Megapundit: The risky cunning of John McCain


Must-reads: David Frum on Sarah Palin; Margaret Wente on education in Ontario; David Olive on McCain’s and Obama’s economic plans; Dan Leger on Canadians and change; L. Ian MacDonald and Rex Murphy on Obama’s acceptance speech.

Hurricane John
So much for the dreaded liberal media ignoring the Republican candidate…

John McCain won’t become president unless he simultaneously attracts hordes of independent voters and placates the many hardcore Republicans who distrust him, David Frum argues in the National Post, and that put him in a hell of a tight spot when it came to choosing a running mate. Mitt Romney’s too conservative; Tom Ridge is pro-choice. “Lieberman out. Giuliani out. Huckabee—way out.” Thus, Sarah Palin represents a compromise of sorts: a pro-life political outsider with libertarian leanings who might appeal to some disaffected Clintonites. But Frum believes McCain has vastly overestimated the running mate’s importance to presidential elections and vastly underestimated the damage he’s done to his national security credentials by placing a neophyte within one 72-through-76-year-old heartbeat from the presidency. “Bold,” certainly; “shrewd,” probably. “Responsible” or “wise,” probably not.

“Wow,” the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington exclaims upon Palin’s unveiling. “Largely unknown, but what a human dynamo!” As “tough as she is good-looking”! Nails down the “Eskimo” vote! Just as interesting a background as Obama! A “brilliant choice”! What absolute rubbish!

“Dan Quayle with an up-do,” snarks Margaret Wente—nothing but “a young and photogenic conservative woman with a family-values trump card” in her infant son, who was lovingly carried to term despite suffering from Down’s syndrome. Let’s see here… Palin is also “an insult to women,” a triumph of “tokenism,” “the most inexperienced person on a major-party ticket in modern history” (according to a presidential historian), a ready-made rebuttal to McCain’s claims of good judgment, and a terrible mother for inflicting all this “humiliation” on her daughter. (Much of this is very mean-spirited, we must say, but we’ll take mean-spirited Wente over the various other incarnations that have polluted The Globe and Mail over the summer.)

The Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno laughs away the idea that Palin has any appeal among Hillary Clinton fans. And while she has no doubt the Palins “love their daughter, even with an expanding waistline,” she takes umbrage at their expression of “pride” in young Bristol. “Where does pride fit in here, she asks—”that a 17-year-old is predisposed, probably because of her family’s influence, to bring a baby into the world, accepting but surely not grasping all the difficulties it will likely entail, even with a supportive family?”

“Hugely cunning, but risky,” is Barbara Yaffe‘s verdict in the Vancouver Sun. Not to say it isn’t in there somewhere, but having read the piece, we’re no closer to seeing just what manner of “cunning” is at play here that couldn’t have been deployed with a more accomplished Republican female candidate. There must be at least one, right? And surely the moose-hunting fetish can’t be that widespread among undecided voters.

The Globe‘s John Ibbitson can only conclude that in betting the farm on Palin, Team McCain is making the same decision as Team Obama: “ignoring the national polls, focusing its attention exclusively on those states [it] believe[s] must be defended or that could be taken away”—states full of fundie-Christians and “lunch-bucket independents,” we can only assume, who will appreciate Palin’s “blue-collar” history, faint fishy odour and pregnant teenage daughter. (We added the last part for Ibbitson; it was a Saturday column.)

With the worst of Hurricane Gustav now past, Ibbitson suggests it “could yield real benefits” for the GOP. Cancelling George Bush and Dick Cheney is never a bad thing, for example, and McCain’s comportment over the past few days may finally have exorcised the party’s Katrina demons. All those ominous images of over-topping levees may also have distracted attention from the news that young Bristol “is five months pregnant and”—gasp!—”unwed.”

The Star‘s Rosie DiManno also counts Gustav as a blessing to the Republicans, in that it took the Bush and Cheney speeches out of the picture gave McCain a chance to “appear presidential,” even at some risk to his and his party’s political fortunes.

Indeed, Jeffrey Simpson argues in the Globe, after eight years of Bush, it’s “a testament to Mr. McCain, to the redoubtable bedrock of Republicanism in U.S. politics and to uncertainties about Barack Obama that the Arizona senator still has a chance to be president” at all. Any disaster, be it natural or man-made, that keeps Bush and his legacy away from the McCain campaign can only be considered a political blessing.

But history will judge Bush in a kinder light than today’s political observers, the Post‘s Jonathan Kay predicts, because even though the Iraq war was an ill-conceived disaster based on his “quite literally … theistic faith in the power of liberation,” costing thousands upon thousands of innocent lives, he eventually came to his senses and supported the troop surge even though it had “no short-term political payoff.” The simple passage of time will certainly dull the anti-Bush ire, we agree, but we don’t consider partially fixing a gigantic problem you yourself unnecessarily created to be among the highest forms of human achievement.

