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Sunday, February 17, 2008

The World's Best Panderer

by tristero

Originally, the title to this post was an obscene play on words, the topic being how much Nick Kristof enjoys ingesting the products of John McCain's totally bent straight shooter. I thought better of it - and so should you, because you've got better things to do. Like documenting all of Nick's serious misunderstandings of St, John McCain's positions and actions. They are legion.

Me, I'd like to focus on this very silly, but none the less dangerous (because it is so often believed), ad hominem fallacy, a persistent one that Digby has also discussed:
In short, Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste. That’s preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates.
No, it's not.

How anyone after George W. Bush could conceivably defend something so idiotic is truly beyond me. Let's grant - just for a moment, I promise - that Kristof's dichotomy is true, namely that the world divides neatly between politicians with nothing but principles and politicians with none. Then it's quite clear that principles don't matter in the slightest. What really matters is judgment. Clarence Thomas has principles, fer crissakes. That doesn't mean I want him anywhere near a position of influence in my government. In most instances (we all know the exceptions) I would far, far prefer an agonized Hamlet on the Supreme Court who decides the cases on their merit, not by recourse to a pre-existing ideology stuffed to the gizzard with principles on what the law "should" be or "is."

But the world doesn't divide as neatly as Kristof says it does. No one, even Tom Delay, is bereft of principles (death to insects! was the last thing many a Texan termite heard). And anyone, even our greatest leaders can be portrayed as spineless. Try parsing Lincoln's positions on slavery and race sometime. Chase was (one of) the genuinely principled abolitionists in the cabinet, not Honest Abe. He even said that if he could preserve the union by keeping slavery, he would keep slavery (yes, I know, Lincoln's a wily one and what he said has many interpretations, but I can't imagine Chase saying anything remotely like that: his principles wouldn't allow Lincoln's nuanced, or if you prefer, unprincipled attitude towards individual freedom versus restoring a potentially fragile political union).

Anyway, Nick types on:
[McCain] is a rare politician with the courage not just to follow the crowd but also to lead it. It is refreshing to see that courage rewarded by voters.
I honestly can't believe I read that in the column of a New York Times op-ed writer. Has Kristof not read his Brothers Grimm, or Andrew Lang's fairy tale books? How many stories do you think there are in Western cultures warning against the Pied Piper, or being a lemming? Hundreds, perhaps? Thousands? And how about American history? Remember George Armstrong Custer? Or even Lyndie England's creepy boyfriend? Or, duh! How about one George W. Bush, Crawford's own Churchill and nemesis to Evil Ones - or at least all the bass in his cement pond?

The truth is that despite the salaries corporate CE0's make, leaders are, in fact, rather common in the cultural milieu that produces politicians and other American elites. Political leaders with judgment - now, that's a different story.

America doesn't need merely anyone who can lead. They need someone who can make rational decisions about how to clean up the massive, stinking problems the Bush administration has deposited all over this country and the world. Based upon his record, his character, and his statements, in no way is John McCain that person - I can't forget that nutty stroll in Baghdad, for example. Oh, I"ll concede that John McCain is a more rational and sensible person than Michael Huckabee. That qualifies McCain to run for the post of county dogcatcher (but not necessarily to win). That certainly does not make John McCain presidential material.

Face it, Nick. In 2008, the Republicans have to to choose from a truly awful slate while the Democrats are top heavy with potentially great presidents - and Obama, Clinton and Edwards are hardly the only truly great leaders in the party.

By the way, I won't touch, even with an eleven foot pole, this genuinely embarassing Friedmanism:
It’s a pleasure to see candidates who don’t just throw red meat to the crowds but try to offer vegetarian options.

Consider torture.
Y'know, there oughta be a law against an innocent blogger coming across something like that on a perfectly fine Sunday morning. That really hurts.