Patterico's Pontifications

9/5/2008

McCain the Risk-Taker

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:21 am



On January 8, 2007, the Los Angeles Times ran a Page One article about the gamble John McCain was making in putting down a big bet on the surge:

As a onetime prisoner of war during Vietnam and decorated Navy officer, Sen. John McCain has based much of his political persona on his staunch support for the military and his consummate credibility on national security.

But as the Arizona Republican prepares to mount a White House campaign, he is putting those military bona fides on the line – aggressively backing an unpopular plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq at a time that other presidential hopefuls are steering clear of the war or calling for troop reductions.

. . . .

McCain’s calculation . . . shows that McCain, perhaps the best-positioned of any candidate to win the presidency in wartime, is willing to bet it all on a gamble that voters will reward his resolve, as they did for Bush in 2004, rather than punish him, as they did to GOP candidates in November.

Other Republicans are clearly not ready to play those odds.

No, they weren’t. And Democrats were eager to hang the policy around McCain’s neck:

Democrats can barely contain their eagerness for McCain to take the blame for a plan that seems to contradict the antiwar message of the 2006 midterm election that stripped Republicans of their once-solid congressional majorities. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, went out of his way recently to describe the troop increase as the “McCain doctrine.”

But McCain remained steadfast — even, some thought, reckless.

McCain shows no interest in shedding that label.

“If it destroys any ambitions I may have, I’m willing to pay that price gladly,” McCain said Friday after an appearance at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, where he said the surge “must be substantial and it must be sustained.”

His presidential aspirations, he added, “pale in comparison to what I think is most important to our nation’s security.”

McCain’s decision was courageous. It may sound like rhetoric now, with the clarity of hindsight. But in January 2007, it seemed risky — even, perhaps, indicative of poor judgment.

Because there was a time when people were running from the surge. John McCain, with whom I have been displeased in the past on many an occasion, had the guts to stand up and say he was backing it, no matter the cost to his career.

It might not have paid off. But McCain (and the much hated George W. Bush) recognized that America was not winning. That something had to change.

And it worked. Don’t believe me. Believe Barack Obama:

Mr. O’Reilly then demanded that his guest admit that he was wrong to oppose the military surge. Mr. Obama didn’t give in; he repeated previous qualifications but did go farther, and less equivocally, than before in acknowledging that the surge had worked. “It’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” he said.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, on August 30, 2008, the Los Angeles Times ran an article titled McCain’s choice of Palin is a risk:

American voters on Friday began learning about Sarah Palin. But the selection of an obscure Alaska governor as the Republican vice presidential nominee also offers clues about the leadership style of the man who placed her on the ticket.

Though John McCain clearly concluded that Palin could attract female voters and grab his campaign some Barack Obama-style media buzz, he also is taking a risk that in elevating a largely unknown figure, he undermines the central theme of his candidacy that he puts “country first,” above political calculations.

We got a little editorializing, as is the habit of this newspaper, including a not-so-gentle suggestion that maybe McCain is reckless and emotional:

For a candidate known to possess a quick temper and an unpredictable political streak, the decision raises questions about how McCain would lead — whether his decisions would flow from careful deliberations or gut checks in which short-term considerations or feelings outweigh the long view.

“Americans like risk-takers, but they also want to know that in times of crisis, you’re going to be calm,” said Matthew Dowd, who was a senior campaign strategist for President Bush but is neutral in the McCain-Obama race.

“Americans don’t necessarily want somebody in a time of crisis to be overly emotional,” Dowd said. “That’s the balance that John McCain’s going to have to show the public.”

Wow. That all sounds risky.

And yet . . . so far, it’s working out pretty nicely.

The pick may work and it may not — but when you have the New York Times describing your candidate’s speech as “electrifying” and bringing a “fresh burst of energy” to your ticket . . . well, you’re not off to a bad start.

And preliminary polling data seems to show Palin helping McCain to wipe out an eight-point Obama lead and bring the candidates neck and neck.