Barack Obama’s Thursday speech “lacked decorum,” Rex Murphy alleges in the Globe, in that while the setting deliberately invoked Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” address, delivered 45 years earlier that day, the speech itself “could have been delivered … by Joe Biden.” Obama’s concluding allusion to Dr. King resurrected the campaign’s “peculiar and commanding magic,” Murphy concedes, but his “wisecracks about George Bush, sniggering witticisms playing off a useless sitcom of 30 years ago (Eight is Enough), tendentious putdowns of John McCain, stale pseudo-populism (the corporations, the oil companies)—this kind of stuff almost stole the moment.”

L. Ian MacDonald, writing in the Montreal Gazette, agrees: “You can’t take the high road, and travel the low one at the same time. And every time Obama aimed for the high road, he drove into a ditch.” It might have been a “smart speech,” he concedes, “in that Obama filled in the blanks on what he meant by change.” But from a policy perspective, all MacDonald heard was a “drearily familiar Democratic litany of promises, on everything from health care, to trade unionism, to funding for university tuition.”

That’s probably because, as the Star‘s resident wet blanket Thomas Walkom argues, the only significant way in which Obama differs from conventional American politics, and even from McCain, is the “relationship with the world” he proposes for the United States. He is “promising to return to the time of … George Bush Sr., when the U.S. consulted its allies before heading off on military adventures,” Walkom writes, but that’s not to be confused with being “less warlike.” Obama would simply devote more time to bringing “America’s friends onside with its crusades.”

Whereas Obama’s proposals on health care, retirement savings and carbon emissions all rely on personal choice or the market, the Star‘s David Olive suggests that McCain’s positions on Iraq, nuclear power and offshore drilling evince “the elitist, government-knows-best approach” more often attributed to the Democrats. Later in the weekend, however, when Olive examines their “strikingly different strategies for tackling the woes of the world’s largest economy,” we learn that McCain is espousing “a familiar laissez faire approach of minimal government intervention,” spending cuts and “minor reforms in health care and education” while Obama is “calling for a shift—or redistribution—of wealth from the rich to the middle class and working poor.” It’s an interesting examination of the candidates’ economic plans, but we’re left a little confused as to the point of the column that preceded it.

For better or for worse, Andrew Cohen argues in the Citizen, today is “the day of the dilettante.” From Obama to Palin, Michael Ignatieff and Belinda Stronach, “anything goes in politics, as it does in education, for example, where schools won’t punish plagiarism or allow students to fail.” Experience and expertise simply don’t matter anymore. As such, he argues, the current presidential race is “a perfect reflection of our time.”

The “just for the hell of it” election
Stop asking questions, y’all—elections are fun!

The “blizzard of political flyers” that the Tories are unleashing on… er, sorry, that local MPs are unleashing, in full compliance with funding laws, on Canadians might be smart politics, Barbara Yaffe argues in the Vancouver Sun. They “certainly focus on the positive,” But, having apparently been born yesterday, she seems shocked that they’re “entirely lacking in subtlety,” disconnected from reality and “wildly partisan.” (Our favourite is the one we received crowing about improving life in Toronto by jacking up arts funding to a bunch of communists the Tories seem hell-bent on alienating.)

In another column, Yaffe asks why Harper would “hold a $300-million election a year earlier than his legislation intends,” and, in a shocking abdication of her punditocratic duty to speculate wildly, concludes that “because an answer … is so difficult to arrive at, a fair assumption is that … [it’s] because it’s the best time politically for his party.” More than fair, we’d say.

Sun Media’s Greg Weston is going with the “pre-emptive strike before the economy hits the skids and Obama fills us all with hope for an audaciously hopeful future full of hope” theory for the election call—our words, not his. But he adds a MacDonaldian flourish: the latest Almighty CROP poll, he says, shows certain Quebec ridings more primed than ever for a darker shade of blue.

The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson dismisses Harper’s justifications for violating the spirit of his own fixed election dates legislation as complete and utter bunk, characterizing the decision as a mixture of paranoia over an impending economic collapse, internal polling that he suspects shows Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift to be vulnerable to attack, and—as unimpressed blogger Dr. Dawg put it over the weekend—a case of old-fashioned “political blueballs.” On top of everything else, Mr. Simpson, please don’t make us picture Harper, Van Loan, Poilievre et al “preparing for climax.”

In a separate column, Simpson bemoans the state of Canadian political oratory, but then seems to excuse it as a part of our national character: “Canadians, as the joke goes, cross the street to get to the middle. The art of finding a compromise, fudging a solution, keeping things going, preventing the worst drives Canadian political affairs. Who ever gave, or who could ever give, a speech to be etched in stone, as some American ones are, on federal-provincial relations, the equalization formula or the latest iteration of the infrastructure program?” Probably no one. But as someone whose columns tend to suggest we do exactly what we’re doing right now, or did in the past, only a little better than before—apologies to whomever coined that; we can’t remember who it was right now—we’re not sure Simpson’s in any position to complain.

