Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Third Verse, Same as the First (Two)

Still in Istanbul. So many meze, so little time. Here's the column that I wrote the week of July 13 when I was out of town with a bad Internet connection and no access to Google. I don't really have much research capacity without Google these days. My suggested title, above, didn't make the cut; the Herman's Hermits reference was just too obscure. My editor also has issues with the Bruce Willis joke, because he considers Die Hard the best Christmas movie ever, which is apparently why they show it every year right after It's a Wonderful Life.

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 20, 2008

In 2000, voters were urged to elect as president a charismatic fellow with a distinctive speaking style. The candidate didn’t have much experience, but he would bring dramatic stylistic change. He would usher in a different kind of politics, where people mattered more than party. He’d restore America’s greatness and honor.

Instead of the bitter partisan debates of the previous eight years, we’d have a new governing philosophy. It was called “compassionate conservatism,” recognizing that it wasn’t enough just to cut taxes; we also couldn’t leave any child behind.

The same people who sold you that particularly overblown bill of goods -- that George W. Bush was a “uniter, not a divider,” that he would have a more “humble” foreign policy, and that cutting taxes would raise so much more revenue that we could rebuild our overstretched armed forces, unleash legions of faith-based welfare workers, and leave no child behind, all without breaking a sweat -- those same people have some new hooey for you.

It doesn’t really have a name yet, so instead of “compassionate conservatism,” call it “amnesiac conservatism.” It’s a hope that you won’t notice that the exact same people who made these now-outlandish claims about George W. Bush (and who supported him unquestioningly, so long as he was popular) now claim that the best way to reject Bush is to elect John McCain.

How else McCain can be “change we can believe in”-- unless you forget everything about these past eight years? How else can you swallow that supporting W’s tax cuts, environmental policies, Supreme Court appointments, letting business lobbyists write the laws, and war in Iraq is the only way to “real change” from W?

The same people, the same policies, and the same spin is somehow change? Trying the same thing again and again but expecting a different result is either madness, or the McCain campaign. McCain thinks remaking a bad movie with Bruce Willis instead of Chuck Norris makes it a good movie. It doesn’t, except to people who think Bruce Willis is a good actor -- and we certainly don’t want them running the country.

This “vote for the Republican, because he’s the least like the Republican” gambit is getting almost comical. Last week, McCain’s lead foreign policy wonk, Randy Scheunemann, attacked Barack Obama claiming that Obama’s policy on Iraq was too much like George W. Bush’s. “We cannot afford to replace one administration that refused for too long to acknowledge failure in Iraq with a candidate that refuses to acknowledge success in Iraq,” Scheunemann said. (H/t: Talking Points Memo.)

So it’s come to this, Republicans arguing that the best way to correct Republican mistakes is to elect another just-as-mistaken Republican.

Not only is this absurd, but it’s also a lie. McCain now claims that Bush refused to recognize failure in Iraq in 2006 -- but in 2006, McCain was supporting Bush and telling us that things in Iraq were getting better. Same thing in 2005. Same thing in 2004. Same thing in 2003. You get that many “same things” in a row, you get to call him McSame.

Maybe Iraq is going better because of the just-recently-concluded surge (if you don’t look at the political goals, and discount the impact of other factors, like refugee flows, arming and paying Sunni groups, walling off Baghdad neighborhoods, and intra-Shia political dynamics). But it’s like a football coach arguing that because he “won” the third quarter, he deserves a new contract despite having coached the wrong game with the wrong team in the wrong stadium.

Fareed Zakaria noted in Newsweek that in 2006, when violence in Iraq was at its worst, McCain said we couldn’t leave because “the consequences would be tragic. Today, he says that things are going so well that if we leave, the consequences would be tragic. In other words, his whole plan for Iraq is the same as George Bush’s – ‘keep doing what we’re doing.’”

When the people offering more of the same keep telling you that it’s really, really different, then they’re not telling, they’re selling. Again.

No comments: