“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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com