“Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran,” revisited

Was McCain poking fun at the ultra-hawks?

I don’t celebrate Christmas, and in any case reflecting on past sins doesn’t seem to be part of the Christmas tradition. But the holiday is observed by being nice to people you don’t especially like, and the secular New Year is probably a good time as the Jewish New Year for reflection on last year’s mistakes. So let me get something off my chest.

Although I was astoundingly rough on John McCain during the campaign, I don’t find myself regretting much of what I said. I hope that the McCain his sensible admirers thought they were voting for reappears now, but it was fair to say that the McCain who ran this year was a different guy entirely. And I don’t agree that McCain’s remark about staying in Iraq for “a hundred years” was taken out of context: he wanted (and still wants) a permanent occupation of Iraq, and merely hopes that at some point the bad guys will decide to stop killing our troops.

On one point, however, I’ve been feeling a trifle guilty. Atrios reminded me of it by posting the hilarious parody of the “Yes We Can” video, which made vicious fun of McCain’s hawkishness, including the infamous “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.”

Yes, McCain, as a Presidential candidate, shouldn’t have been singing songs about bombing a country with which the United States is at peace. If nothing else, it was diplomatically foolish, strengthening the very forces inside Iran we ought to be trying to weaken. But as I watched the original video of the “town hall” where McCain made the gaffe, it struck me that he was mocking foolish hawkishness, rather than embracing it. Singing was a way of poking gentle fun at the bloodthirsty question asked by one of his supporters. Really wanting to bomb Iran isn’t fully compatible with making up a song about it. In fairness, I should have said as much at the time.

Now McCain never tried to back away from “bomb Iran” as he did from “a hundred years”; he and his managers were prepared to leave that ditty as his last word on a crucial security issue, other than telling his critics to “lighten up” and “get a life.” So he was fully complicit in his victimization, if his original intention was what I thought it to be. Still, it would have been more generous for those on our side to offer the less crazy interpretation, just to see if McCain and his handlers wanted to pick it up.

We now return to our regularly scheduled Republican-bashing.

McCain’s concession

If he’d made this sort of speech during the campaign, he would have left a better memory.

McCain mentions Obama. Classy to the end, his crowd boos. Of course, if Obama was really the person the McCain campaign portrayed, booing would be the natural response.

McC finally admits that Obama loves our country. About time.

Speech is a reflection on racial progress. A century from TR’s invitation to Booker T. Washington being a scandal to electing a black President.

Mentions Obama’s grandmother, gracefully.

Pledges support to Obama as President, urges his followers to do likewise.

Gives Palin a generous send-off, credit to his staff.

If he’d made this sort of speech during the campaign, he would have left a better memory.

Time zones

Will John McCain concede before the polls close in Alaska?

An idle thought. Will John McCain concede before the polls close in Alaska?

This will apparently happen for continental Alaska at midnight Eastern standard time, which is 8p.m. Alaska standard time and 9 pm Pacific standard time. Update The Aleutians close one hour later.

If I were him, I’d get it over with, go to bed, and leave his running mate to fend for herself.

John McCain: Cool and consistent

The consensus seems now to have settled down that John McCain’s campaign behavior has been erratic and temperamental. Certainly that was the Obama campaign’s narrative.

In fact, McCain has been about as consistent as can be: whatever Steve Schmidt tells him to do, he does. Since Schmidt is obsessed about the news cycle, and has determined that McCain can win only by a scorched-earth, Rovian, racially-tinged campaign, that’s what McCain does.

All of the things that observers have seen as erratic have in fact been Schmidt’s ideas, and carried through.

The Palin nomination? Check.

“Suspending” the campaign? Check.

Declaring victory 3 days after this “suspension”? Check.

Socialist-Marxist? Check.

Obama is too brown for America? Check.

This only looks erratic because Schmidt’s focus on the news cycle and attack mentality needs a new story every day. Every day, after all, Obama will say something. Thus, every day, Schmidt will find a way to lie about it.

Most importantly, you can’t win a news cycle every day without coming up with a new spin on the basic story, because reporters will get bored with it. Rove did the same thing: one day Kerry was a flip-flopper, the next day he was French, the next day he was an elitist windsurfer. Theme and variations. The difference is that this year the fundamentals are so bad, and Obama is so talented (and well-financed) that it doesn’t work.

So McCain has actually been incredibly disciplined. Give the old guy some credit.

