Campaigns/Elections

Rocky Road to the White House

McCain and Obama both stumble as the race heats up

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John McCain and Barack Obama are savvy politicians who have won numerous elections and stand poised to capture the biggest office of all. So obviously, each has a good ear for what will persuade voters and what won't. But even Pavarotti sometimes missed a high note. And lately both candidates have been noticeably off-key.

McCain's bad moment came after Obama expressed bewilderment at his opposition to a new GI Bill expanding educational benefits for veterans. Instead of explaining the genuine flaws in the legislation, McCain decided to climb on his high horse. "And I will not accept from Sen. Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did," he said, dripping with contempt.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and McCain's jibe demonstrated that his personality has an excess of acid content. Angry young men may be indulged, but angry old men tend to get dismissed.

Besides reminding voters that a McCain presidency would not spread healing balm over the body politic, his remark insulted anyone who has never been in the military—which is 90 percent of adult Americans. Just about all of them admire the former Navy pilot's heroism as a prisoner of war. But very few like to be treated as if, by not enlisting, they forfeited their right to speak or vote.

There is also something hypocritical in McCain suddenly using this issue against a political rival. Among the nominees he has voted to confirm for secretary of defense were Republicans William Cohen, who never wore a uniform, and Dick Cheney, who used five deferments to avoid the Vietnam War draft. If these lifelong civilians were entitled to run the Pentagon, why isn't another one entitled to his own opinion about veterans' benefits?

Someone should tell McCain that touting your military credentials is a proven recipe for political failure. The military sociologist (and Army veteran) Charles Moskos of Northwestern University has noted that in recent presidential elections, the candidate with the superior military record has usually fared poorly.

Al Gore and John Kerry, who served in Vietnam, came in second to George W. Bush, who didn't. Draft-evader Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, who both saw combat in World War II. Jimmy Carter, whose seven years in the Navy included service aboard a nuclear submarine, lost to Ronald Reagan, who spent World War II in the Army making training movies here at home.

So Obama should not expect to be penalized at the polls merely because McCain disapproves of him for bypassing military service. But the Illinois senator may pay a price for his disdain of the economic ethos that fuels our vibrant economy and complements our love of freedom.

In his recent commencement address at Wesleyan University, Obama practically sneered at any students in the audience who would "take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy." He warned the graduates that "fulfilling your immediate wants and needs" indicates "a poverty of ambition."

He urged them to disregard the grubby pursuit of profit in favor of, say, joining the Peace Corps or helping "lead a green revolution" to promote conservation and renewable energy.

What he neglected to mention is that American corporations investing and selling abroad, and American consumers buying foreign-made goods, have done far more to raise living standards in poor countries than all the Peace Corps volunteers who ever lived. As for the "green revolution," Obama doesn't seem to realize that when breakthroughs come, they will most likely come from capitalists intent on making money, not from selfless social workers or community activists.

He may forget that most of his fellow citizens see nothing contemptible in laboring at a mundane job to achieve material success for themselves and their loved ones. On the contrary, Americans generally respect people who work hard and take responsibility for their own welfare. And they understand that what profits those individuals generally benefits the rest of us as well.

McCain should be proud of his military career and Obama of his work as a community organizer. But if only to avoid alienating those who have chosen a different course, they might want to admit there are other ways to live a useful life.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  1. Don’t forget Obama telling fat Americans that they have to walk not drive, have to sweat without air conditioning, and eat as much as they want because foreigners don’t think the alternative is OK. Or McCain telling the NRA and gun owning Americans they can’t sell and swap their unwanted guns without going through an FFL for a background check.

  2. This article is brilliant deductive logic. But it doesn’t comport to observed facts. E.g.

    Obama and McCain have both verbally disrespected 90% of Americans.
    Therefore these Americans will resent McCain and Obama.

    This makes sense to me but where is the proof it’s actually happened/happening?

  3. You’ve gotta be kidding me.

    Graduation speakers have been telling the kids to set their sights on lofty things from time immemorial.

    An agonizing stretch to justify a “pox on both houses” thesis.

  4. Chapman does what, two stories a week for Reason? Can’t they find somebody with better analysis skills? I thought Weigel (who is actually good at this) was the primary political reporter.

