. . . of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Hillary Clinton is offered by Bill Kristol on the pages of today’s New York Times. If the liberal media cannot be depended upon to show her a little, Kristol argues that it falls to conservatives like him to do their job while they get over their crush on Senator Obama. Kristol, clearly, is having fun playing the devil’s advocate but he’s also got a serious point. He extols Clinton’s virtues as a candidate--scrappy and dogged, cunning and patient. Her massive failings have been telling too. In addition to exhibiting a kind of brazen insensitivity to the truth, she’s also shown a kind of chutzpah that could serve a candidate well, given the right electoral conditions. She is Bill Clinton, light . . . and if she fails it will be because of the "light." But if she succeeds (now or in the future) it will be because of the "Bill Clinton" and her willingness to be brazen.
So, it seems to me, that if Kristol’s prediction and assessment is correct and Obama wins the nomination even though Clinton is the stronger candidate, then Peter Lawler should revisit his pessimism over McCain’s chances. I’m willing to bet that my "optimism" (if that’s what it is) may be in need of some checking. So I appreciate Peter’s constant assault on it. But I begin to wonder (and only wonder, I’m not yet asserting) if the war and the controversy surrounding our entering it is fading into a position of background noise in this election. Do people other than vociferous supporters or detractors really think long and hard about it anymore? I think most people realize that the war is what it is and that the time for debating about whether or not we should have invaded is long past. The only question now is whether or not we should retreat. The candidates who seem to advocate retreat are both rather squishy on the point. Only incredibly naive voters really believe that the election of Barack Obama will initiate a precipitous withdrawal of our forces. This is why Obama plays up his initial disapproval of the invasion to the great delight of his young and his ideological supporters; he’d rather talk about the past than the future in this instance. But those of us who remember the thing (because remember, many of Obama’s supporters were too young to now remember it!) and who were not on then on the same ideological train do not now see him as some kind of Cassandra who was possessed of some special wisdom unknowable to the rest of us mere mortals. Instead, I think his original position on the invasion feeds into the perception of him as young, foolish, and vaguely anti-American. His crowing about it now makes him look even more young, more foolish and, worse, entirely self-important. All he’s saying is, "I told you so!" and, as Peter pointed out noting the role of chance in things, that’s a very easy thing to say right now. Too easy.
The frustration with Bush may turn out to help McCain. This is, in part, because I think the general frustration with Bush (not the particular frustration of the Left but the frustration that gives him a 69% disapproval rating) stems from a perception of incompetence in performance more than it does with a real questioning of the decision to invade. I argue this because I think there were two important turning points in public opinion. The first was Fallujah. The second was Katrina. Had either or both of those things gone in a different way (as they well could have done), I think we’d be in a very different position vis a vis public opinion right now. McCain seems to sense this and is running a campaign that touts his competence and, significantly, his toughness. This makes his "competence campaign" very different from that of Michael Dukakis’ similarly themed campaign. That’s because when Michael Dukakis went around talking about how "competent" he while as he sat inside of tank, one had very good reason to believe that his claim was a wish rather than a statement of fact.
In short, it seems to me that if the question boils down to Iraq it will not (except in the minds of those who were also against it in the beginning) boil down further to the question of whether or not we should have invaded in the first place. Don’t forget the massive support the invasion had in its early days. If they openly question the judgment of Bush on that score, the American people also have to question their own. And that won’t really happen as, in fact, it should not. The question will be, "How do we move forward and who do we trust to do the leading?" I have a very hard time believing that, in then end, there will be enough people willing to pull that lever for the junior Senator from Illinois and say he is the man for that job.