The McCain Speech
John McCain's recent speech on domestic and foreign policy -- and a pair of responses by the Hillary and Obama camps -- provide a foretaste of the choice of ideas that will be before the electorate in November. While personal politics will continue to play a major, even a dominant role, in the campaign itself, McCain's positions, which are starkly opposed to both Clinton's and Obama's mean that a clash of ideas will take place.
The main areas, as suggested by the speech, in which the Democrat and Republican sides will clash are the role of markets in the economy and the nature of US leadership in the current world crisis. According to Dan Balz at the Washington Post, McCain has indicated a preference for a continued reliance on markets to resolve problems.
"I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers," [McCain] said. "Government assistance to the banking system should be based solely on preventing systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy." ...
In policy terms, McCain is in a far different place than either Obama or Clinton, both of who have called on the federal government to provide billions in assistance to homeowners facing the threat of foreclosure. More broadly, his economic and domestic policies are rooted more deeply in market solutions than are either Clinton's or Obama's.
Obama characterized this approach as "just wanting to 'sit back' and watch what happens. 'In his entire speech yesterday he offered not one policy, not one idea, not one bit of relief for the nearly thirty five thousand North Carolinians who were forced to foreclose on their dream in the last few months. Not one single idea or a single policy prescription.'
McCain's war policy appeared to consist of two things. An attempt to rebuild international institutions and victory against the enemy wherever engaged. His program of alliance building contains an interesting reference to a "new global compact" a League of Democracies. The implications of this are significant. It implies a parallel structure to the UN, not in a legal sense, but in a political one. McCain is proposing the creation of a new source of political legitimacy independent from the United Nations.
"In such a world, where power of all kinds is more widely and evenly distributed, the United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone," he said, according to a text sent out by his campaign. "We must be strong politically, economically, and militarily. But we must also lead by attracting others to our cause, by demonstrating once again the virtues of freedom and democracy, by defending the rules of international civilized society and by creating the new international institutions necessary to advance the peace and freedoms we cherish."
The most important responsibility of a great power, he said, is to be a good ally. "We cannot build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves, and we do not want to. We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact -- a League of Democracies -- that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests," he said. ...
The other interesting thing in McCain's speech is the transformation of the campaign in Iraq into a test of how good an "ally" the United States is. While McCain's call to rebuild alliances will have liberals nodding, his conclusion from that premise is startling. Somewhere in the intervening five years Iraq has made the transformation from rogue state to US ally and therefore the first test of America's ability to be a reliable ally is in the Middle East.
He warned against "recklessly" retreating from Iraq, which is how he characterizes the proposals put forward by both the Democratic candidates, saying the United States has "incurred a moral responsibility" to help nurture stability and political reconciliation in Iraq.
"It would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation, if we were to walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing, and possibly genocide that would follow a reckless, irresponsible, and premature withdrawal," he said. "Our critics say America needs to repair its image in the world. How can they argue at the same time for the morally reprehensible abandonment of our responsibilities in Iraq?"
By focusing on these two items in his speech McCain pulls the spotlight away from our negative knowledge of the candidate: that is, what we don't know about where he stands. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb said in the Black Swan, it's what you don't know that can hurt you. But the problem is common to all candidates. With a direct philosophical clash set up between McCain and whoever is left standing after Denver there'll be at least some areas in which campaign platforms will be explicitly debated.
The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.