It occurs to me that while I have posted a fair amount in the last few months about developments in the presidential contest I haven’t actually written much about the merits of the choice. This has been partly because I think my view on the matter is pretty obvious from my usual posts, and partly because I doubt that there are many “persuadables” in my readership. But with the election now only days away, I’ve come to think that if only out of a decent respect for the opinions of my fellow men (to steal and misuse a phrase) I should offer some brief explanation of why I will vote the way I will on Tuesday.
Let me begin by saying that I’ve never been an unabashed fan of John McCain, and have not become an unabashed fan of Sarah Palin during her brief time on the national stage. Before this election cycle really kicked off, all the way back in early 2007, I cheered McCain for his regular opposition to Congressional pork giveaways but otherwise had a fairly low opinion of his policy views. I found his fervent attacks on our most important political rights, in the guise of pushing campaign finance “reform,” appalling, and his supposedly “maverick” set of policy positions more like evidence of an incoherent (or non-existent) political philosophy. His obvious love of being feted by the media and appearing on the 60 Minutes and The Daily Show to attack his GOP colleagues certainly didn’t help either. My view softened a great deal after he risked his presidential campaign by supporting the surge of troops into Iraq, and by the time my favorite candidate, Rudy Giuliani, was knocked out of the GOP primaries I was ready to back McCain as the least worst of the remaining Republican candidates. However, I still have more than a few doubts about his philosophy of governance and his judgment.
As for Palin, my previously expressed opinion of her unreadiness to be President if something were to happen to McCain hasn’t been changed by her post-nomination performance. Moreover, we’ve learned that she apparently matches, or even surpasses, McCain in a troubling mental characteristic: both seem to think that having populist conservative political instincts is a substitute for having conservative policy ideas. (It is bracing to think that in McCain and Palin Republicans have probably chosen two candidates who have read and thought less about the proper role of government in society than any other ticket in the past 50 years.)
But with all those flaws, and many others, voting for McCain-Palin over Obama-Biden is, to my mind, the clearly correct decision.
Now, dear reader, you may think that’s simply because my “conservative” views --particularly on economic issues and on the makeup of the federal courts-- are more consistent with John McCain’s policy stances (even though those stances aren’t backed by a coherent political philosophy). And it’s true: My profound disagreements with the policies Obama has exposed would alone be enough to get me to hold my nose and vote for McCain. (Although, let us not forget that some foolish self-proclaimed conservatives, see eg. Christopher Buckley, have said they intend to vote for Obama in the hope that he won’t actually pursue the policies he’s said he’s going to pursue.) But even for many non-conservatives, voting against Obama is the logical decision. For the outcome of the presidential race won’t just determine who controls the Presidency, but whether Democrats will take control of the entire policymaking apparatus of the federal government. Over the past two years, the policy ambitions of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and other “loud and proud” liberal Democrats in the Congressional leadership have been checked by a GOP President. What will happen if that check is removed? The likely answer is fairly clear. And, for most any non-hardcore leftist Democrat, undesirable.
It could be argued that Obama, as President and political leader of the Democratic Party, would curb the policy ambitions of Congressional Democrats, if only in the interest of furthering his chances of winning reelection in what will remain a basically center-right nation. The problem is that we have no evidence whatsoever from Obama’s political past that he is inclined or able to stand up to members of his own party. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Obama’s record in the Illinois Senate and U.S. Senate is how consistently he avoided taking leadership positions on controversial matters. I see little reason to think that Obama would drop that risk-averse political style, and taking on a Democratic Congress would require deliberately taking major political risks, risks that (at least in the short term) very well might not payoff. Barack Obama is just not a fellow who is temperamentally inclined to force those kinds of confrontations.
Over the past forty years there have been three periods where one party has controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress: 1976-1980 (Democrats), 1992-1994 (Democrats), and 2002-2006 (Republicans). A vote for Obama is not just a vote for Obama, but a vote for a new period total Democratic control of high-level federal policymaking. Popular opinion says that things didn’t go so well in Washington during those periods, and if Obama does prevail things likely won’t go much better this time around.