It’s too soon to know whether the Sarah Palin gamble paid off the way the surge did. But McCain was in the hole. He had to do something to shake things up. I love the way Allahpundit put it, when he said that, with a safe pick like Fred Thompson, “we’d be guaranteed to lose the election by no more than four points! With Palin, we could lose by ten. Or, of course, win narrowly.”

I have been going around repeating that line to anyone who will listen for days.

Look: I have been royally upset by John McCain in the past and I expect to be again. But at least the man recognizes when things have to be shaken up — and is willing to take decisive action to change course.

You want change? You want new leadership? Then that’s not a bad track record.

UPDATE: More indications that the Palin pick is working out well here.

52 Responses to “McCain the Risk-Taker”

  1. Funniest thing I heard last night was from the Democratic “analysts,” exclaiming that McCain failed to dissociate himself from Bush, that he needed to specifically mention Bush and his failed policies, and how he was going to be different. Yeah, surrrre – no doubt they would’ve loved to have heard that type of suicidal rhetoric. The man did what he had to do, and still was within himself at the same time – a neat trick, he’ll have to keep doing it in order to convince those disaffected right – leaning voters that he is the de facto agent of change.

    Dmac (874677)

  2. I guess the LAT prefers the “reasoned” approach to governance, like that of Billy Jeff Clinton. He took the safe approach to terrorism: put a few guys in prison, tossed a few Tomahawks, met with the Taliban for dialogue numerous times.

    Yup, no risk there.

    Patricia (ee5c9d)

  3. “including a not-so-gentle suggestion that maybe McCain is reckless and emotional:”

    Ah, there’s the rub: McCain’s volatility.

    You can focus on the impulsivity as asset, but you have to consider the sound of the other shoe dropping.

    Most positive human qualities, taken to excess, become a negative. I was once asked in an interview about what I thought was one of my strengths. I said ‘persistence’. Then the follow up; One of my weaknesses? Persistence.

    I’m afraid any who consider voting for McCain have to consider the dark side of his persona. I want someone perspicacious in the WH. I don’t want an abrupt, cranky Septogenarian holding the football.

    Semanticleo (412e34)

  4. What’s interesting to me is that by all indications late in the game, McCain had narrowed down his choices to two people, Joe Lieberman and Sarah Palin. Both accented his image as a maverick, and no other choices would. Can you imagine where we’d be right now if he’d chosen the other way?

    Personally I was ok with Lieberman, because I saw the next four years as basically a writeoff on everything but the war, and Lieberman wasn’t going to change that. But as high as everyone is now, there would have been equivalent despondency if he’d chosen the other way. The GOP dodged a huge, huge bullet here.

    Skip (ba6438)

  5. One interesting observation I made was the respect that Democrats gave to McCain for his military service. Contrast that with the Repubilican convention of last election when delegates showed up with fake bandages mocking Kerry’s wounds received in Vietnam and the way they treated Max Cleland a triple amputee who was compared to Osama Bin Ladin and Sadam Hussein. And which Ann Coulter said was lucky to have received such wounds so he could criticize Bush. I wonder what the outcry would have been if delegates had shown up at the Democratic convention in prison suits and with fake bandages mocking McCain and insisting he was “lucky”?. Its like I always say, Republicans think of troops as cannon fodder. Nice to praise them and honer and talk about loving and supporting them but just dont let them step out of line or else.

    Yesterday I watched a campaign ad from the Straight Talker who warned us that if we elect Obama we will have massive deficits! Thats right folks, if you elect a Democrat they will do exactly what Republicans have been doing for the last 25 years! Better elect a Republican so we can put and end to Republican fiscal irresponsibility. That from the man that wants to spend billions more in Iraq and not raise taxes or increase the deficit while doing it. And from the woman who says she said “no thanks” to the bridge to nowhere but forgot to tell us she kept the money. And now she tells us that she is only going to read prepared speeches and there will be no press conferences or town hall meetings. Should have hired Julia Roberts if you wanted an actor. Perhaps it just that her plans to defeat Al Quida are so secret that we just have to trust her after all she is a soccer mom and member in good standing of the PTA not to mention how she prevented the Russians from crossing over into Alaska for all those perilous 20 months.
    I think its all B******T
    Ah! but what do you expect from a godless, America hating, terrorist supporting, lazy, moderate who once voted for Bush Sr, Ronald Reagan and even nominated Bush Jr the Man of the Year right after 9/11?

