Sometimes the right candidate comes along at the wrong time. They have just the amount of wisdom and experience, gained over a lifetime of dedicated service to their country. They have placed party over principle, sacrificing short term political gains and making a clear demonstration of putting the American people ahead of their own career advancement. John McCain is such a good man; but unfortunately, this may not be his season of triumph.
Barack Obama, arguably a lesser candidate in terms of experience and judgment, nonetheless appeals to voters looking for a change. This popular sentiment has driven him from obscurity to celebredom in a remarkably short period of time. So quickly has Mr. Obama risen, in fact, that no one really knows where he stands on crucial issues; in fact it can be argued that he himself doesn’t know where he stands, because he has never really had to take a stand in a time of crisis. He voted “present” on tough votes in the Illinois Senate, passing on the blame, but not the credit for decisions made by that legislative caucus. He spoke out against the Iraq war, but conveniently after the vote had already been taken (no one knows what decision he would have made in the Democratic caucus had he been in office at the time of the vote). Nonetheless, his personal qualities, academic credentials and critical stance on the war brought him to prominence, as news of the carnage in Iraq, the wounded veterans returning, and astronomical war costs drove Americans to question our nation’s decision to go to war.
John McCain, to his credit, was also critical of the Iraq war but more responsible in his criticism than Mr. Obama. As a former navy pilot and prisoner of war, he knows all too well the true costs that armed confrontation inflict both on the victor and the defeated. He does not take the decision to go to war lightly. He has demonstrated a far better understanding of the operational requirements of a wartime footing, as well as the geopolitical implications of various decisions. He knows that we just can’t go and bomb Pakistan in hopes of taking out Osama Bin Laden without Pakistani government approval. He understands why the course of action in Pakistan is so complicated. Furthermore, Mr. McCain was outspoken in his criticism of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who arguably mishandled the execution of the war in a way that opened Iraq up to the insurgency we are experiencing today.
While Mr. McCain is arguably the better of the two candidates on security and foreign policy, this war has had significant domestic economic effects. For one, because of the ongoing conflict, we have been unable to fully exploit the oil resources of Iraq. Moreover, some of Iraq’s neighbors and friends in the U.N., such as Venezuela, have gone to fought us economically, by restricting the oil production from their own reserves. To make matters worse, China’s growing economy has placed increased demands on the world’s already tight energy supply. While not a direct consequence of the Iraq war, this factor has certainly impacted the supply and price of oil.
The fact of the matter is that the American electorate has come to view the war in economic, rather than merely political terms. The threat of terrorism is seen as secondary to America’s economic security.This is where Mr. Obama obtains his major advantage. Mr. McCain has admitted that he is not as strong on economic issues. Moreover, his chief economic advisor, Sen. Phil Gramm, put his foot in his mouth when he demonstrated a complete lack of empathy with the plight of the American worker, calling this a “mental recession” that had no basis in economic reality. The facts on the ground in recent months have certainly indicated otherwise, and further expose Mr. McCain to the accusation that he just doesn’t get it on domestic economic issues.
Furthermore, Mr. McCain’s free-market stance, normally a boon to Republicans, seems to go in the face of the obvious misdeeds of major corporations in fanning the housing crisis. It is almost universally admitted that the housing crisis stemmed from unchecked greed, in terms of the capital markets extending too much credit to individuals who they knew did not have the ability to repay their debt. Just about the only thing that can prevent this from occurring in the future is more regulation. And this is something that Mr. McCain absolutely hates.
Mr. McCain thus finds himself somewhat boxed in. The gains made in Iraq in recent months, with troop levels down to pre-surge levels without a recurrence in violence, almost don’t count right now. Moreover, the dire economic situation seems to call for a radical solution, not a mere patch-up of the system. These conditions play perfectly into Mr. Obama’s hands, and it seems all he has to do is play it safe over the next few weeks in order to win. Mr. McCain, on the other hand, has been forced to take a series of risks, which not only have made him look desperate (which he is not), but also taken his campaign off message and into defensive posture.If this keeps up, we will be reading his epitaph come November.
Armstrong Williams’ column for The Washington Times appears on Mondays.