Arnold Kling  

Parsing Senator McCain

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Voters should read this speech by Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. It includes things that excite me and things that concern me.

What it excites me is that, contrary to what I recently wrote, he runs as an anti-Spitzer.


I don't seek the presidency on the presumption I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need. I seek the office with the humility of a man who cannot forget my country saved me.

I am glad to see the humility factor.

The Senator says,


The wrong change looks not to the future but to the past for solutions that have failed us before and will surely fail us again... [Senator Obama] seems to think government is the answer to every problem; that government should take our resources and make our decisions for us. That type of change doesn't trust Americans to know what is right or what is in their own best interests. It's the attitude of politicians who are sure of themselves but have little faith in the wisdom, decency and common sense of free people. That attitude created the unresponsive bureaucracies of big government in the first place. And that's not change we can believe in.

There are many similar passages along these lines, suggesting that real reform involves trusting the market rather than greater government involvement.

What concerns me are passages like this one:


I'll reach out my hand to anyone, Republican or Democrat, who will help me change what needs to be changed; fix what needs to be fixed; and give this country a government as capable and good as the people it is supposed to serve. There is a time to campaign, and a time to govern. If I'm elected President, the era of the permanent campaign of the last sixteen years will end. The era of reform and problem solving will begin. From my first day in office, I'll work with anyone...

I prefer gridlock to bipartisanship and compromise. To me, bipartisanship means enacting cap-and-trade legislation. I worry that compromise means allowing the Democrats to block any attempt to reduce the size of government.

Senator McCain notes that his critics fear that a vote for him is a vote for a third term of the Bush Administration. Not all of that fear comes from the left. Some of it comes from those of us who remember the spirit of bipartisanship and compromise that gave us No Child Left Behind, the unfunded prescription drug benefit for Medicare, ethanol mandates, and zilch on reforming Social Security.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
aaron writes:

I worry about bipartisanship too. I think any spending or prtectionist law he prevents will likely be minor compared to other restrictions he may allow or champion. I think he may likely implement climate change regulations with negative effects that would dwarf any protectionism, climate change policy, or spending 'bama could implement.

Les writes:

McCain is a flawed candidate, but he has an unbeatable advantage: Obama is far more flawed.
So McCain is by far the lesser evil.

Matt C writes:

I don't quite get your point of view. Which seems more likely to you:

1) This speech reflects the heartfelt views of McCain, and is a meaningful commitment about how he would govern.

2) This speech was written in a calculated way to balance appeals to different interest groups, trying to maximize votes and support for the election. If elected McCain will govern according to his personal goals and insider incentives, not according to past speeches delivered to the general public.

I would expect you to say 2, but here it seems like you believe 1.

Paul writes:

The problem with McCain is that every favorable thing he says along the lines of smaller government, less taxes, etc., is trumped by his desire for climate/energy use controls. Cap-and-trade represents the largest power grab in American history. Nothing he says changes the fact that he favors centralization of U.S. energy use.

Arnold Kling writes:

Matt C,
My guess is that the speech was "straight talk." However, I expect a Democratic landslide in the House and Senate, which will mean a Bush-third-term style outcome if McCain were to sneak through.

Even that, however, might be better than a landslide that also includes an Obama victory.

My $.02

Matthew Gunn writes:

Gridlock may have worked before, but I don't think thats true any longer.

Gridlock used to be good for a libertarian because gridlock meant autopilot and autopilot meant no new spending and no new taxes. The problem now is that autopilot means massive spending increases (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security) and massive tax increases (expiration of Bush tax cuts, AMT bracket creep, implicit taxes because of increased spending). Just to maintain the status quo requires active intervention.

Tom Church writes:

I wouldn't call the Prescription Drug Benefit bi-partisan. Republicans in the House had to keep the vote open for hours in order to wrangle the votes they needed - from their own side of the aisle.

spencer writes:

See, as the comment above pointed out, this is just another example of you thinking your fantasy world is reality.

You have completely convinced yourself that something you have completely imagined is the truth.

I suggest your get some medical treatment.

Wayne writes:

I'm not into economics for policy. So, I don't follow politics and can't judge the credibility of McCain's statements. But after reading the entire speech, I was moved. The problem is that I doubt I would have the same feeling if I saw the speech in person. Now, after watching an Obama speech on YouTube, I was captivated. The problem is that while I didn't agree with anything he was saying, because I consider myself a libertarian, I still felt a strong affinity for the guy.

I really think this, and not policy, is McCain's biggest disadvantage.

Dr. T writes:

Tom Church's comment makes no sense. The Republicans held a bare majority in Congress. The Democrats favored the Prescription Drug Benefit more than the Republicans did, but not enough for the law to pass easily. A few more Republican votes were garnered by closing the vote at night. Thus, the program was a bipartisan effort that would not have passed if either party had been seriously opposed to it.

Matt C writes:

Thanks for the response.

I'd be interested in hearing sometime about when you think politicians are likely to deliver "straight talk" to an audience. I don't see that a successful mainstream politician has much incentive to do this.

DrtaxSacto writes:

Your dilemma is shared by many. It is pretty clear that Senator Obama could be very concerning on things like taxes (he does not understand the necessity to keep rates low), trade (he does not understand that free trade is critical to our continued economic growth) and immigration (where he has taken positions similar to McCain but not shown the same level of leadership). But the choice is not between partisan gridlock and McCain's expanded vision of government. If Obama is elected it will not be partisan gridlock because, if the polls are right, the GOP will become more of a minority in this election whether McCain is elected or not.

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