Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Lowry on McCain’s talk

I like what Rich Lowry said on The Corner early this morning:

"Don’t focus on the oratory. If Mark Salter wanted to, he could have written prose for the ages, but it wouldn’t have seemed true to McCain. Don’t focus on the delivery. The election isn’t going to be decided on speech-making ability. Focus on the theme—a populist fighter for you. This is exactly where McCain needs to be. Just as Obama needed to ground his politics of hope last week, McCain needed to ground his politics of honor tonight. And he did. At least thematically. What’s still lacking is the substance. He needs three simple, stark policy proposals to protect and ease the way of life of average Americans, and I think he already has two (on energy and health care) and can get another (a middle-class tax cut). Then, he needs to master them and talk about them wherever he goes. I’m not sure whether McCain will win this election, but I’m very confident his campaign will do the things necessary to win it. Over the last two months, it has been fearless and shrewd. The celeb ad, the Palin pick, and now this speech were steps in the right direction. So I wasn’t bowled over by it, but I’m still encouraged."

Discussions - 17 Comments

If I wanted a populist President who supports limiting free speech (Mccain does) and attacks legitimate businesses such as the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries (Mccain did in his speech last night), I'd vote for Obama.

Maybe this "I'm a fighter willing to spite both friend and foe in honor of America" stuff works for independents and moderates, but it ticks me off.

"I'll fight for you" should be translated as "when I'm elected President, I'll backstab all the Republicans who helped elect me."

Interested: I am familiar with your position, and am sympathetic. Yet, how shall I put this? You are being both too hard on him (and too easy on us) and too bitter; and you forget that he chose Palin. She is the future of the party and will be the nominee in either 2012 or 2016.

That was the most comforting piece of analysis I have read, yet. The circles are till twirling, loading the comments for most of this morning's posts on the blog.

Peter Lawler is so right, it IS odd to begin praise of a speech with: Ignore the content and delivery! I have to be unfocused on the aspects of the speech that would otherwise move me most. Okay. But I didn't like the populist, this man's for you, theme. That sort of thing rings false for me and makes me uncomfortable.

The middle class tax cut probably resonates across America, but only if the control of government spending can happen and I'm not sure it can. The part of the speech where McCain said we would stop funding foreign governments who don't like us (does he mean politically oppose us?) got a big roar from the crowd. But then we will put the (tax-payers') money into government backed research for energy alternatives. This is not an economist's dream and sounds like just another avenue for bigger government. Maybe it is right and the populist's way and therefore something to fight for.

So McCain was not speaking to me, but beyond me, to my neighbors. I wonder if they listened and I wonder if the get what he said, especially the theme. It will be interesting to hear.

I'm not sure that a corporate whore like McCain can sell himself as "a populist fighter for you". It's as if Obama pretended to be a regular blue-collar guy. There are few people in American politics for whom the populist label is less apt than John McCain.

McCain's speech reinforced the things about him that fairminded people already knew. They knew that he had shown deep love of country, that he was brave and that he was willing to work with the other party when it suited his purposes. But lots of people who know those things about McCain, still are not ready to vote for him. He actually did a pretty good job of deflecting allegations that he is reckless about military action. He strongly remided us that he has more reason than most to deplore war - even if he is not afraid of resorting to it when needed. But he did nothing to demonstrate that he understands and prioritizes the problems of the working class.

And that might be a problem inherent to McCain's virtues. Populism (among other things) requires understanding of the lives of the nonelite and an ability to speak to those lives. McCain has not lived a life that most people have. In some ways he has lived a better life and that is one reason why we admire him. God knows McCain has had hardship but there are alot of common hardships he hasn't faced. Those are lesser hardships but they are real to tens of millions and there is good reason to think McCain neither knows much nor thinks much about them. It is his apartness from most people's lives that seems to make it so difficult to connect on "kitchen level" issues. His appeal is less populism and more that of warrior nobility. He puts Country First, but doesn't worry alot about how income stagnation is hurting the lower middle class. Maybe its possible to combine the noble warrior and populist appeals but I think McCain may not be able to. And Palin won't be able to carry the populist load for him.

Interested . . . why not just let him try and stab us . . . and then go all Sarah Palin on him and give him, as they say, a field dressing? If he follows through on this theme of populism rightly understood and develops the argument about the fundamentals of the Republican party (and we should help him do that) it will be much easier, more productive, and certainly more fun to "fight with John" than it would ever be to fight with Barack--unless you enjoy standing in corners and talking to yourself. McCain's right that these fundamentals have less to do with policy positions and more to do with attitudes, assumptions about the meaning of America, and the happiest way to live one's life. He has good instincts about what those fundamentals are and those are the things we have to re-establish in the popular imagination before we are ever going to have the wherewithal to move popular opinion in policy matters. And Republicans need desperately to understand that it is public opinion that need to be moved on these things--not just a reshuffling of elected officials. Don't be a girly man or an ascetic little purist . . . give yourself the luxury to take on the worthy opposition and then crush him if you must. But must we always worship at the altar of the man we want for President? I hope not. That is the territory of terrorized serfs and obsequious toads. Some people also call them Democrats.


It seems as if our disagreement rests on the answer to the question of if we
can actually convince Americans about the long-term goodness of our fundamentals.

