Have you seen and read these two? Each takes five minutes, but I found them to be 10 minutes well spent.
TO A HAMMER, EVERY PROBLEM LOOKS LIKE A NAIL
This video starts out feeling alarmist and manipulative, both of which, to a certain extent, it probably is. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided it is alarming. War is what John McCain knows. War is what he predicts. And watching this, it’s a little hard to picture his being any more cautious in his definitions of ‘imminent threat’ and ‘last resort’ than George W. Bush was.
EXPLOSIVE V. UNFLAPPABLE
So far the fall campaign has majored in Sarah Palin, with a minor in the false ads launched (though rarely widely aired) by John McCain. Rather than debating whether Barack Obama voted to teach sex education to kindergartners (he didn’t) or called Sarah Palin a pig (he didn’t), it would be nice if the central dynamic of this contest were about, say, the record and temperament of each candidate. Is that asking too much?
To that end, let’s go back to Palin’s acceptance speech in St. Paul. “Listening to him [Obama] speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform-not even in the state Senate,” Palin said. “In politics there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change. They’re the ones whose names appear on laws and landmark reforms, not just on buttons and banners, or on self-designed presidential seals.”
That last crack refers to the Obama campaign’s idiotic effort last spring to make their man seem presidential with a silly seal. As zingers go, Palin’s was justified. But the rest of what she said in that section of her speech is as phony as a moose in Manhattan.
Obama served eight years in Springfield, and has been in Washington nearly four so far. In the Illinois state Senate, he authored about a half-dozen “major laws” on issues ranging from ethics to education. The best example of his leadership style was bipartisan legislation to require the videotaping of police interrogations, which is now a national model. Obama brought together police, prosecutors and the ACLU on a win-win bill that simultaneously increased conviction rates and all but ended jailhouse beatings. In Washington he has his name on three important laws: the first major ethics reform since Watergate; a much-needed cleanup of conventional weapons in the former Soviet Union, and the “Google for Government” bill, an accountability tool that requires notice of all federal contracts to be posted online. Besides that, Obama hasn’t been around long enough to get much done.
McCain served four years in the House and has been in the Senate almost 22 so far. But he, too, has authored fewer than a half-dozen major laws. Trying to fix immigration counts for something, but nothing passed. So while McCain deserves credit for the landmark 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, the only other major law on which his office says his “name appears” (Palin’s standard) is the “McCain Amendment” prohibiting torture in the armed forces. But that has little meaning because of a bill this year, supported by McCain, that allows torture by the CIA. Under longstanding government practice, military intelligence officers can be temporarily designated as CIA officers (“sheep-dipped” is the bureaucratic lingo) when they want to go off the Army field manual. In other words, the government can still torture anyone, any time. McCain caved on an issue he insists is a matter of principle.
The single domestic issue that McCain gets passionate about is pork-barrel politics (“earmarking”), the 200-year-old process by which members of Congress slip in goodies for their constituents outside the normal appropriations system. Earmarks account for less than 2 percent of the budget; the “Bridge to Nowhere” is offensive but amounts to the cost of a few hours in Iraq. McCain claims he has never sought earmarks for Arizona. This is mostly true. But the vast majority of all the bills he has sponsored in Congress have been favors for Arizona’s Native American population. While the Indians deserve it, the difference from earmarks is procedural. Both amount to bringing home the bacon.
McCain did important work with John Kerry in 1995 to pave the way for normalization of relations with Vietnam, and he’s been a fierce if occasional enemy of Pentagon waste. But that’s about it. Given his claims of two decades of “making change,” his record of legislative achievement is surprisingly thin. Nothing big on the economy, education, health care, law enforcement or other major issues.
One reason for the sparse record is McCain’s history of unpopularity with his GOP Senate colleagues. Being labeled a “maverick” sounds good to the public but makes it hard to get bills passed. Besides helping pave the way for some judicial nominees in 2005, he isn’t known for forging bipartisan deals that stick. Consider the 2002 McCain-Bayh national-service bill to expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 participants. At last week’s Service Nation Summit in New York, McCain grudgingly endorsed his own bill, now called Hatch-Kennedy. But he’s rarely mentioned it on the trail or done anything to advance it.
Part of the problem is McCain’s explosive temper. He blows up, then apologizes and is quickly forgiven. The forgiveness is “directly related to an appreciation of what he has suffered [in Vietnam],” says a Democrat who didn’t want to be named talking about a colleague. “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine,” Republican Sen. Thad Cochran told The Boston Globe in January. “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” Cochran, a McCain supporter, now says McCain has learned to control his emotions better. But I’ve spoken to four senators and two former senators in recent weeks who believe Cochran’s concerns are widely shared in the Senate. Five of the six think that McCain is temperamentally unsuited to the presidency. None would speak for the record.
Palin’s right that McCain has at least tried to “use his career to promote change,” even if he hasn’t succeeded. But she’s wrong to deny the same to Obama. The faith-based community organizing Obama undertook (and that Palin continues to trash) exemplifies the very idea of putting social change before selfish career. Why else take a job for a fraction of what he could have made elsewhere? As for temperament, Obama is unflappable, perhaps to a fault.
Record and temperament. They might not be campaign issues, but they tell us a lot more about the future president than all the trivia that passes for news at the moment.
© 2008 Newsweek