John McCain: Queen of Hearts

In what is the must read of the day, George Will positively eviscerates John McCain and his knee jerk reactions in the wake of the Wall Street catastrophe.

The general gist is what many of us have already known, though the analogy is rather interesting; McCain is too mercurial in nature, in times of crisis not acting like a calm and collected leader but instead like a famous caricature of leadership; the Queen of Hearts.

In any case, McCain’s smear — that Cox “betrayed the public’s trust” — is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are “corrupt” or “betray the public’s trust,” two categories that seem to be exhaustive — there are no other people. McCain’s Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending. (For details, see The Post of Sept. 17, Page A4; and the New York Times of Sept. 20, Page One.)

By a Gresham’s Law of political discourse, McCain’s Queen of Hearts intervention in the opaque financial crisis overshadowed a solid conservative complaint from the Republican Study Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the RSC decried the improvised torrent of bailouts as a “dangerous and unmistakable precedent for the federal government both to be looked to and indeed relied upon to save private sector companies from the consequences of their poor economic decisions.” This letter, listing just $650 billion of the perhaps more than $1 trillion in new federal exposures to risk, was sent while McCain’s campaign, characteristically substituting vehemence for coherence, was airing an ad warning that Obama favors “massive government, billions in spending increases.”

But even in the subtext of the piece, you can almost take a guess at what really has Will steamed up about how McCain has handled this crisis; true, McCain is erratic and hot headed and searches for scapegoats the way some pigs sniff out truffles, but you get the feeling that the great sin here is in all actuality the fact that McCain abandoned conservative economic principle in favor of fiery populist rhetoric, and Queen of Hearts-like calls for people’s heads.

McCain didn’t make the argument, as George Will later actually does.  That’s the way it is supposed to work; we have different ieas on how to approach certain problems, another great example was watching Andrew Sullivan and Naomi Klein go at it in the video that Matt posted last night.  I may be more inclined to side with Naomi Klein than Sully in an argument over the economy, but I think both people can be respected for representing their theories with a level of intellectual honesty.

By contrast, John McCain I don’t think has had the kind of epiphany that has changed him on a fundamental, ideological level.  I think what happened, and this is exactly what George Will saw, was he saw the crisis, and he saw that toeing the party rhetoric and party line was going to hurt him in the polls.  Further, I don’t think he understood the conservative (actual conservative, mind you) approach to the economy well enough to be able to pivot in the wake of this crisis and make a reasoned argument.

In other words, McCain, in a matter of days, went from being Deregulating, Fundamentals are Strong, Conservative McCain to Populist Crusader, Throw the Bums Out McCain, and no one’s buying it.  Advocates of true conservativism are going to be pissed because they feel they have a case on the economy, even if some people really don’t want to hear it, and advocates of modern fiscally conservative liberalism are going to be a little miffed because we don’t like McCain crashing the party.

In any case, Will finishes up with a graph that leads me to believe he’s not voting for McCain (and, possibly, Obama).

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

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