I don't think it's possible. I haven't seen any significant rightward turns that give me hope for the long-term success of America. If anything, we're slowly leading leftward. We can try to slow down this train, but it seems impossible to stop.

If this is the case, wouldn't it be more efficient and succesful to not support Mccain and his half-measures, but rather let the people truly see how bad a Democratic controlled-government can be?

I apologize if I went off topic a bit.

Between the Obama and Palin speeches (which I think are what most people are comparing, at least implicitly) I am struck by a few things. Obama questioned how low income Americans could pull themselves up by their bootstraps "when they don't even have boots." Palin's speech, in comparison, (and John McCain's life after the POW camp, for that matter) speak to an ethic of American resiliency that resonates with middle Americans, and indeed, we are more a nation of Wasillas than Chicagos. If this resiliency is what is meant by so-called "American exceptionalism" then I hope we'll hear more of it, along with explicit prescriptions about how government reforms can promote it.

I would like to see McCain and Palin use their maverick reputations to promote real health care reform, cutting through the lobbyists and special interests in Washington to promote transparency and competition in health care that would bring down costs and make it accessible. Health care is a great good, and citizens ought to be willing to part with a significant amount of their livelihoods to maintain it, but it ought not be routinely bankrupting. It ought not be free (excuse me, "single payer") either. This is a tall order, to be sure, but socialized medicine is the alternative, and I've no doubt that we'll elect it in 4 or 8 years if the Republicans don't address this. Once we go down that route of moral hazard and government dependency, I don't see a way back.

I couldn't help but grin during the Palin speech--that is, until she got to the part about "reading terrorists their rights." If this is what is meant by American exceptionalism--that we don't have to follow our own rule of law--I don't want any part of it. We need reform of executive prerogative, and John McCain of all people should be leading the call against torture. McCain and Palin have already enthused the base, libertarians and independents will not be so emotionally swayed. We need some real evidence that the next four years will be different from the last eight.

anon--all fine points...esp on the health care...

anon--all fine points...esp on executive prerogative.

Interested, if you really believe all that you say you believe about the impending doom to our country, why are you still "Interested"? It seems you think you already know the ending.

If he follows through on this theme of populism rightly understood and develops the argument about the fundamentals of the Republican party (and we should help him do that)

Boy, that is a bit like hoping for the lamb and the lion to lie together (in the next 4 years)is it not? McCain simply does not have the record or the will to do anything close to the "fundamentals of the Republican party". I simply is not who he is, and all the "helping" he has had has not helped one little bit so far. Palin does not count - until a consistent pattern emerges that this is a true change in direction away from "the mav" and to something resembling "Republican party fundamentals" - then it's just a strategic choice.

and certainly more fun to "fight with John" than it would ever be to fight with Barack--unless you enjoy standing in corners and talking to yourself.

It's not about trying to change Barack - it's not even about changing the perception of the voters. It's about conservative governance. Barack could be much more useful than a McCain, just like Jimmy was. Sometimes you have to fight from the outside (and let the outsider make some ground) to win the overall battle.

The GOP has a solid history of NOT changing from the inside, and McCain is yet another symptom of that. He is NOT a change agent - he is more of the same...

I would like to see McCain and Palin use their maverick reputations to promote real health care reform,

You have two things working against this. First, the Republicans are really Rockefellers (i.e. big business interest) who profit from the lack of transparency (i.e. the current middle eastern bizarre pricing of health care). Second (and even more powerful) you have a coalition of Big and small business who want the cost of health care off their books. How do you do this? You socialize it (i.e. transfer it to the tax payer). Oh, and thirdly you have the Dem's who believe ideologically that health care should be socialized.

What your wanting is a conservative leader to do the right thing.....Oh ya, McCain is not a conservative, and neither is the GOP in practice....Yep, it's pretty hopeless ;)

I disagree with you Christopher. I think it may be true that GOP insiders picked Palin (or allowed the pick of Palin) for strategic reasons alone but I think that, if that's true, they've gotten more than they bargained for in her and in what she has ignited. Conservatives have been complaining for so long that the "regular folks" seemed to have fallen asleep and were no longer interested in or trustful of their message. They've (o.k., "we've") had quite a time seeking to discover who is to blame for their inattentiveness. I think they're awake now. Go grab 'em while their listening instead of talking to the likes of me!

Thanks Peter and Steve.

Julie, I hope you're right. So much of Washington politics lends itself to echo chambers and societies for mutual admiration--a star like Palin will quickly be invited to integrate into the Establishment, and once that happens, all odds are against reform. I really hope she can maintain her "outsider cred" in the face of all the flattery she's going to receive if her ticket wins--in that sense, I deeply hope she's not a mere mortal like one of us.

Well, anon, the point isn't really that what you describe can't happen to Palin--though the odds are that it will take a while if it does--but that she may have tapped into something that's been bubbling under the surface of the the electorate for a long time. Maybe this Alaska mom struck oil? It'll be up to us, however, (and not just her) to build the pipeline.

It'll be up to us, however, (and not just her) to build the pipeline

I agree with you this, but I disagree on the method. I don't see how voting for another non-conservative GOP ticket will help. Like I said with Jindal, I would have been really disappointed if he had teamed up with McCain (I had the honor of voting for the man in the past). Palin's choice is more understandable...

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