it but he did escalate it. And we now know that this was a mistake too, and a big one. As for Mound of Sound’s memory of the Cuban Missile crisis, consider the following from Wikipedia, a fairly non-contentious summation of the Pact that signalled the end of that event:

“The practical effect of this Kennedy-Khrushchev Pact was that it effectively strengthened Castro's position in Cuba in that he would not be invaded by the United States. Communism would survive in the Caribbean Island. It is possible that Khrushchev only placed the missiles in Cuba to get Kennedy to remove the missiles from Turkey and that the Soviets had no intention of resorting to nuclear war when they were out-gunned by the Americans. However because the withdrawals from Turkey were not made public at the time, Khrushchev appeared to have lost the conflict and become weakened. The perception was that Kennedy had won the contest between the superpowers and Khrushchev had been humiliated. However this is not entirely the case as both Kennedy and Khrushchev took every step to avoid full out conflict despite the pressures of people in their governments. Khrushchev would hold on to power for another two years.[28]”

The Russians gave up nothing they had before they made the move to place missiles in Cuba. For them, the Pact meant a return to the status quo. The US by contrast gave up a lot: it committed itself not to invade Cuba and it withdrew its missiles from Turkey, two major concessions.


The Mound of Sound said...

Certainly Kennedy did increase the number of advisors from what Eisenhower had in place (I actually remember watching Ike on TV in 1952!) but there is evidence he was beginning to favour an outright withdrawal shortly before he was assassinated.

Far be it from me to dispute Wikipedia but, as I recall, those Pershing missiles based in Turkey were already slated for withdrawal.

Your view that the Russians "gave up nothing they had before they made the move to place missiles in Cuba" curiously enough wasn't shared by the Politbureau in Moscow and marked the beginning of the end for Kruschev. They thought the CCCP had been stared down and flinched, something that was seen in other smaller states where the West and East waged their proxy wars of that era. The film of those ships with the missiles stored on their decks steaming back to Russia had enormous repercussions worldwide that you don't seem to have gleaned from Wikipedia. Then again, if you prefer to take your history reduced to a couple of paragraphs, those are the accuracy and completion risks you must accept.

Anonymous said...

Mound of Sound's Wikipedia-bashing only serves to distract attention from the issue at hand. Serious historians and just about everyone else agree with the basic facts about the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis: the Russians removed their missiles and the U.S. committed itself, quid pro quo, [a] not to invade Cuba and [b] to remove their missiles from Turkey. At the time the U.S. spun the outcome to make it look as if it had been only the Russians who blinked. They did this by not publicizing the fact that they had committed to withdraw their own missiles. Actually, MofS, they were Jupiters not Pershings [there were no Pershings at that time] and apparently in the end they weren't withdrawn but transferred to the Turks, or at least some of them, but without the nuclear warheads. So yes, the Russians blinked, but so did the U.S., and a good thing too since the alternative was unthinkable. It's lucky for us that Kennedy saw this, but then it didn't take rocket science to do so.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm not bashing Wikipedia so much as I'm pointing to its obvious limitations in content and accuracy. Sang, by adopting the narrow Wiki view, is weighing the Cuban Missile Crisis in the sole context of Russia, the US and Cuba.
Unforunately that's simplistic.

There are reasons why hundreds and thousands of pages of histories are written about such events. One of them is that they're nowhere near as narrow as the treatment they must receive from a source like Wikipedia.

They affect not only the immediate parties but other leaders, nations, even entire regions.

For example, you can't really get the measure of Kennedy in this without looking at the supporting players. One that comes to mind is SAC commander General Curtis LeMay. There was Armageddon on the Wing.

The agreement not to invade Cuba also has to be taken in context. Do you really believe subsequent US presidents considered themselves bound by it? Do you really believe that's the reason no American invasion ensued?

The Bay of Pigs wasn't an American invasion and Kennedy resisted great pressures to make it one once the Cuban expats had faltered.

Kennedy, of course, was a politician and the Cuban Missile Crisis was a political triumph for him. Kruschev too was a politician and the incident was an enormous political defeat for him, both within the CCCP and in its global spheres of influence.

Within that context, the future status of Cuba was relevant mainly to US presidential candidates courting the Cuban expat vote at election time.

America put Cuba into a deep freeze, transforming it into a Soviet welfare state. Containment served the US rather well.

BTW, I'm anything but a Cuba basher. I understand the Batista regime and I admire the many accomplishments of Fidel and the Cuban people over the past four decades.

For all of Castro's excesses and abuses and, yes, tyranny, I doubt the Cuban people would have come as far as they have today had the Bay of Pigs invasion succeeded and the old order returned to power.

That said, Fidel's work is done. Cuba is strong enough to accept reform and democratic evolution.

Anonymous said...

In casting doubt on the myth that the Kennedy presidency was more than pedestrian, I have recalled three things Kennedy did during his presidency: his signing off on the Bay of Pigs fiasco, his escalation of the Vietnam war, and his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is of course room for debate about these matters, especially the last. But that debate is not advanced by claiming that Wikipedia is the only source for a mildly debunking interpretation of that presidency. The literature on this topic is vast. Nor is it advanced by asserting that in 1953 the US had plans to remove their missiles from Turkey [it is known that there was talk about this at the time, but no plans were in place and it is not known whether the background idea was to replace the outmoded Jupiters with newer missiles]. It is speculative and at best oversimplified to suggest that Khrushchev was removed from power because of the Cuban missile episode. The claim that Kennedy “was considering” withdrawal from Vietnam adds nothing to the debate [a responsible decision-maker considers many different courses of action before actually deciding what to do], nor does the defensive comment that Kennedy was “lured” into agreeing to the Bay of Pigs adventure [for God’s sake, he was the President]. And the claim that the Bay of Pigs was not an American invasion is so narrowly true and so irrelevant to the matter at hand as to be laughable. Some myths die hard.
I should clarify that I voted for Kennedy in 1960 and would have voted for him in 1964 had we been given the chance. [But maybe you shouldn't read too much into this, since I also voted for Stevenson and before him Truman.] If Kennedy’s presidency was pedestrian he was nevertheless in my view the best alternative at the time, clearly better than Nixon. And as an aside, since MoS has let us know that he saw Ike on TV in 1952, I didn’t see him on TV then because I didn’t own one, but I did see him in 1946, in Kyoto, when he was doing his tour of Japan and on an entirely different level I was doing mine; the only thing we had in common is that we were both serving in the US armed forces. [Not sure what the relevance of either the 1946 or the 1952 sighting is.]
I’m outta here,

Yappa said...

Interesting coincidence... the following op-ed in today's NYT supports Sang's thesis and takes it further:

It's called "Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed" and says in part:

IN his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy expressed in two eloquent sentences, often invoked by Barack Obama, a policy that turned out to be one of his presidency’s — indeed one of the cold war’s — most consequential: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy’s special assistant, called those sentences “the distinctive note” of the inaugural.
But Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating... he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.
Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting... But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. ...A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.