Monday, June 9, 2008

Kristol: Silk Purse, Anyone?

William Kristol tries manfully to put the best face on the speech that John McCain hacked up last Tuesday night.

In any case, with the battle against Hillary Clinton behind him, everything seems to be going swimmingly for Obama. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign dog-paddles along. And almost every Republican I’ve talked to is alarmed that the McCain campaign doesn’t seem up to the task of electing John McCain.

Several of these worried McCain supporters cited the decision by the campaign gurus that McCain’s Tuesday night speech should consist in large part of criticisms of Obama’s various proposals. The attacks often concluded, “That’s not change we can believe in.” Is it wise to begin a general election campaign by making fun of your opponent’s slogan and presenting yourself mostly as a debunker of his claims? Even hard-hearted Republicans think a general election message should be a bit more positive than that.

Actually, to be fair, there was a positive message Tuesday night. It was stenciled over and over on the now-notorious green backdrop behind McCain: “A leader we can believe in.” This was another play on Obama’s “change we can believe in” — and a foolish one. Because McCain doesn’t really ask for the electorate’s “belief.” Let Obama be about belief. McCain’s message is that he’s a leader we can trust, based on a record of many years, and that his character has been tested. McCain at least seems to grasp what his most effective message is. I’m told that it was McCain himself who insisted on the most effective passage in his Tuesday night speech.

And what was that most effective passage, the one that’s going to make Republicans, independents, and disaffected Democrats realize that John McCain is the leader we can trust? Why, it’s Mr. Kristol’s favorite piece of neocon porn: The Surge.

Discussing the surge of troops and the new counterinsurgency strategy of early 2007, McCain pointed out, “Senator Obama opposed the new strategy. … Yet in the last year we have seen the success of that plan as violence has fallen to a four-year low. … None of this progress would have happened had we not changed course over a year ago. And all of this progress would be lost if Senator Obama had his way. ”

Early 2007 was as close as we’re going to get to a commander in chief moment for Senators McCain and Obama. They had to make a judgment in a difficult real-world situation — not on the healed planet of Obama’s dreams. With the Iraq war going badly, McCain took the lead in calling for a change in military strategy and a surge of troops. Obama, by contrast, went along with his party in urging withdrawal. Now, 18 months later, McCain seems pretty clearly to have been right.

Mr. Kristol apparently thinks that since the number of deaths of Americans have declined — which is great news — the surge is working. But is that the true test of leadership? The larger question should be whether or not Barack Obama or John McCain would have led us into the war in the first place. That’s the true test of leadership, and the facts have already proven that it was clearly the worst foreign policy decision in modern American history.

So if the best reason that William Kristol can give for voting for John McCain is that he will make the right decisions after making some really horrifically bad ones, he and the McCain campaign have got a lot of sow’s ears to be turned into silk purses.

Failing that, they can always sell you a really nifty golf hat.