Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Is This The Beginning Of A New Beginning For McCain?

Today, Michael Gerson lavishes attention on John McCain, and repeats his standard prevarication about "the surge", followed by a "there are two types of people" generalization that would probably even make David Brooks blush.
President Bush's announcement of the surge in January 2007 pleased almost no one - neither Democrats who embraced retreat at any cost, nor Republicans who suspected the shift in approach was too little, too late.
Is Gerson truly a simpleton, or does he merely play one on the editorial pages? Seriously - people complain about The Times hiring Kristol, who is unquestionably a hack, but at least he has a brain in his head.

Gerson tries to reinvent McCain's revival as being about this new "success" in the Iraq war:
Yet the Republican candidate most closely identified with the war and the surge performs well in head-to-head polls against the Democrats. The revival of McCain's campaign was possible for one reason: the revival of American fortunes in Iraq.

Which explains why Republican voters put the Iraq war first... second... er, make that a close third (19%) on their list of priorities. Behind the economy (39%), something McCain admits that he doesn't understand, and immigration (23%).... Gerson may have sympathies with McCain's views on immigration, but (as obtuse as he often seems to be) he knows better than to make immigration policy the centerpiece of a column on the revival of McCain's candidacy.
Most categories of violence in Iraq are now down by more than 60 percent, and sectarian attacks in Baghdad have fallen by 90 percent. Sunni tribal leaders are conducting the first large-scale revolt of Arabs against al-Qaeda thuggery - which includes, we learned last week, strapping explosives to a mentally disabled woman and setting off a blast in a market.

McCain seems well suited to deal with this kind of evil - precisely because he would diagnose it as evil.
Whereas the other candidates would diagnose it as... oh, what's the word I'm struggling to find... evil?

In case it is necessary to restate my position, the military achievements in Iraq have been impressive. From the total domination of the country in the early days of the war, through the surge and its military goals of suppressing violence to make room for political progress. On the other hand, the Iraq war has been a political disaster, from the Bush Administration machinations that got us into the war, to the incompetent decisions made following the occupation (including extreme de-Baathification and the dissolution of the Iraq military, which laid the foundation for two of the most intractable problems, bringing Baathists into a unification government and a large, widespread insurgency.) Lest we forget, although the occupation was not the "cakewalk" we were promised, there was a two-year downward spiral following the invasion. Two years of squandered opportunity, due primarily to the Bush Administration's refusal to face reality and lust to unilaterally impose its own goals on the state of Iraq. Where was Gerson during that period abject incompetence? Oh, yeah....
In the general election, his ideological heresies will suddenly transform into strengths. Because of his immigration views, he is the only Republican candidate who can make a serious appeal to Hispanic voters. His positions on global warming and campaign finance reform will ease his outreach to independents.
If Gerson were paying attention to the voices of voters instead of the voices in his head, he would realize that McCain's present success arises from his "outreach to independents". The closer to the center you are, the more likely you are to support McCain. The hardcore Republicans, those who put immigration as an issue above the Iraq war? They're not likely to be thrilled with McCain's reach toward the center. Gerson might dismiss this with a, "Who else are they going to vote for?" That, however, is an attitude likely to lead to reduced voter turnout.

Gerson sees one, and only one, flaw in McCain. His attempt to reinvent himself as a supporter of Bush, leading to the infamous "hug" picture that is sure to feature prominently in Presidential campaign ads? Not a problem. His flip-flopping on the religious right, and attempt to mend fences with the likes of Pat Robertson? Not a problem. His legendary temper? Not a problem. His off-the-cuff comments, such as the idea of a 100+ year Iraq war? Gerson probably views them as an attribute.

No, to Gerson, McCain's one big problem is that he doesn't care about domestic issues.
McCain's foresight on Iraq has carried him far. But eventually he will need to engage Democrats on issues from health care to education to poverty. And being right on the war will not be enough.
Health care? Doesn't Gerson read his own paper? (Seriously, though, that was a weak analysis.) Can McCain argue persuasively on issues he doesn't care about? I don't recall that he has ever really tried, suggesting that he is either sticking to issues he cares about or is ultimately forgettable when he speaks about anything else.

Here's McCain filling up a couple of minutes with his views on education policy. Here he is promising to continue GW's economic policies.) When McCain is memorable, it's usually when he betrays his lack of understanding of the economy - that is, when he says things like "I wish interest rates were zero" and "I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated."

And let's not forget, Gerson is assuming McCain is "right on the war". The majority of Americans want a strategy that gets us out of Iraq. McCain doesn't have one. The majority of Americans want a strategy that brings our troops home. McCain's willing to commit them to Iraq for 100 years or more. The military success of the surge doesn't overcome the reality that the public wants the war to end, nor does it substitute for political progress. As previously noted, by the President's own standards the surge is a total political failure.

For a better summary of the more probable dynamics being McCain's resurgence, see Daniel Larison's comments at Eunomia.

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