“For the longest time, as reflected in repeated polls ranking their support in the low to mid-30s, disappointment with the major parties has been clear,” muses the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin. “It’s like the voters want neither to win.” (Sorry, was there some confusion about this? It’s exactly like voters want neither to win! A pox on 24 Sussex and on 541 Acacia alike!) It’s even more of a shame than usual that we have no inspirational leaders, Martin argues, because we are about to witness “a clash between conservatives and progressives,” on both sides of the border, “the likes of which we have rarely seen.”

Harper’s leadership approval ratings have thus far survived his abandonment of openness, accountability and whatever other nouns he once promised to bring to Ottawa, Martin notes in another piece, but he thinks breaking his promise on fixed election dates might have “pushed the envelope too far.” Particularly since Dion’s character, if not his leadership skills, is above reproach, Martin believes Harper has put himself at significant electoral risk. Perhaps. But whether or not Canadians care about fixed election dates, we’re not sure arguing that we shouldn’t be having an election right now is an effective way to go about winning it.

Indeed, Dan Leger argues in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, “within days of the election getting underway, no one will remember why it was called,” so we’d best get on with the business of deciding “the fate of the country”—which, more than “carbon taxes, the Green Shift, cap-and-trade, Afghanistan, Julie Couillard, GST cuts, law and order or the things written down in party platforms,” is what this election is really going to be about. “Voters can be pretty comfortable with [change] when the time is right,” he concludes. Have they seen enough of Stephen Harper or haven’t they?

The Dion camp would do well to study Dan Gardner‘s piece in the Citizen noting the incredible number of black and Hispanic children in the United States with parents in prison. “One in 10 black children has a parent behind bars at this moment,” he writes. “Just try to fathom that.” This is not an argument against locking up criminals, necessarily, but Gardner believes it’s an argument against Harper’s justice policies, which come “entirely from the American playbook.”

“Recent events in the Republic of Georgia [and] the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have wasted little time in proving Harper wrong” about recognizing Kosovo being a unique, one-off affair, Scott Taylor argues in the Chronicle-Herald. He suggests Harper would be wise to learn a lesson about mimicking American foreign policy and not “leap on the Bush bandwagon when it comes to determining a policy on the Georgian crisis.”

The Harper government is “more militaristic than its predecessors,” says the Star‘s James Travers—an argument he sees no reason to back up despite the last government having signed us up for our current mission in Kandahar. No matter! Combined with the Harperites’ tax cuts, their “fighting boogeyman crime with punishment, not rehabilitation,” their privileging of “belief over science” and their public face as “an establishment outsider,” it’s more than enough to link them with the Bush/Rove philosophy, and thus more than enough for the American neo-Conservative agenda to be a hindrance on the campaign trail. It almost reads as if Travers is trying to preemptively justify future journalistic overreach.

Human rights, etc.
In the Post, Lorne Gunter takes a complex issue—the provision of certain medical services by doctors with religious objections thereto—infects himself with human rights commission hysteria, and ends up with a big, facile mess. Megapundit’s First Rule of Overwrought Punditry, coined just now, states, “Any pundit who imagines a bureaucratic body wielding a ‘truncheon’ or other medieval weapon, especially in reference to hypothetical future events lying at the bottom of a slippery slope, shall have sacrificed a good deal of his or her column’s gravitas.”

Also in the Post, George Jonas looks at an ongoing French fracas over a political cartoonist’s controversial (some say anti-Semitic) depiction of a young Nicolas Sarkozy contemplating conversion to Judaism, which resulted in his dismissal from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo when he refused to apologize. It is perhaps “a contract issue or a labour dispute,” Jonas argues, but contrary to some arguments, it’s not a freedom of speech issue. He simply “wrote something his editor didn’t like” and suffered the consequences—which is, from Jonas’s point of view, freedom in action.

In the Toronto Sun, Michael Coren argues it’s appalling that a judge would take an unborn kitten’s life into account when a pregnant cat is murdered—assuming Mittens wished to carry to term, of course—but wouldn’t extend the same courtesy to human mothers. This makes absolutely no sense at all.

Duly noted
The Globe‘s Margaret Wente suggests Dalton McGuinty, the self-styled “education premier,” begin his “character education” push by allowing teachers to punish their students for being late to class and not handing in assignments on time, and by not allowing the province’s youngsters to slack off for entire semesters and escape with a 51 per cent mark as a matter of principle. You know—things that were considered basic educational policies before the world went crazy. Such a return to common sense might not help get the province’s graduation rate to 85 per cent, Wente concedes, but it would be a much fairer deal for everyone involved.

The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford says it’s entirely appropriate to discuss the role of the federal government in funding Canadian Olympic athletes, but it’s just as important “for Canadians not to look to our Big Nanny government, but to themselves.” The CAN Fund helps nearly all Canadian Olympians, for example, is deeply respected and appreciated by the athletes, and (we’d add) is doubtless more efficient than Sport Canada. You can even donate through the United Way, Blatchford notes.

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