    VietEraVet (543dfe)

  6. I love it!! They can’t get a sentence without sputtering. We may lose, but we will have lost with dignity. This may not help us now, but in the future, after they have destroyed this country, we’ll just have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and do it all over again.

    Sue (4d3ef7)

  7. What was a big risk was the Democrats nominating someone with an indefensible record on handgun bans.

    Michael Ejercito (a757fd)

  8. Hey Patricia I guess you prefer the Bush approach to terrorism. Do nothing about the Cole which occurred just before he took office. Then get a warning about “OBL determined to strike in the US” and then go on vacation and when they do strike blame it on Clinton.

    Yes Bush as done a great job of protecting us against terrorism..except for just that ONE INCIDENT which of course was not his fault..

    Oh! and do you remember when Clinton send missiles against OBL how Republicans, more intent on finding some dirt about Monica Lewinski, derided those missiles as Monica’s Missiles? Of course, you don’t because the Republican elephant is one pachyderm with a very short memory!

    VietEraVet (543dfe)

  9. Ah! but what do you expect from a godless, America hating, terrorist supporting, lazy, moderate who once voted for Bush Sr, Ronald Reagan and even nominated Bush Jr the Man of the Year right after 9/11?

    Again, were you a part of Project 100,000?

    Scott Jacobs (a1c284)

  10. Oh! and do you remember when Clinton send missiles against OBL how Republicans, more intent on finding some dirt about Monica Lewinski, derided those missiles as Monica’s Missiles?

    But…

    But those missles were sent into Iraq… How could they have been going after OBL?

    Considering Pres Clinton turned down Syria’s offer to HAND OBL OVER TO US, I don’t think you can claim Billy was the best at handling OBL…

    Scott Jacobs (a1c284)

  11. No, no, no, no!!!!

    I want radical change BUT NO RISK!!!!

    Besides, Obama has said that his “change” is carefully planned out and risk free. He wouldn’t lie to me would he?

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  12. What was a big risk was the Democrats nominating someone with an indefensible record on handgun bans.

    That we would notice?

    Scott Jacobs (a1c284)


  13. OBL determined to strike in the US” and then go on vacation

    If you wondered if VEV could reasonably be ignored, such BS should clearly show that he is mock-worthy, at best.

    JD (75f5c3)

  14. But those missles were sent into Iraq… How could they have been going after OBL?

    Maybe OBL was allied with Saddam.

    Michael Ejercito (a757fd)

  15. That we would notice?

    The only way people would not notice Obama’s indefensible record on gun laws if he was running against someone whose campaign is much more inept than John Kerry’s campaign in 2004.

    Michael Ejercito (a757fd)

  16. Michael clearly you have been conned by the sinister neocon plot to justify a war for oil subsequent to Bush blowing up the WTC.

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  17. I thought the JOOOS made us do it!

    daleyrocks (d9ec17)

  18. Wow – Not even in his wildest dreams could the aspiring commander-in-chief imagine an American victory in Iraq.
    Scary!

    Perfect Sense (7e9a58)

  19. I denounce myself for not denouncing Zionist occupationists.

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  20. Yes, Iraq has nothing to do with 911 and all those Clinton administration lackeys who said (prior to election)that Iraq had WMDs and must be neutered are absolved of any blame for the subsequent invasion of Iraq. Ditto for all those foreign intelligence services claiming Iraq had WMDs. All those UN Security Council resolutions meant nada also.
    We really need Obama and Biden in WH to end all wars, rid world of nukes, save the planet, rid the world of the poor, tax those greedy neocons fairly so others can rise up to an adequate lifestyle. People are starving in America, even if they are obese, own more possessions than the average citizens elsewhere in the world, yadda yadda.
    I really have to admire Oprah and her enthusiastic idolizing of Obama. The Queen of daytime TV shows what cojones she has and how she’s has no fear of the Barracuda by banning Palin from appearing on her show. Will the grand dames of The View invite Sarah on? Could she handle all those shrews?

    madmax333 (0c6cfc)

  21. Not in his wildest dreams? American success should be in the forefront of all of our dreams. Baracky, what were your dreams? Why doesn’t anyone ask him that?

