We welcome the Republicans to the Twin Cities. We’re proud of the myriad attractions of our vibrant urban community, and hope that the delegates, reporters and other visitors get beyond the confines of the Xcel Energy Center and see our lakes and parks, walk along Summit Avenue and the Stone Arch Bridge, ride a bike down the Greenway, and enjoy life in our neighborhoods. If time allows, perhaps some visitors will venture out to the North Star State’s lake-studded countryside, travel up to the seaport of Duluth on Lake Superior, and further north to the majestic Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
When a great event comes to our cities — a World Series, Super Bowl or Reform movement biennial — we seize the opportunity to show visitors what makes up the wonderful quality of life in Minnesota.
However, as we extend our hands to RNC visitors, we regret that the main business of the convention delegates in town next week will be to endorse a presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, who vows to carry on the benighted policies of the Bush administration. Over the past eight years, the stock of America has fallen in the eyes of the rest of the world, which sees that the American heritage of freedom and justice has been degraded by government leaders who sanction torture and the rendition of captives to secret prisons. The misbegotten U.S.-led war in Iraq is a particular sore point.
McCain promises to pursue the unnecessary, ruinous war in Iraq until the U.S. achieves a chimerical victory. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed during the course of the U.S. military occupation. The numbers vary widely. The Iraq Family Health Survey puts the number of violent civilian deaths at 151,000, from March 2003 through June 2006, in a report published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine. Around 4.7 million Iraqis have fled the country or are internal refugees. On the American side, 4,147 soldiers have been killed and more than 30,000 wounded over the past five years. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, and Linda Bilmes, a lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, have estimated the total cost of the Iraq War at $3 trilllion — a sum that dwarfs the imagination.
McCain and the Bush administration credit the recent “surge,” the sending of 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers to Iraq, with stabilizing the beleaguered country; other observers point out that the majority Shias have won a savage civil war against the Sunni minority. In Baghdad, Sunnis have been ethnically cleansed, which has contributed to a decrease in civilian killings. However, Baghdad is still one of the most dangerous cities in the world — 900 civilians were killed in sectarian violence during July — and experts are divided on whether the tenuous “peace” will hold when U.S. forces begin withdrawing in 2009.
A report released in April by the National Defense University, authored by Joseph Collins, a former senior Pentagon official, declared: “Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle.”
The report’s author wrote: “Despite impressive progress in security, the outcome of the war is in doubt. Strong majorities of both Iraqis and Americans favor some sort of U.S. withdrawal. Intelligence analysts, however, remind us that the only thing worse than an Iraq with an American army may be an Iraq after a rapid withdrawal of that army.”
Sen. McCain has come down on the side of an Iraq with an American army. On Jan. 3, at a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., a man asked McCain his opinion of Bush’s view that U.S. troops might maintain a military presence in Iraq for 50 years. McCain responded: “Make it 100 [years].”
Indeed, McCain, who is touted (by Gov. Tim Pawlenty) for his vast experience in foreign affairs, displays a bellicose nature when it comes to dealing with America’s antagonists abroad. Writing in the July 30 edition of The New Republic, John Judis accuses the Arizona Republican of personalizing international conflicts. In the case of Vladimir Putin, Judis argues that McCain has responded to the authoritarian Russian leader by throwing down the gauntlet and setting the stage for a new cold war. Unlike Nixon, Judis writes, who “was capable of an eerie detachment when it came to evaluating foreign leaders,” McCain is a “radical idealist who wants to transform the world and is reluctant to acknowledge limits to this enterprise.”
Judis refers to McCain’s “readiness to anger,” which has certain consequences in dealing with congressional colleagues; but a “blow up” directed at foreign leaders could lead to “protracted conflict and even war.” Indeed, McCain seems to be keeping something continuously bottled up. Accounts of his tirades and foul oaths likely will play an increasingly large part in the presidential campaign, which took a decidedly nasty turn last week, when the Obama camp jumped on McCain’s inability to recall exactly how many houses he and his wife Cindy own.
Which brings us to the economic downturn.
The U.S. electorate will want a president who has a firm grasp of economic issues as the nation deals with a continuing mortgage meltdown and a related credit crisis that is taking down major investment banks.
However, candidate McCain told the Boston Globe late last year: “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.”
