Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Audacity of Naivete' - or How I learned to stop thinking and love sound bites

Presumptive Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, again lashed out at Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama while speaking in Kenner, LA on Tuesday.

McCain painted Obama as naive and inexperienced in his remarks, saying he endorsed many 'failed ideas', of which the focus seemed to be on 'big government' and that '(Obama) sees government as the solution to every problem.'

I am unclear on how McCain expects to win on these kinds of quips and positions. Perhaps his campaign staff really do think the American electorate is as dim as so many on the right so often claim.

But let's talk about McCain's points.

1. Naivete' - undoubtedly this refers to Obama's openness to the idea of talking to the heads of adversarial nations (especially Iran). Perhaps it's naive to do so, but then again, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter proved well enough that diplomacy is both possible, and a much better course toward progress than simple grand-standing and 'do nothing' posturing. If it is naive' to embrace the idea that conflict should be avoided, then undoubtedly most of the country is equally naive and supportive of exactly that kind of naivete'. Far better that, than starting yet another war.

2. Inexperienced - as compared to John, certainly. However, if experience means you sign-on to starting a war when the inspection process was nearly complete, that you rush into armed conflict with extraodinarily optimistic views, in short, with highly naive' expectations about the difficulties to be faced, then I'll take inexperienced caution over over-confident hubris any day. As well, since McCain then spent 4 years rubber-stamping inaction, lack of accountability, and contempt for any opinion that suggested a new course was needed, again, that kind of BAD experience is worse than no experience at all.

3. Failed Policies - I assume John means failed policies like those of the New Deal and the Great Society - oh, let's say Medicare, Social Security and unemployment insurance. If John feels those programs are 'failures', I suggest he make that comment directly, rather than beat around the bushes. If he's interested in unspecific soundbites instead - then we'll continue to have no progress. The New Deal was unquestionably successful, and unquestionably, along with WWII, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Government is in fact fully capable of helping to direct and engineer the economy, especially as it relates to core, critical services. The poverty of the elderly fell by more than 2/3rds, and does anyone REALLY think the TPA or unemployment insurance are bad things?

Instead John seems to want to live in the semi-reality of inuendo, without being accountable for directly criticizing things which he knows full well would be political disaster to suggest or criticize. The right learned, through William F Buckley, that being quite so obvious about how extreme they are, is a rapid path to being labelled clowns, fringe element, and nuts. Since about 1980, they've used code speak for deragutory commentary or veiled condemnation to avoid looking like the out of touch group they too often are. The Great Society changes that brought us Medicare also helped to reduce the numbers of elderly who were devestated by medical costs late in life, and created a standard for approval that is widely regarded as a very helpful limit on 'quack' services.

Again, if those policies, which the right loves to complain about, are flawed, then John's grasp of what the average American supports, is no grasp at all. These policies have been highly successful, helped to create the strongest economy on the planet by helping to grow the middle class, and are pretty highly regarded.

Put another way, if someone told you that they were really interested in taking Social Security away from you - and that any honest discussion about Social Security refutes that 'you won't get any money' out of it - would you be glad to have it gone? Are any of us confident that the majority of Americans will plan for retirement, and then, if they don't, are we ready to watch them starve and suffer? Social Security was started to STOP exactly that - to provide some income for those who through poor planning or poor fortunes cannot provide for themselves alone. It has been highly successful in doing so.

4. Government as the solution - Well, there you go again. Perhaps John needs to remember it was his party that ran the deficit from 5.3 Trillion to 9.7 Trillion during Bush's terms in office. John signed onto every bill - and especially in the past four years, became a shill for the administration, endorsing nearly every policy. Republican 'small government' is a fiction - but then again, there simply is no way to run a highly complex, industrialized society of some 300 Million people in 2008, with the overall government of an agrarian nation with 13 states and 25 million people circa 1787. Government MUST increase in complexity to deal with the challenges of a complex world. Suggestions that such a government (the one of the US of 1787) could work, are, naive', to say the least.

I'm curious which branch of government Senator McCain suggests doing without. What cuts he thinks should be made. If he thinks having universal health care is bad, then explain what he'll change which will actually work, because the free market certainly hasn't succeeded in delivering quality care to the average person, and certainly NOT at a reasonable cost.

The point is, we are at a real crossroads - whether we engage in real discussion about those challenges, or just retread and retreat to the same old sound bites, is up to these candidates to decide. Experience didn't keep us out of war in Iraq, and it didn't do anything to fix the broken situation until 2006. Naivete' is thinking the world will tolerate armed aggression a second time - not thinking war is the last act of failed diplomacy. Failed policies include turning our national treasury over to corporations, and lining the pockets of the ultra-wealthy with the public's funds, while average wages fall. And Big Government includes National Healthcare, but it also includes a military budget FAR larger than the rest of the world combined, with a refusal to do anything but continue to throw money at a force ill-equiped to actually combat terrorism.


  1. This is a great post.

    I'd add something to what you said: Naivete' is also thinking that we can avoid living in an international world; it's thinking that we can somehow continue to live with the idea of a phantom Fortress-America that is always separate and apart (no doubt the right would term it "exceptionalism") from what is going on "over there." Part and parcel of this thinking process is the Bush-ism that "we've got to fight 'em there so we don't have to fight 'em here."

    But fightin' 'em the wrong way--witness Iraq--erodes our standing in the world and our economic safety here at home, completely disproving that notion.

    The fact of the matter is that, since at least World War I (and probably long before that, given how we were founded as a nation...), the idea of a Fortress-America has been disproven time and again. It does not exist today, and it has not existed for a century (and probably longer).

  2. Just an addendum to what I wrote previously (to clarify)--the Fortress-Americaners would suggest that if we fight in a heavy-handed manner in Iraq, etc., the reverberations will stay overseas; we will be shielded from them, except insofar as casualties are concerned.

    But the reverberations have hit us hard--they have hit our standing in the world and our economy, and our immigration system is in the process of shutting down just when the world is opening up, which will further complicate economic matters.

    This is an interconnected world. When will the vast majority of Americans stand up and vote for real change--the change to see how incredibly interconnected it is, and act pragmatically regarding that truth?

    The world was with us in our fight in Afghanistan. We threw it all away with Iraq. Let's work to get our standing back. Like it or not, we need to focus not just on military matters, but on p.r., and on getting savvy about the rest of the world.

  3. Hass,

    Thanks for the comments, I certainly concur that we have a sense of insularity which is very foolish to actually think works.

    We may not pay the price in a direct attack, yet, but we pay a huge price in our national reputatoin, and when we travel abroad.

    More important, however, is this unbelievable attitude that our enemies are manifestly cowardly. The attitude that if we kill them enough, they'll cower in fear.

    The repulsiveness of the idea that you can brutalize people without reprecussions is exceeded only by the idiocy it represents. Our various opponents will become even more committed, not less, if/when we start killing their children and showing a callous disregard for their welfare.

    I find it pretty ironic that the same people who caterwal about 'babies', care nothing it seems for the plight of foriegn children.

  4. P--

    Yes, common humanity equals common respect--if not at first, then over time.

    Obviously we must be ready to defend our homeland, as well as our allies throughout the world.

    But there are different ways to "defend" given different scenarios. We should use hard power only when necessary; we should use soft power (cultural, commercial, etc.) far more often than we do at present.

    Soft power properly channeled can be very compelling indeed.

  5. Or, with great power, comes great responsibility.

    It would be hard to argue President Bush used our power responsibly or honestly. Shaping the truth is dishonest.