Monday, March 24, 2008

Whither McCain?

Having poked at Obama, it's only fair to poke at McCain, too.

I simply don't care that McCain flubbed with the "Iran is training al Qaeda in Iraq" comment. I also don't care whether the comment reveals a predisposition to conflate the entire Iraqi insurgency with al Qaeda or not. McCain clearly knows the difference. More important, all of these groups, Sunni and Shi'ia alike, need to be quelled if Iraq is going to be stable.

I'm prepared to believe that McCain accrues some minor political capital by globe-trotting and hobnobbing with the movers and shakers of the Middle East and Europe. Hopefully, he gets some cash out of the deal--he'll need it to remain competitive.

But cash is not McCain's problem. Ideas are.

Yes, it will be essential for McCain to continue to articulate the facts on the ground in Iraq as they are today, not as they were five years ago. He will need to make an even better case for the consequences of a failed Iraq. He will need to point out that the human cost of the Iraq war has been incredibly low, and that the cost, while huge, is hardly the "trillions of dollars" that has become the mantra of his competitors. (The argument made is that the net present value and opportunity cost of the Iraq ware is much larger than the actual outlays. Of course, the net present value and opportunity costs of a standing peacetime army are much larger than the actual outlays, too. It's a stupid argument.) I'm confident that this is an argument that can be won handily.

But prevailing in the debate about Iraq is merely a necessary and far from a sufficient condition for winning over the electorate. McCain will have to have credible answers on energy (where he is barking up the right trees), healthcare (where he may be close to correct but is clueless for making the case), and the economy (where everybody is clueless, but where everybody needs to sound very proactive while doing as little as possible). I hope that his silence on these issues is merely a pause while message-smithing is ongoing. If not, it's all over.

Even more important that answers on these topics, McCain needs to have questions. The right set of questions, placed into the public arena, are impossible for his opponent to duck. If the utter fatuousness of the Democratic agenda is exposed, the voters will have to think twice about voting for them, even when they are overwhelmingly predisposed to do so.

I'm not sure if McCain is up to this. I hope I'm wrong. A lot of legislative damage can be done in a very short time.

No comments: