“If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America, that is a debate I am happy to have any time, any place, and that is a debate that I will win, because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for.”
Election 2008 is shaping up to be a contest between those who want America’s wars to go on indefinitely, and those who want to scale down the violence, restore a more cooperative international order, and focus on urgent, long-ignored domestic needs. The man they are vying to succeed, while addressing members of the Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, took a moment to violate a long-standing custom of not engaging in domestic politics while on foreign soil. Making no distinction between dialogue and appeasement, Bush said to the Israeli parliament:
Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. [Applause.]
The White House has both denied and acknowledged the president was referring to Barack Obama, who has said he would be open to a dialogue “without preconditions” with leaders of Iran, Syria, and other “rogue” nations frozen out of diplomatic relations with the U.S. during the Bush years. The president’s remarks ignited a firestorm of denunciations from irate Democrats—all rebuking Bush and rallying to Obama’s defense. We can expect more such commentary from the Decider, for the White House has signaled that Bush intends to make an aggressive effort to use his presidential megaphone to influence the election.
Obama didn’t hesitate to hit back hard, calling Bush and John McCain “naive and irresponsible” and linking their names 10 times in 10 minutes. “This White House, now mimicked by Senator McCain, replaces strategy and analysis and smart policy with bombast, exaggeration, and fear-mongering.”
On the same day Bush spoke in Jerusalem, McCain, who has vowed to conduct a respectful campaign, came right out and said in a conference call with conservative bloggers, “Senator Obama does not have the knowledge, the experience, the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary to preserve this nation’s security.” We suspect that he really means Obama doesn’t have what it takes to start a war with Iran (and make it three wars in a row).
McCain should be careful; the man he’s dissing may one day be his boss. Also on Thursday, the Arizona senator told an audience in Columbus, Ohio, that he foresees withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq by 2013. Just ten years after ‘Mission Accomplished.’ In his vision of the state of the world by the end of his first administration,
By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom.
Just as they did in 2004, and as they always do, the Republicans will try to frame the entire election around national security—their narrow, militaristic version thereof—and they’ll try to make Obama look weak, indecisive, and unfit to protect the nation. They won’t want to talk about the rising numbers of jobless and homeless Americans, the costs of food and oil, the stock market’s anxieties, the health care crisis, the vast disparities in wealth and income, or where those big tax cuts really go.
It is already clear that the election will be—it already is—a contest between fear and hope, war and peace, and a struggle over whether to focus on foreign affairs or domestic priorities. Obama can win if he shows himself as tough and cool under pressure—the Tall Thin Man of Steel. If he’s clear and decisive, he may persuade voters that scaling down the militarism can save lives and money without endangering the Homeland.
We certainly agree, and we urge Obama to shine the light on positive, concrete initiatives the nation can turn its resources to. Let’s look at how we can better use the $12 billion a month the U.S. is currently burning through in Iraq. We want to hear more about economic proposals and infrastructure reinforcement, as Obama talked about in Wisconsin in February. Barack, be our infrastructure hero. Tell us again about the National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years. (That’s 5 months’ spending in Iraq.) Better yet, Barack, think big, and budget $60 billion per year on infrastructure and the same amount each year on public transportation projects and $60 billion on alternative energy development. Put people to work and build for the future.) In particular—all politics is local—we want to see WPA-like work programs that restore coastal Louisiana and build a category 5–strength hurricane protection system around greater New Orleans. For about the cost of two or three months in Iraq, great improvements could be made for the Crescent City’s protection. Every state in the union has serious social, economic, and infrastructural needs that have been ignored during decades of tax-cutting.
Conditions look grim for the GOP and favorable for the Democrats, but we are under no illusions about the roughness to come, and we hope the Obama campaign is preparing for the worst. If McCain is already saying Obama is unfit for command this early in the game, then we’re in for a rough ride. The same group that swiftboated John Kerry in 2004 says they will “attack Obama viciously.” Republican operatives will paint him black, as a Muslim, a friend of Islamic terror groups, and will remind voters of his middle name and pound away at the Obama/Osama identity blur, with which some networks have already been cooperative (oops—we did it again!). They’ll do everything possible to frighten the public with the prospect of Obama as a weak, vacillating appeaser, unfit for command. Meanwhile we’re supposed to feel secure with Old Man McCain boasting that he would be “Hamas’s worst nightmare,” as he did twice in 10 minutes on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week.
We expect the Republicans’ efforts to fail, in the end, just as they’ve lost three straight congressional special elections this spring in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Illinois. Even as the Republicans grow more vicious in their desperation, Obama and his supporters must remain cool and focused, just as he has been throughout the ‘Bataan death march’ primaries. Just as Rudy Giuliani was most comfortable talking about 9/11, McCain is most at home with war. It suits his perceived strengths. (He would do well to learn the difference between Shi’ites and Sunnis, and between and Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Al Qaeda of 9/11.) Being a “war president” may be a role he has been preparing for his entire career. “There will be more wars, my friends,” he says a little too often. Presiding over a time of peace (or less war) and domestic prosperity doesn’t fit his image. (Does he have any plans or interest in governing a nation that is not at war?)
As the signs used to say in the ’60s, What if they gave a war and nobody came?
A time of less war and more economic security, a time to restore the foundations of America’s society and economy, and a time to rebuild our relations with the rest of the world—that is change we can, and do, believe in.