Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Old Guard Dies, but Never Surrenders

Rick Brookhiser, whom I admire, had ticked me off with his visceral negative reaction to the choice of Sarah Palin for VP. He redeems himself with his endorsement of John McCain:

What was Abraham Lincoln’s position on the Mormons? In their funky, pre-Mitt Romney days they were an issue of national importance—Lincoln’s Democratic predecessors thought of sending the army to Utah to suppress them—so it’s not surprising that Lincoln had an opinion too. In 1863, when a Mormon visited the Oval Office, Lincoln told him that when he had cleared land for farming as a young man there were often dead trees too hard to split, too wet to burn, and too heavy to move, so people plowed around them. That’s what he intended to do with the Mormons. That may have been the opinion that caused some voters to vote for or against him.

Lincoln had opinions on a number of other issues too—railroads (pro), nativism (anti), temperance (feinted pro), trade (protectionist in the tradition of Henry Clay)—and any of these opinions, or any combination of them, may have caused some voters to vote for or against him.

Yet we would treat with contempt any historian who said that the dominating issue of Lincoln’s career, from 1854 to his death, was anything other than the slave power: whether it would rule America, or failing that, ruin it. That was the question of Lincoln’s time.

There are many questions in this election: gay marriage, immigration, taxes, abortion, the financial crisis. But the question of our time is the war waged on us since the 1990s, which had its Pearl Harbor on 9/11. Charity will prevent us from feeling contempt for those who don’t realize this, but survival requires us to realize it ourselves.

The Iraq war records of the two candidates show that John McCain realizes it and Barack Obama doesn’t.

McCain joined the Bush administration and most of Congress in the war to bring down Saddam, as poisonous and low-hanging fruit. McCain continued to support the war as congressional Democrats and much of the public lost heart. He saw earlier than almost anyone that the post-war strategy the coalition was pursuing would end in failure, and urged that it be changed. The change came, and success proved him right.

As a state legislator, then a freshman senator, Barack Obama opposed the war, and resisted fighting it to win. His policies would have left Saddam in power, then let his followers murder their way back to it.

McCain owed his position to military experience; his grasp of such issues over a long career; and his character. Obama’s position shows a lack of the first two qualities. It is no bad reflection on his character—he had to buck the political climate to take his initial anti-war stand—but it shows that he was bold in a bad cause.

Obama’s failure is more conspicuous because it is the only significant public act of his life. His candidacy is not a disgrace, like those of the amateurs who have infested the process for twenty years—Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan. Obama knows the political game from the inside, and he has held positions of responsibility. He has moved through them, however, without a trace—except for his early opposition to the Iraq war. He did one thing in his career, and he did the wrong thing.

Maybe Barack Obama will change over time. It’s possible—he is shrewd, ambitious and relatively young. Let’s let him change before we reward him with the football. Tuesday I vote for the man who knows where we are.

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