Monday, October 6, 2008

Obama vs. McCain, Summary

The New Yorker has an editorial up that starts thus:

Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching— that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has— at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity— undermined the country and its ideals?

The incumbent Administration has distinguished itself for the ages. The Presidency of George W. Bush is the worst since Reconstruction...

You're free to believe that, of course, but I don't. Not that the Bush's presidency has been the worst in 140 years, nor that the upcoming election is the most important in 80 years (that's Jan Assmann's definition of living memory in his seminal book Das kulturelle Gedaechtnis).

The NYT Magazine offers a rather more level-headed analysis. Michael R. Gordon tried to figure out what the two candidates really think about Iraq and where it needs to go:

The issue was barely discussed in last month’s foreign policy debate. But in recent interviews with The New York Times, the two candidates made clear that they would confront the challenge in starkly different ways.

In the interviews, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain offered conflicting visions of how to shrink the American military presence in Iraq, the best way to encourage further political progress there and what it would mean to succeed after more than five years of war.

They also provided telling clues about how much flexibility the next commander in chief would grant to his generals...

Alas, I don't believe a word of that analysis, either. It's not that Gordon is out of touch with reality, as the editors of the New Yorker apparently may be. Rather, I don't see how anything the candidates have to say these days can be much of an indicator of what they'll do when they find themselves behind the desk where the buck stops. As a voter, I've been watching Israeli politicians for decades as they spend a lifetime saying whatever they say, with or without conviction, and then they do otherwise once they're prime minister. As an historian, I've been watching that happen for centuries, you could say. It's not that circumstances always force leaders into decisions irrespective of where they came from, but it's very often so; to a degree, it's almost always so. And some of the more obvious exceptions - Hitler is at the top of the list, but Lenin is on it also - are the kinds of leaders you'd rather not be living under.

So what's a chap to do? Unfortunately, it seems the best place to go these days is The Economist. If you want cool-headed and dispassionate analysis, that is. They offer large portions of it, most noticeably this week in a very long special report, here if you're reading online, in which case you need to keep on clicking at the end of each page, or here if you want to print it out and read off dead trees. They'll endorse a candidate on November 1st, and I get the feeling they'll endorse Obama, but I could be wrong. Their report is calm, balanced, nuanced, and informative. A-Mechaye, as they say in Yiddish.

Personally, I have decided to sit out this election. I always vote in Israeli elections, as a matter of principle, since it's my society and country. Although I'm a tax-paying American citizen, I don't live there, don't understand many of the issues, and won't pay the price for being wrong, so it seems a bit unethical to cast my vote in local or state-level ballots. Especially as I'm registered in California, where I've never ever lived. Presidential elections are different, however, especially the ones where foreign policy are central, so sometimes I do vote in them. But only when I feel strongly. This time I don't.

Why don't I, in spite of what the New Yorker tells me? First, because as I've said often enough, both McCain and Obama seem honorable men and worthy candidates. It's a choice between two good options.

Second, because of the Amotz Asael criteria. Asael, an Israeli journalist who went to school one year below me, he has suggested that from an Israeli perspective the single most important thing about an American president is that he (or she, someday) keep America powerful. And confident, I'd add. Does anyone know who'll do that better this time?

On the narrow "How would he relate to Israel" question, by the way, there's no discernable difference between the two, so far as I can see. On Iran, which is a crucial issue, I also can't see who will be better - we'll have to wait and see what happens when that buck comes to the Oval Office.

The economic issues I don't understand and rather doubt either of the candidates do, either. So it's a question of which of them will put together a better team of advisers, and then have the intelligence to overrule them. The only way to know that is by electing one of them and hoping.

Some of the cultural issues are beyond me and irrelevant to my life. Gun control, for example. The Swiss and Israelis both prove that you can have an armed populace with little violence, and the periodic rise and fall and rise of American crime doesn't seem much affected by the availability of guns, but I'd never vote for president based on such an issue, which has no connection to my life. I wouldn't vote because of same-sex marriages, either, even though I'm against them. I like the Israeli solution, which gives wide legal equality and freedom to homosexuals, and even recognizes partnerships for all sorts of purposes, but doesn't tamper with the institution of marriage, an institution which goes beyond the legal construct of two people living together.

Abortions are likewise not an issue I'd vote on, though I'm mostly against them but not always - which is the Jewish halachic position. Incest, rape, the real health of the mother (but not her "feelings"), these can all be reasons to abort what will otherwise become a living human being. Framing the issue as one of "choice", however, seems like a cop-out. It's a question of responsibility. If you don't want the responsibility for launching life, keep an aspirin pill between you knees, or whatever other system you prefer. Once it has happened, however, it has nothing to do with "a woman's control over her body", or her choices about what to do with it, since it's the child's life, not hers.

