Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain's non-tribute to Obama

James Fallows found McCain's hat-tip to Obama last night classy; Andrew Sullivan found it graceful. I thought it noteworthy chiefly for what was left unsaid:
Finally, a word to Senator Obama and his supporters. We'll go at it over the next two months. That's the nature of these contests, and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other.
The natural followup would have been: "I know you love this country and want to do what you think best for it" (cf. Obama's "it's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because he doesn't get it.") But that would have contradicted the convention theme, captured in Sarah Palin's disgusting smear:
This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word "victory," except when he's talking about his own campaign.
That, of course, was an echo of John McCain's oft-repeated, "he'd rather lose a war than lose a campaign." To acknowledge Obama's patriotism would have been to undermine McCain's core campaign message.

As articulated by a party in intellectual meltdown, "Country First" means "only we love our country."

That's all McCain has. Look at the bankruptcy of his diagnosis of the country's ills. When he acknowledged that his own party had lost its way while in power, it seemed for a moment that things might get interesting. When he said, "the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn't a cause. It's a symptom," I perked up, primed for some analysis of how the conditions under which our politicians operate have changed, and how we might "change our politics." Here's what followed:

It's what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not for you.

Okay -- do politicians come to Washington with worse motives than they did in eras past? If not, what tempts them, corrupts them, when they get there now? How can we change the rules, the incentives, the pressures? By running a scurrilous, Rovian, impugn-your-opponent's-patriotism campaign such as McCain has run?

The irony is that in the past, McCain has indeed thought hard about systemic flaws in our political system and worked hard to do something about them. One result was McCain-Feingold, which did indeed "change our politics," perhaps for the better. But McCain is not now taking that argument forward. In fact his campaign exemplifies the partisan rancor he decries. And his policy is shaped almost entirely by lobbyists and Rovian political operatives.

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