    JD (5f0e11)

  22. LAT…
    I love this one: “… selection of an obscure Alaska governor…”.

    Just think how ecstatic they would be if McCain had chosen a “prominent” Alaska governor?

    Sorry, just couldn’t avoid the low-hanging fruit; now I have to go to the therapist and have my shoulder worked on.

    Another Drew (faec8a)

  23. max @ #19…
    Could you remind me again how the words to that Kumbaya thing goes?

    Another Drew (faec8a)

  24. It’s above his pay grade.

    Al (b624ac)

  25. “rid the world of the poor”
    If I knew they would succeed in ridding Austin of the poor so I didn’t have to get hassled by them on every f’n street corner I’d give them my vote in a second. So many able-bodied men with cardboard signs, so little time to get the meth they so desperately crave.

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  26. AD- think it emphasizes the repetition of Kumbaya my Lord (obama). Allegedly written by Rev. Marvin V. Frey in 1930’s Portland , Oregon. No idea if there he was any relation of our esteemed host.
    Alternately titled Come By here or Kum Ba Yah.
    Those patriots Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary had songs out with the lyrics, as did the Seekers. Check out http://www.OldiesLyrics.com.

    Perhaps more apropros songs for the patriotic hate amerikkka first crowd are lennon’s Give Peace a Chance or the great War what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again.

    There is little doubt that the Chosen One will disarm Iran and N. Korean with his charm and charisma. Upon meeting The One, both ‘lil Kim and ImADamnNutJob, will like Chrissie Matthews, Olberdouche and Andrea Mitchell, endeavor to give Barry Hussein BJs whilst renouncing any warlike intentions. Peace out

    madmax333 (0c6cfc)

  27. Tomorrow’s headline:

    PALIN TO OBAMA: “Did I hurt your little feelings? Man-up and grow a pair, Barry!”

    MCCAIN/”THE PALINATOR” 2008.

    MarkJ (7fa185)

  28. I see the VEV took his mouth off the bong long enough to pass on his delusions. Maybe he can enlighten us on the difference between Robert Mugabe’s, Hugo Chavez’s, and Obama’s plans for implementing a Socialist government?

    PCD (5c49b0)

  29. “Americans like risk-takers, but they also want to know that in times of crisis, you’re going to be calm,” said Matthew Dowd, who was a senior campaign strategist for President Bush but is neutral in the McCain-Obama race.

    Hmmm… So, a guy who has never faced hardship in his life and is friends with terrorist is cool, calm and collected, but a man who was tortured as a POW and was a fighter pilot cannot remain calm?

    PDizzle (cb6b9b)

  30. “is willing to bet it all on a gamble that voters will reward his resolve”

    I suppose McCain is a good politician, he’s still here after umpty umpty years, but why is his backing a military policy he believes in a “gamble”? That just sounds like him doing what he thinks is the right thing to do. And why was his taking on Palin a “gamble”? He knew he was going to get his ass kicked with prejudice if he didn’t. He did the politically smart thing to do.

    As for his supporting and unpopular war, if he thinks that what Americans want is a strong, tough talking leader who is unafraid to use the military, then supporting the war isn’t that much of a gamble either. I am starting to suspect he is right.

    Some friends and I were talking about the election and I floated the idea that if one of the candidates (at some point during some high profile “talking about national defense and foreign policy” air time) told Americans that the country needed their help to finish the job in Iraq and rebuild the Armed Forces, that that candidate would not only seem committed to keeping our country strong, but would also get people on board with their whole program by sharing the power and responsibility for keeping the country strong.

