Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Applebaum, McCain and moderates

Back in 2000 I recall a number of Democrats and self-described moderates publicly lamenting the fact that George W. Bush was the Republican nominee instead of John McCain. John McCain, they claimed, was a Republican they could support, a moderate that they could have voted for if only the right-wing zealots who dominate the primacy process hadn't chosen Bush.

Well, when finally offered the choice of either voting for McCain or the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate...they're going with the liberal. This should come as a surprise to no one, and Republican candidates who think that there are votes to be won in catering to this crowd are sadly mistaken. The latest moderate to jump ship is Anne Applebaum, a Washington Post columnist that I have always found to be interesting and intelligent. This week's column, however, about her decision not back the Arizona Senator, may be the most thinly-reasoned piece she has authored. Explaining her decision she says:
The appointment of Palin -- inspired by his closest colleagues -- turned out not to be a "maverick" move but, rather, a concession to those Republicans who think foreign policy can be conducted using a series of cliches and those in his party who shout down the federal government while quietly raking in federal subsidies. Although McCain has one of the best records for bipartisanship in the Senate, he's let his campaign appeal to his party's extremes. Though he is a true foreign policy intellectual, his supporters cultivate ignorance and fear: Watch Sean Hannity's " Barack Obama and Friends: A History of Radicalism" on YouTube if you don't believe me. Worse, McCain has -- in a fatal effort to appeal to the least thoughtful, most partisan elements of his base -- moved away from his previous positions on torture and immigration. Maybe that's all tactics, and maybe the "real" McCain will ditch the awful ideologues after Nov. 4, if by some miracle he happens to win. But how can I know that will happen?
To summarize Applebaum's objections are the following:
  • McCain's pick of Sarah Palin to be the Vice Presidential candidate, which ranks as a near-capital offense here in Washington DC.
  • He has allegedly shifted ground on torture and immigration.
  • Some people that support McCain have said some nasty things about Obama.
Well. With regard to the first point, while I have my disagreements with Sarah Palin, can anyone really characterize Joe Biden as an inspired choice? This is a guy with such a penchant for nonsense that his own campaign has essentially muzzled him to the point where the only topic he is allowed to speak freely on is ice cream.

Next Applebaum says that McCain has flipped on torture, but has he really? Not according to those rock-ribbed conservatives over at Time magazine:
A review of the record shows that McCain has neither changed his position on torture nor taken sides with President Bush on the substance of the issue.
Hmmm. And yes, while it is true that McCain has altered his position on immigration (a politician changing positions -- unheard of!) his current position probably places him squarely in the middle of American politics. According to the McCain website his immigration stance mainly consists of:
  • Securing our borders.
  • Reforming the H-1B visa and green card programs to allow for more highly-educated workers.
  • Implementing a "market based system for low-skilled workers to enter the United States in an orderly fashion."
  • Implement a program for undocumented workers that will "ensure that all undocumented aliens either leave or follow the path to legal residence."
This hardly plants McCain among the extreme pastures of the right wing. Indeed, what's really interesting is how closely it mirrors that of the Obama plan, which is basically the same but with less detail.

The last point is hardly worth addressing. If you really want to play guilt by association is that really a game that favors Obama? Is Obama responsible for what every one of his supporters in the public domain or at his rallies utter?

Plainly Applebaum is grasping at straws here. Although she concedes that McCain may just be engaging in election year rhetoric in a bid to secure the support of the party's base, she worries whether the authentic McCain will emerge once firmly ensconced in the Oval Office, or if he will forever be a prisoner of the right-wing.

It's funny how many people are willing to engage in this line of thinking but then fail to apply the same to Obama. After all, Applebaum is an established internationalist who surely has to be disturbed by Obama's protectionist trade rhetoric, but I am sure that she consoles herself that this is nothing more than posturing -- despite the fact that his words have been accompanied by anti-free trade action in the form of his votes in the Senate. Why is one given the benefit of the doubt but not the other, despite having a longer track record?

My speculation here is that this is largely a product of Applebaum's roots in the Washington media and foreign policy establishments. In the circles she likely finds herself traveling in support for Obama is a given and even slight deviations from the liberal agenda arouse immediate suspicions. With this column, however, she has reaffirmed her right-thinking credentials, both by endorsing Obama and slamming Sarah Palin. She can now safely return to the DC dinner party circuit.

Ultimately people will vote how they are going to vote, and have an uncanny ability to rationalize their actions.

Update: My email to Anne:

Dear Anne,

I have always found your columns interesting and occasionally illuminating, but was surprised by how thinly-reason your most recent piece was. After reviewing all of the various things you liked about John McCain you proceeded to explain why you would not be voting for him. They chiefly consisted of:
  • The pick of Sarah Palin
  • Changes on torture and immigration
  • Various utterances about Obama by some of his supporters
This seems to me rather lacking. While Sarah Palin may not be qualified, is there anything about Joe Biden that is particularly inspiring? After all, this is an alleged foreign policy expert that claimed in the VP debate that the US kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, wanted to divide up Iraq into three countries and voted against the Persian Gulf War. Not a very inspiring record. Given his penchant for silly comments it is little wonder that he has been muzzled by the Obama campaign. But I digress...

With regard to torture, Time magazine parts ways with you, stating that McCain has not flipped flopped at all:,8599,1729891,00.html

On immigration, meanwhile, McCain's position strikes me as fairly centrist and strikingly similar to that offered up by Obama, but with more detail. Really, just compare the two:

Lastly, is McCain really responsible for every single thing uttered by his supporters? Does that make sense? Is guilt by association a game we really want to apply to Obama?

You concluded by wondering whether this current, more right-wing, McCain is the authentic McCain, or whether he will revert to form if elected, but stated that you can't take that chance. I wonder if you also apply the same standard to, for example, Obama's protectionist rhetoric, which has also been accompanied by actual votes? If not, why not? Why are you more comfortable with the candidate with the thin resume than the one with the longtime record? Which is really more likely to be engaging in election year posturing?

I look forward to your thoughtful response.

Best regards,


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