Anyway, the real issue is probably quite different anyway: who decides such matters, the (supreme) court, or the voters? I'm a staunch supporter of democracy, and don't think courts should decide such things. We've got this same question in the Israeli public discussion, with the same groups on each side: those who think they know the truth better than everybody but need the courts to decide because the voters just don't get it, versus those who want the polity to decide.

Yet before you write me off as a die hard Republican, I must add that when it comes to that other major issue in American politics, health insurance, I'm far to the left of them all. No matter what's going on with the economy right now, seen with historical perspective the United States is one of the richest societies in human history, perhaps the richest alongside Western Europe, which has been free of the costs of defending itself for decades because the Americans do it for them. There is no possible defense of the fact that millions of Americans don't have reasonable medical insurance. I don't care how it happened, who's to blame, or even which precise mechanism is chosen to rectify it, nor by which candidate or party. It has to be rectified. But I wouldn't vote on the issue because I don't understand the mechanics of fixing it, and anyway I mostly won't be paying for it nor using it. (Israel has a reasonably good universal health system).

So since I vote on foreign affairs, and have the feeling but not the certainty McCain is a safer bet, why not do what I always do in Israel: focus my attention on all the available data until I can make a decision? Because Obama is black.

On October 16th 1901 - that's 107 years ago next week - President Theodore Roosevelt invited Dr. Booker T. Washington to join him for dinner at the White House. Washington was black, it was an unprecedented event, and Roosevelt drew so much public ire for his audacity that he never repeated it. More than 60 years later, President Lyndon Johnson, he who was hounded out of the White House because the Baby Boomers couldn't stomach his foreign war, was braver than Teddy Roosevelt, and did more than is reasonable to expect from a politician. Barack Obama needs to be qualified enough to do the job; the color of his skin isn't a reason to vote him into the most difficult job on earth. Since I'm not convinced he's qualified enough, I'm not going to vote for him. But then again, I'm not convinced he isn't qualified enough, and actually think that after a disastrous 18-24 months he may learn to do it well; add his race to that and I don't see how I could vote against him.

PS. There is one twist that could make Obama far the better choice. If, as I rather expect, his foreign policies will be closer to what I think they should be, and further from those the Guardian is so fervently praying for, this will have a salutary effect on the way the world operates. McCain can't do that, because he'll always have at least 45% of Americans and 80% of everyone else against his foreign policy.


Anonymous said...


An interesting thing about cancer, is that it begins painlessly.

And, politics is as especially dirty business. But no one thought it was a breeding ground for cancer.

However, one of the oddball things to this election is how McCain became the "candidate" ... while the republicans seems to have had a lot of talent up there on the primary ballots.

Also, this was supposed to be "the swing of the pendulum." The democrats were given the advantage that this Bush was a bust. You can tell this from his poor poll numbers.

What seems odd, NOW, is that McCain, who has been on the presidential quest since 1988 ... got away with so much good press! No one took seriously the charge that "he had a temper." And, that he wasn't this "nice maverick man" after all. As a matter of fact, what will probably emerge, ahead, is that one of the things McCain did, was to absorb the entire staff that was running Bush's White House!

Seems politicians always look to find "islands" where they can survive. And, McCain, who like John Kerry, also married UP, following his tour in Vietnam. Is a man who didn't want to go out and work for a living. It was much easier to marry a woman who was very rich. This is how he could get into the legislature.

And, this is how McCain could afford his "STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS" bus way back in 1988. When the elder Bush "won" New Hampshire's primary. And, McCain had to be satisfied with "being a senator from Arizona."

McCain is still an insider.

And, for all appearances, he seems to share a tin ear, just like Bush! Can this cost him the election on November 4th? I have no idea! But the GOP voters tend to push out candidates that don't measure up to their expectations. (Nothing like this seems to be apparent among democrats.) At least not at this time.

Since you now know that Bush is deeply flawed; what will probably come out is how McCain took his staff, and thought this would make him the next president of the United States. Notice this: Popularity is given a very small role.

Did the bailout make the difference?

Did McCain's flip-flopping behaviors make the difference?

Are most Americans willing to elect Obama as the better man? Because the Supreme Court now teeter totters between 5-4 decisions. And, it's the liberals who are growing old. Stevens is 88. Ginsberg is well into her 70's. And, she has health issues.

So an Obama presidency, with a democratic congress, gives the advantages ... to ... well, the democrats.

One of the things that happened during primary season, is that in the "Red States" (Southern states), people, not enthused with McCain, decided to "cross-over" and then, they voted for Obama. Which was why Hillary was "out-voted" and lost to Obama.

Sure. Odd. Hillary won 9 out of 10 of the big states! While Obama was winning "Red States."

Only the bailout changed what comes next.

Wasn't so long ago. 1992, as a matter of fact, that James Carville gave Bill Clinton a sign that said: IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID.

Seems a lot of people forgot.

Why aren't the democrats being blamed MORE for the bailout?

Because both Bush and McCain have tin ears.