    They all said that kind of thing would election poison coz parents dont wan’t their kids to go to war and they are probably right..
    ..but all I can think of is that debate between Kerry and GWB, when we all knew what a train wreck GWB’s administration was, where the moderator asked the candidates how they were going to get the troops home from Iraq and GWB looked a little incredulous at the question and said “I’m going to win the war” and won the election.

    EdWood (c2268a)

  31. “why is his backing a military policy he believes in a “gamble”?
    It was a gamble politically to support this policy at a time when the war was not going well for the U.S. and public opinion about the war was hardly in favor of pouring more troops into the theater.

    “They all said that kind of thing would election poison coz parents dont wan’t their kids to go to war and they are probably right”
    I think that if a candidate came right out and said that if elected they would institute a draft, then yes they would be dead in the water. I don’t think any parent wants their kid to go to war but if their kid enlists in our volunteer military I would hope that they are aware that that could be the case.

    “when we all knew what a train wreck GWB’s administration was”
    You’re stating an opinion which people don’t necessarily share as a fact.

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  32. EdWood has a comprehension problem, let alone trying to express himself in ways sentient persons can decipher.

    Another Drew (faec8a)

  33. I like his movies and his taste in sweaters.

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  34. Jack Klompus #30
    “a gamble politically to support this policy at a time when the war was not going well for the U.S”
    OK but are you saying that you think John McCain IS a politician who will put his ambitions or power ahead of what he thinks is good for the country (ie thus the “gamble”) or is he a politician who, at least often if not always, really does try to do what he thinks is best for the country? Is it a “gamble” if you care more about your principles than your power?
    I saw his support for more troops as standing with his fellow soldiers, not backing some administration policy.

    “if a candidate came right out and said that if elected they would institute a draft”
    Yeah that’s what my friends said “Everyone will think the guy is about to start drafting people”. Since your own thoughts went right there I guess they were right.

    EdWood (c2268a)

  35. Ed – the only politicians who have come out in favor of a draft have been Democrats, particularly Charlie “Rent Control” Rangel. They have done it as a political stunt, a grandstanding tactic.
    All McCain has done is speak abstractly and philosophically to the idea of “service” by suggesting that, if people are so inspired, then make a CHOICE to join the military, volunteer, become a teacher, whatever you CHOOSE. As a military man, especially from the Vietnam era, McCain knows better than just about anyone that conscription does not provide for an effective military.
    McCain’s detractors want to believe this caricature of him as this shell-shocked trigger-happy war-monger wanting to force America’s youth into wars of his choice that he wants to start out of some kind of bloodlust. I don’t believe that Obama kisses a picture of Marx and Lenin before he goes to bed at night, so I think this misguided image of McCain is ridiculous.
    The gamble was that he was willing to accept the political consequences if what he believed, as a man with military experience, about what would be an effective tactic turned out to be ineffective. It would have essentially written his political epitaph, and he knew it. He did not say that there was no way in hell the surge would NOT work. If he knew that, then there is no gamble. But even amateur observers such as myself with no military service know that no tactic is foolproof.

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  36. #34
    I saw that part of his speech where he called people to multiple types of service.

    So you think that if McCain specifically asked people to volunteer for the military that it would NOT be seen as a precursor to a draft?
    I argued that it would not be seen as a draft precursor because he would be ASKING people to help him get a job done and get ready for whatever the next job is going to be.
    Maybe some people would take it as a sign that the “surge isn’t working” or whatever but those people are never going to be convinced anyway.
    I think a lot of people don’t take his “change Washington” “Nation First” theme too seriously (yes I know people HERE do) and I am wondering if he would seem more serious in getting things done if he asked Americans to put their nation first and help him deal with a big challenge (the war) that still isn’t resolved.

    EdWood (c2268a)

  37. US WEEKLY GETS IT’S COMEUPPANCE FOR TRASHING PALIN Publications and media sources like US Weekly think they can get away with anything with complete impunity. The loss of 10,000 subscribers (and counting), plus boycotts of advertiser’s products should send a message. Now, this same message should be sent to other arrogant and bias media entities … like, CNN’s Jack Cafferty, Daily KOS, Crooks and LIars, Truthdig, Huffington, Oprah, moveon.com … and others. America should let these idiots know that we’ve had enough, and we’re not going to take it anymore!!!

    Howard (f14f31)

  38. “EdWood has a comprehension problem, let alone trying to express himself in ways sentient persons can decipher.”

    – Another Drew

    And you need to invest in a thesaurus, Comprehension-Man.

    That second sentence could still use some work, by the way.

    Leviticus (41975c)

  39. “EdWood has a comprehension problem, let alone trying to express himself in ways sentient persons can decipher.”

    – Another Drew

    And you need to invest in a thesaurus, Comprehension-Man.

    That second clause could still use some work, by the way.

    Leviticus (41975c)

  40. His asking people to join the military was nothing more than one of a number of ways that he suggested people could fulfill a desire to serve their country. Nothing more. The war is at the point where troop levels in Iraq are coming down. There is no need strategically to even insinuate that anything close to a draft would ever be suggested. The military will continue to recruit in the same manner as it always has. Relax, man, you’re not getting drafted by President McCain. :)

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  41. Whoops! And I, Duplicate-Comment-Man, could use some work in the comment-posting department.

    Leviticus (41975c)

  42. Does DCM have an evil arch-nemesis?
    (Sorry about the asshole-ish comment I made the other day in response to your “grow a pair!”)

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  43. He’s his own worst enemy…

    He shoots his mouth off – twice!

    Leviticus (41975c)

  44. And I didn’t see your comment, by the way (and I’ve made plenty of my own), so no harm done…

    Leviticus (41975c)

  45. Gee, sorry Lev…
    But my Roget’s got buried by all of the BS from the Obamabots flowing out of the computer.
    Perhaps you could send me a new copy?
    Then I’ll send you my copy of “How To Win Friends and Influence People”.

    Another Drew (faec8a)

  46. Jack Klompus:

    I found your comment, and chuckled.

    Another Drew:

    Touche

    Leviticus (41975c)

  47. Dale Carnegie meet Peter Roget. Pete…Dale.

    Jack Klompus (cf3660)

  48. #39 I guess Another Drew is right. I wasn’t articulating my question properly. I wasn’t asking if McCain’s call to service in his speech was hinting that he is going to institute a draft. I don’t qualify for the draft anyway unless they raise the age. I was asking if you thought that he should ask people to join up (you know, Uncle Sam Needs You) to help finish the job in Iraq and bring in new recruits for the next job. But you answered my question anyway I guess it would be a non-issue now that the Govt. is taking troops out of Iraq and winding down the war.

    EdWood (c2268a)

  49. VietEraVet,

    I prefer the post-9/11 Bush approach to terrorism, yes.

    So there.

    Patricia (ee5c9d)

  50. VietEraVet, I find it more than a bit surprising that you are still writing such silly tripe so many years after its been debunked.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  51. VietEraVet,

    Nobody does eye-poppingly hypocritical fake outrage like “red-meat conservatives” attacking the “liberals”, especially the talking head variety of rm con. Some “liberals” try to do it back and they do OK, but they just can’t can’t sell it like the cons can.

    I think you are right, that the whole St Palin the dragon slayer who is going to come and clean up washington is all bulls**t, but Sarah Palin gives a great speech, she must be able to negotiate well coz she got all that earmark money (that she hates so much now) when she was mayor of a tiny town, and she has everyone fired up so they are willing to wash off their shoes later so that they can enjoy the moment now.

    We will see in November whether it all lasts and people will actually be willing to elect her as President.

    EdWood (8ff8fa)

  52. Gee, Ed. You must have missed the announcement –

    Governor Sarah Palin is running for Vice-President!

    Another Drew (faec8a)


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