Thursday, February 7, 2008


Prior to McCain's CPAC speech, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts.

First, as a moderate, I have less of a problem with many but not all of McCain's positions than the hard conservatives do. To go through the list:
  1. Campaign finance. This is by far the most problematic for me. McCain-Feingold is arguably the worst law, with the most far-reaching consequences, of any piece of legislation in the last 20 years. It's even worse than Sarbanes-Oxley. McCain gets lots of negative points for this.

  2. Global warming. As far as I can tell, I'm mostly in agreement with McCain on this. AGW is probably real and may be bad. It is worth cautiously prodding our economy to move toward green energy production. I would prefer a straight carbon tax to the more gameable cap-and-trade system, but either can be made to work. I'm fairly sure that McCain will look for a fairly conservative compromise on this issue.

  3. Immigration and amnesty. Frankly, I just don't care that much about this. I favor better border controls from a national security standpoint. I don't mind an amnesty program, but I think it might be better just to do nothing. The presence of an illegal work force puts downward pressure on wages, which I actually think is a good thing, in that it forces the American work force to move towards more skilled labor. At the very least, it renders the use of minimum wage laws as an instrument of social policy ineffective.

  4. Judicial nominations. Look, all I want is moderate-to-conservative judges. The most important attribute of an appeals or Supreme Court justice is that he understands that the viability of American democracy rests on judges refusing to exert their near-dictatorial powers. I'd prefer more Robertses and fewer Ginsburgs, but I can live with moderate judges.

  5. Gang of 14. As far as I'm concerned, this was McCain's finest hour. The nuclear option would have pretty much destroyed the Senate as a deliberative (and, more importantly, obstructive) body. The Gang of 14 prevented that from happening.

  6. Torture. I believe that torture is warranted in extremely dire situations, subject to complete transparency. I would prefer that McCain acknowledged this reality but his stand on this is principled and completely defensible.

My biggest problems with McCain are not on the issues. They're on his temperment and communications style. He's clearly vindictive. He clearly allows his peevishness to color his actions, maybe even his policies. He doesn't stand up to pressure well. He's inconsistent. And, "straight talk" reputation notwithstanding, he'll veer off into something less than sincerity in order to gain tactical advantage.

And he's a lousy speaker. We simply can't afford another President who communicates as poorly as George Bush. I worry that McCain, for all his talent with a small room, simply lacks the ability to inspire and lead through his words alone. So I'll be very interested in how he stands up to the rigors of the upcoming general campaign.

If Clinton is nominated, I will surely vote for him, warts and all. If Obama is nominated, I'm just not sure. I'm a big fan of divided government but I'm also a fan of having a President that can really lead. McCain will have to prove to me that he's that man.

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