As weeks go, the last few have not been good ones for Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
First and foremost, the rug on which stands the greater part of his candidacy was suddenly and rudely pulled out from under him. After saying for as long as anyone could remember that the U.S. must fight on to victory in Iraq (one hesitates to say again that not he, Mr. Bush or any of the other Republican or Democratic war-mongers has ever defined victory), and that any talk of a timeline for withdrawal is tantamount to turning the U.S. over to jihadists, no less a worthy that Mr. McCain’s idol, President George Bush, has said that he is interested in discussing a ‘general time horizon’ (read: timeline) for withdrawal of U.S. troops. And to add insult to injury, while Mr. McCain’s opponent in the contest for the White House, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, was travelling across the globe in order to give himself a more presidential look, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced to the world that he agrees with Mr. Obama’s sixteen-month schedule for withdrawal of all U.S. troops. What, one might ask, is a conservative Republican candidate, clinging to the coattails of one of the most unpopular presidents in 100 years, to do? His signature issue has been undermined by Mr. Coattails, who seems to have taken an oversize shears and cut Mr. McCain loose. Even Mr. Bush’s Iraqi puppet, that upstart, has agreed to a sixteen-month timeframe to bid a not-too-fond farewell to U.S. soldiers.
Then, to add even more insult to an already painful injury, Mr. Bush has sent representatives to negotiate with Iran! After stating categorically that such an event would never happen, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said such negotiations were out of the question, they are indeed happening.
Mr. McCain has said on occasion that his grasp of economic issues is a little vaguer than perhaps it should be. This appears to be some grudging acknowledgment that as far as doing anything to ease the mortgage crises in the U.S., create jobs or slow inflation, he is completely out of his element; these problems were created during the Bush administration and would not be resolved under a McCain administration. Rather, he has emphasized his foreign policy experience which consists mainly of having been a prisoner of war during one of the U.S.’s earlier imperialistic misadventures. For reasons that boggle the mind, many people, at least within the Republican Party, feel that such an experience qualifies him to resolve two wars that the U.S. never should have waged and is losing badly; prevent a third (Iran) and possibly a fourth (Cuba); restore the reputation of the U.S. among nations that are long-term allies but now hate and fear the U.S., and generally bring order where Mr. Bush has wrought chaos.
And now he has lost that issue, his foreign policy ‘expertise.’ Certainly he can still claim that he will do a better job than Mr. Obama, but with Mr. Bush embracing (even through the back door) Mr. Obama’s withdrawal plan, Mr. McCain seems to be stranded on a rather forlorn and deserted campaign island.
All this, most unfortunately, leaves the Arizona senator without much of a political leg to stand on. But, not one to let reality get in the way of his power-mad dreams, he forges on. Any candidate, of either party, when faced with such a situation would immediately attempt to change the subject, and this is exactly what Mr. McCain did. With the war in Iraq seeming to be a non-issue, since Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama appear to agree on a withdrawal timeline at least in concept, Mr. McCain looked at another hot-button issue for voters: gasoline prices. And how best, he apparently asked himself, could he deflect attention from Mr. Obama’s attention-grabbing world tour, to this other issue on the minds of voters? He blamed Mr. Obama for the gas crises.
There is an old expression about the kettle calling the pot black. One might wonder how a senator in his first term (the pot) is to be blamed for anything, by a four-term senator (the kettle). Yet Mr. McCain has stated that, since his opponent opposes off-shore oil drilling, an issue that has not been considered for years, he is therefore responsible for the pain each SUV owner feels every time he or she fills up at the pump. One will recall Mr. McCain’s compassionate, let-them-eat-cake proposal to provide relief for drivers: a moratorium on the gas tax for the summer months. This, said Mr. McCain magnanimously, would allow families to ‘drive a little farther,’ and possibly even have ‘something left over’ during the summer. Beyond what little positive public relations this nonsense might have brought to the Republican candidate, it only highlighted how out of touch he is with the average working, or struggling to find work, American. But one must make allowances; when one is married to an heiress with an annual income in the millions of dollars, it must be difficult to recognize that there are people unable to keep a roof over their heads, much less provide for their families that uniquely American luxury, health care.
So there we are: Mr. Obama is to blame for the outrageous gasoline prices, and by association, by the astonishingly outrageous oil company profits. Mr. McCain, with four terms in the senate following three in the house, is innocent of this; he was certainly too busy opposing a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King; brokering shady deals with savings and loan companies and trotting out his prison-of-war experiences to ever have touched on addressing U.S. dependency on oil. And now that the nation is enraged by oil prices, off-shore drilling becomes the new panacea, when in actuality all it will do is fill to overflowing the vast, already gluttonous bank accounts of the oil companies. But when a candidate lacks any idea of how to resolve a major problem, why not jump on whatever bandwagon happens to be rolling by at the time? And since his Iraq bandwagon, never better than shaky at the best of times, has now crashed and burned, oil prices seems to be a worthy substitute.
As Mr. Obama trots around the world, generating increasing amounts of excitement as both the first major party African-American candidate for president, and as a refreshing and longed for replacement for Mr. Bush, Mr. McCain struggles to capture the imagination of an apathetic Republican Party. Even evangelical conservatives, the core of GOP support in the last several elections, are only now grudgingly considering endorsing the elderly senator from Arizona. Compare this to their wild enthusiasm for his war-mongering, tax-breaks-for-the-rich predecessor and one can easily understand why Mr. McCain always looks so dour. Republicans, it seems, may not be as quick to vote against their own best interests as they have previously been; perhaps all that time waiting in the unemployment line has giving them more time to think about the issues that touch their lives.
The campaign for the presidency, hard as this may be to believe, has not yet officially begun; that generally happens after the Labor Day weekend. But in reality, any thinking person can see what it will be like: one candidate basking in the glow of novelty, perhaps sufficiently to be elected, while the other desperately attempts to find something to throw out to the populace that they might be willing to grab onto. Either way, nonsense will be reported as statesmanship and irrationality as thoughtful policy proposals. It is business as usually as the U.S. elects a president.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.