UPDATE: Similarly, Francis Fukuyama underestimates him (h/t Sullivan):

McCain’s appeal was always that he could think for himself, but as the campaign has progressed, he has seemed simply erratic and hotheaded. His choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate was highly irresponsible; we have suffered under the current president who entered office without much knowledge of the world and was easily captured by the wrong advisers. McCain’s lurching from Reaganite free-marketer to populist tribune makes one wonder whether he has any underlying principles at all.

This is unfair. McCain has one underlying principle: he wants to win. Nothing else matters. In order to do that, he will listen to Schmidt. Pretty straightforward, in my view.

Factor of safety = 0.95

If McCain is an engineer because he went to Annapolis, then I’m a pansexual semiotics professor (because I went to Swarthmore).

David Broder is the unchallenged master of the conventional wisdom, and we need such a tribune. But this requiem for the McCain campaign is just unconventional folly:

The shortcoming was intellectual as well as bureaucratic. Like Jimmy Carter, the only Naval Academy graduate to reach the Oval Office, McCain had an engineer’s approach to policymaking. He had no large principles that he could apply to specific problems; each fresh question set off a search for a “practical” solution. He instinctively looked back to Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive era, with its high-mindedness and disdain for the politics of doling out favors to interest groups.

Yes, in McCain’s time all plebes got a BS in naval engineering, except that he was not much of an engineering student and is no engineer:

[H]e was an academic misfit: a literature and history buff in nerd territory.

“All the courses were about naval boilers, 16-inch guns, electrical engineering, those kinds of things,” McCain recalled. Did he feel like he was in the wrong place? “Sure, as far as the course of study is concerned. But I also was cognizant that when I graduated, then I could go fly airplanes and never have to worry about naval boilers or 16-inch guns ever again.”

Flying a plane doesn’t require solving the Navier-Stokes equations. In any event, McCain was a reckless pilot.

I’m an engineer turned policy analyst, and I’m not sure what an “engineer’s approach to policymaking” is, but it surely is not unprincipled, just use-enough-duct-tape-and-WD-40-to- keep-it-running. Engineers apply scientific principles to produce useful products and processes. They are reality-based; solutions must meet constraints of physical laws, available resources, and societal norms. They validate the fruits of their intuition and creativity by rigorous testing. Not a bad approach to policymaking.

I expect that McCain appreciates the comparison to Carter, however inapt, as much as Carter did being called Jimmy Hoover. Their failures in leadership reflect more on their (typical) engineer’s temperament than on their approach to problem solving. As a legislator McCain lacked a grand vision, but that’s not what engineers apply to solve problems. Be grateful for that the next time you cross a bridge.

Update: The National Society of Professional Engineers names eleven members of Congress who have degrees in engineering. Hmm, which senator is conspicuous by his absence?

Ouch! McCain pwned by … Larry King?!

Rashid Khalidi: a slander too far?

Larry King interviews McCain, asks softball questions, nods as McCain rolls out the Rashid Khalidi nonsense. (In fact, King didn’t notice that the McCain had just talked about the supposed suppression of the videotape &#8212 which the LAT claims it got on condition that it would not be shown, and about which the LAT published a story months ago &#8212 and asked the next question from his script, which allowed McCain to go through it again.) It’s hard for me to believe that McCain’s faux-naïf shtick convinces anyone not already convinced, and he still hasn’t learned to suppress entirely the signature smirk that means he thinks he just scored a point, but for all I know it might be working.


I watched the interview on a replay. At that point, CNN cuts away from the interview itself to footage of Larry King, alone in the studio, looking into the camera and reciting the CNN factcheck showing that McCain is making a fuss about nothing in particular. Not helpful to the cause of bamboozlement, and a strong suggestion that CNN management has had about enough of being used as a conveyor belt for slander.

Update Now this is weird. (h/t Sullivan)

Shep Smith of Fox News(!) tells Joe the Racist Non-Plumber in no uncertain terms that his fifteen minutes are up.

Note the dishonest game McCain and Palin play with this loudmouth. Wurzlebacher can say all sorts of ridiculous stuff and never have to defend it; he just drops into his “I’m a ordinary guy and don’t know nuthin’ ” act. They can then escape accountability for their slanders of Obama by attributing them to “Joe” and treating any criticism of those slanders as disrespect for American working people.

But note, more importantly, that Fox News management would never have allowed this if the campaign still looked winnable for McCain. And the Obama camp’s strategy of going after Fox as an arm of the RNC looks smarter and smarter.

McCain’s “Redistributionist” Complaint

All government policies redistribute income. So McCain’s complaint is nonsense.

There’s already been lots of sensible pushback against John McCain’s charge that Barack Obama is a redistributionist. At the risk of piling on, here’s another story that illustrates just how bizarre the charge is.

Some months ago, I was asked to join a panel to review The National Council on Economic Education’s curriculum standards for the teaching of essential principles of economics, a task not normally entrusted to Marxists. On a conference call last Friday, the panel debated the Council’s content standards, including Content Standard 16, which reads in part,

There is an economic role for government in a market economy whenever the benefits of a government policy outweigh its costs. Governments often provide for national defense, address environmental concerns, define and protect property rights, and attempt to make markets more competitive. Most government policies also redistribute income.

Discussion focused on a proposal by one of the panel members to change “Most” to “Many” in the last sentence of this standard. I asked whether anyone could think of a government policy that didn’t entail at least some degree of direct or indirect redistribution of income. No one could, which is hardly surprising, since government policies are paid for by taxes and create benefits and costs that generally fall unevenly on different people.

In practice, not every government policy meets the cost-benefit test described in Content Standard 16. But no one could come up with even a single example of a government expenditure—not for a highway guard rail, not for a bridge repair, not for an influenza vaccine, not for any other specific purpose—whose net costs and benefits were exactly equal for each and every citizen.

In short, there is a more plausible case for changing “Most” to “All” than for changing “Most” to “Many” in the last sentence of Content Standard 16. Rather than push the envelope, though, we voted to let the current wording stand.

If all government policies have distributional consequences, it makes no sense to complain that a politician favors redistribution. When John McCain appears on a talk show this Sunday, his interviewer should ask him whether all the policies he’s supported during his years in office that have had no effect on the distribution of income among his constituents. Unless the answer is no, then McCain, too, is a redistributionist.


Ann Althouse says that John McCain’s attempt to paint Barack Obama as a socialist is incoherent, and wonders if McCain is “exhausted or sick.” McCain may well be losing it, but that’s not the reason he can’t make the case. There’s no case to be made.

Yep, that’s the word for McCain these days. Don’t believe me? Then believe Ann Althouse.

The whole “socialist” thing is so wrong on so many levels it’s hard to get started.

First, it’s obviously, grossly, ludicrously false. Obama does not believe in state ownership of the means of production. He believes in a state that makes capitalism work for everyone. When he thinks about economic policy Obama’s first move is toward Alexander Hamilton, who invented what is now called the “mixed economy” before anyone had ever heard of socialism.

Second, McCain doesn’t really believe it. First he cites his vote against the Bush tax cuts as evidence that he’s a maverick. Then he cites Obama’s opposition to extending those cuts as evidence that Obama is a “socialist.” Or it’s because Obama offers refundable tax credits, when refundable tax credits are at the center of McCain’s own health care plan. This stuff doesn’t pass the giggle test.

Third, and most of all, “socialist” as a campaign issue has nothing to do with economic policy at all. Because the oligarchs of Soviet Union and the rest of the Leninist/Stalinist/Maoist world &#8212 and their Western apologists &#8212 used “socialist” as a label for their mix of state capitalism with tyranny, during the Cold War calling someone a “socialist” was a way of challenging that person’s loyalty. “Socialist” in the context of McCain’s attack on Obama has no real reference to an economic theory; it’s just part of the attempt to make Obama into the Scary Other: the black nationalist/ terrorist/ radical/ Muslim/ Marxist/ Chicago machine politician/ vote-stealer/ fake Messiah/ baby-killer/ pervert/ alien/ cosmopolitan/ European/ celebrity/ elitist. (Now James Pinkerton adds “Satanist”. No, seriously.)

No wonder an intellectual like Althouse can’t parse what McCain is saying. And good for her for having the nerve to say so.

But the message isn’t incoherent just because McCain is “exhausted or sick.” Yes, McCain does seem to suffer from a certain … shall we say “lack of focus”? But that merely makes it harder for McCain to conceal the fact that there’s no actual thought behind the fear-mongering. Give someone smart &#8212 Althouse, for example &#8212 the assignment of explaining the sense in which Barack Obama is a “socialist,” and she couldn’t really do any better at it. There’s simply no there there.