As Andrew Ferguson reported in the conservative journal The Weekly Standard, during the last debate among Republican candidates in late January, McCain responded to Ron Paul’s challenge to abolish something called the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets. McCain didn’t answer Paul’s question, but expounded on how he would go about making economic policy: “But I as president, as every other president, rely primarily on my secretary of the Treasury, on my Council of Economic Advisers, on the head of that. I would rely on the circle that I have developed over many years of people like Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm, Warren Rudman, Pete Peterson and the Concord group. I have a process of leadership, Ron, that is sort of an inclusive one that I have developed, a circle of acquaintances and people that are supporters and friends of mine who I have worked with for many, many years.”
Ferguson writes: “Notice that phrase ‘people like.’ What makes it odd is that those people aren’t like each other at all, at least when it comes to their economic views. A couple of them, if you put them in the same room, would set off an intergalactic explosion like the collision of matter and antimatter…. You can’t help but wonder: Does McCain know the unbridgeable philosophical differences among the men he mentioned, or are these simply the names that occur to him when someone asks about economic policy? There’s good reason to think that in economic matters, John McCain doesn’t know his own mind.”
McCain’s confusion about the number of houses that he and his wife own is not a great issue in and of itself. But it does speak to McCain’s apparent detachment from the sobering economic realities facing most American families. Real wages have not kept up with the cost of living, and most working people are feeling pinched. Millions of families caught in the subprime mortgage meltdown have lost, or are losing, their homes. Absent a coherent economic policy, the electorate really has no clue about how McCain will deal with a host of economic crises, including the Bush administration’s legacy of burgeoning federal budget deficits that has put the country in hock to China, Arab oil states and other foreign entities.
More generally, McCain styles himself as a political “maverick,” which might have been somewhat accurate when he was a presidential candidate eight or nine years ago, and became the darling of the press corps on the campaign beat. In 2008, McCain has tacked to the right, reversing positions that annoyed the right-wing, evangelical Christian, Republican base.
To cite one example, in 1999, McCain told the San Francisco Chronicle that he would like to see a day in America when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision “could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary… But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.”
In an illuminating article, “Life Sentence,” in the Aug. 27 edition of The New Republic, Sarah Blustain investigates the Republican candidate’s views on abortion and finds that, “this time around, McCain has swerved sharply to the right. The campaign website of the same man who, eight years ago, said Roe shouldn’t be overturned now says, ‘John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.”
Although the candidate’s position is quite clear, “McCain’s anti-aboriton fervor hasn’t registered with the public — in no small part because, in addition to his waffling on choice in the 2000 campaign, he hardly sounds like a true believer on other reproductive-health-related issues,” Blustain writes. “When pressed to speak about them, he often evinces stunning ignorance.” Blustain provides a number of recent examples of McCain’s inability to answer questions about insurance coverage for Viagra, but not for prescription birth control; the use of contraceptives to help stop the spread of AIDS in Africa; and government grants for sex education. McCain averred that he has “never gotten into these issues before”; Blustain comments that it’s an “odd statement, given that he voted on legislation related to all of them.”
As the AJW went to press this week, Sen. Hillary Clinton was urging her disgruntled supporters in Denver to support the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama. However, a USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday found that just 47 percent of those who voted for Clinton in the Democratic primaries say they will vote for Obama in November. Some fraction of Clinton’s supporters reportedly will cast votes for McCain; it is confounding that those who subscribe to Clinton’s views on a range of domestic and foreign issues would move into the camp of someone who represents the antithesis of Clinton’s progressive agenda. Perhaps, in the coming weeks tempers will cool and these Clinton partisans will see that another four years of a Republican presidency will be disastrous for America and for the world.
In the early days of the Bush administration, Islamists terrorists engineered a devastating attack on this country. The world joined Americans in grieving its losses; but the Bush administration squandered the global goodwill by making a wrong turn into Iraq, a despotic regime that had no operational link with the al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration also turned against the American people with a series of tax cuts that offered little relief to the vast majority of working people, but was skewed to benefit the wealthiest families in the country.
In 2008, the Republicans will offer a presidential candidate who advocates a continuation of Bush administration policies that will fail to address the urgent economic, environmental and international issues facing America. A John McCain presidency would mean further economic misery in America and the good chance that this nation would quickly become embroiled in its third and fourth foreign wars. We will watch events unfold in St. Paul next week, but the RNC process bodes ill for the U.S.A.