For Bush? The chance to ride in again, and "be president" ... over-rode common sense. (To get to the bailout? The president had to ask Congress.)

And, all the pigs went for the pork.

By the way, early this summer my son commented that Obama would probably make a good president. Because he'd be able to call on so much help! He's not going to go into the White House with old cronies.

Of course, this mess with depression may be so severe no one can up-end it. Certainly, no one can inflate the balloon!

But McCain? If he loses, it's because he coupled himself to Bush. With behaviors that have come to him from advisors who work with Bush.

McCain? He'd just mean 4 more years.

And, I don't think the conservatives are all that popular.

Nor do I think the "garden variety" of GOP "country club republican" gets all that much support from average citizens.

To win in America, all you have to do is gain MORE THAN HALF the votes.

And, for the electoral college? You must have 270 votes. While your opponent then earns 268.

Close elections have brought out something very ugly. Where once upon a time, after the election was over, everyone got behind the president; in today's world you have these splitters and spitters.

As to McCain? I call this the "Southern Strategy." Just like in 1860. The passion is there. And, it destroys. But in the end it really did destroy the old south.

Oh, the only reason Obama didn't choose Hillary, is that he didn't want to get shot like JFK.

Meanwhile, IF Obama makes it? My cousin, today, said, Bill Clinton might come on board as Secretary of State.

As to this stinking bailout ... when McCain ran to Bush for advisors, he overlooked Rudy Guiliani. Guiliani made a national name for himself by putting Michael Milken in jail.

Seems to me McCain is, in fact, responsible for his choices.

Tomorrow night? A much meaner McCain may come out fighting. On this I'd bet he lands on his face.

Tomorrow night is Debate #2. McCain already crapped all over his first debate. The flip flops began this sense that he wasn't cut out for the job.

And, that leaves you with "the other candidate."

By the way, Ralph Nader is still running. (Make that "again" running.) And, Bob Barr is running as a Libertarian. And, the crazy Cynthia McKinney is the Green candidate.

Since I live in California, the projection of the state's 55 Electoral College votes are Obama's to pick up.

Meanwhile, McCain wouldn't take my advice. He likes to pay good money for the crap he does buy.

As important as this election is, just wait for the books that come out, later.

Anonymous said...



I have no idea if Debka has any insider's knowledge into Bush's parting gift to his friends, the Saud's. But according to Debka Bush intends to "create on paper" a 2-State solution; based on verbal agreements with Abbas.

In other words? Not only ha Bush kicked into place a worldwide slump right now, in the stock market; it's possible Debka is right about Bush's plans to "divide the land between 2 peoples. And, yes. To divide Jerusalem. As done a deal as anything that doesn't require signatures.

And, when Sarah Palin, during her debate with Biden, came out and said McCain was for a two-state solution ... Coupled to what I now realize is that McCain has infested his team with Bush operatives. Who have been keeping Palin in check ...

What if it's part of the Bush plan that McCain would indeed carry forward, if he won?

Is that "win" jeapardized?

Is it hard to believe more than half of American voters would vote for the Black candidate?

We won't know for another four weeks. But there's a saying: God works in strange ways.

And, sometimes? People need to be saved from themselves. They need events that come along and push the plans a few make, right off the table.

If McCain loses, Bush is repudiated. And, all his staffers who have run to find jobs within McCain's operation, actually will have to leave DC. An Obama administration wouldn't hire them!

When you try to figure out what ways you could change the culture in DC, you'd be hard pressed to find one better than one that de-populates the Bush's. And, this would change rosters at State, and the CIA, as well.

The Bush Family, it seems, has been the rabbi to a lot of power slots, occupied by people where we don't even know their names. Their philosophy, however, has contributed to a sense that the Saud's operated and controlled a great deal of it.

So, there ya go. November 4th rolls around. And, if there's a change in DC, it just very well could serve Israel's interests. The Bush's just never did. Nada.

Spike said...

Hello Yaacov,
great piece, loved to read it!
At the beginning of the campaigns I thought that McCain had a real chance because of all the trouble in foreign policy. The unpleasant axis Syria-Iran-North Korea and Russia flexing its muscles in Georgia. Looked like a slam-dunk for the man who had much better approval ratings when it came to being the commander in chief. Since I'm not an american I can't say much about interior things like economy. First I don't even pretend to understand it, I guess a master degree in economy would come in handy, secondly foreign policy is what effects me as european much more. American foreign policy has shaped the world of today and will do it for another couple of decades I guess. I, personally, would like to see Irans nuclear facilites in ruins and I would prefer to see it done by american jets. The president of the US has tp make tough decisions starting day 1 in office and I don't think Obama would give such an order. And after the "desastrous" 18-24 months, maybe it's already too late for such an adventure.

I wouldn't bash Bush so much... In a couple of years he may stand in a much better light than he is today.

Best wishes from Germany,