  5. Gosh, both candidates are floating appeals to their respective bases. The horror!

  6. I agree with joe, and I agree with Episiarch…this is shaping up to be a bad morning!

    🙂

  7. this is shaping up to be a bad morning

    Well, we know what you should do in case of a bad morning, right? Puff puff.

  8. Well, we know what you should do in case of a bad morning, right? Puff puff

    I agree. Cocoa Puffs always cheer me up on gloomy mornings. 😉

  9. I can see where the public might not take well to what John McCain said, but promoting the Peace Corps? I don’t see how that many people are going to sit at home and say “well, clearly he doesn’t realize that if you really want to help people, you will engage in free trade and innovation,” especially since they’ve shown tendencies for resenting even the concept of free trade.

    Nope, it’s just not a good comparison.

  10. Chapman does what, two stories a week for Reason?

    Yea, and if he left out taxing us into abject poverty in this piece it might be taken as an improvement.

    Can’t they find somebody with better analysis skills? I thought Weigel (who is actually good at this) was the primary political reporter.

    Yea, that is what I was thinking. Perhaps something bad happened to Dave after he said “bad” things about Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Chapman is just filling in? I hope not, but stranger things have happened . . .

  11. Actually, this conroversy could be solved through a government program. If more federal funding were focused on this issue it might receive the attention that it deserves.

  12. Too easy gettin’ in cheap shots on statists, Guy.* 😀

    *although, to some people, I’m a Statist.

  13. Art,

    Oh, whatever do you mean? Me taking cheap shots? You must be joking!

  14. I suggest a system of settling this disagreement between the two politicians be take to the several States, plus DC, and let them decide.

    I believe that would be 51 geographically defined groups, but I underatsnd that Sen. Obama has a larger number in mind.

  15. Obama practically sneered at any students in the audience who would “take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy.” He warned the graduates that “fulfilling your immediate wants and needs” indicates “a poverty of ambition.”

    Last time I checked most recent graduates were “fulfilling (their) immediate wants and needs” by finding a job that paid enough to rent a basic dwelling and put food on their family’s table while paying off their student loans. It may come as a shock to Obama, but not all college grads live like he does.

  16. Last time I checked most recent graduates were “fulfilling (their) immediate wants and needs” by finding a job that paid enough to rent a basic dwelling and put food on their family’s table while paying off their student loans.

    Don’t forget happy hour at Bullfeathers, for those recent graduates going to work in DC. Oh, and kickball fees too.

  17. Yet another content free article by Steve Chapman.

  18. If Obama keeps yammering on about public service for college grads, sooner or later he’s going to start alienating all those young ‘uns who are supposed to put him over the top, because lurking in the background of all these encomiums to public service is mandatory public service.

  19. Last time I checked most recent graduates were “fulfilling (their) immediate wants and needs” by finding a job that paid enough to rent a basic dwelling and put food on their family’s table while paying off their student loans. It may come as a shock to Obama, but not all college grads live like he does.

    Actually, the Obamas talk about coming out of college and paying off their student loans all the time. It’s one of their most favorite talking points, especially now that they’re in a general election campaign with someone with such a different, atypical experience.

  20. It may come as a shock to Obama, but not all college grads live like he does

    Everyone has the opportunity to raise their standard of living. Don’t resent those who did just because you were too lazy and/or stupid.

  21. If Obama keeps yammering on about public service for college grads, sooner or later he’s going to start alienating all those young ‘uns who are supposed to put him over the top, because lurking in the background of all these encomiums to public service is mandatory public service.

    That would be more true if he wasn’t running against the guy who thinks all young ‘uns should be in the kind of mandatory public service where they are armed and sent off to get killed while maintaining the empire.

  22. “Obama should be proud of his record as a community organizer”
    No, actually it sounds like a lot of BS. While I dislike McCain, I prefer service in the fight against communism to whatever the hell Obama did. (Full disclosure: If your job title includes the word “community” I tend to dismiss you rather quickly)

  23. Steve, please write an engaging and interesting article.

  24. That would be more true if he wasn’t running against the guy who thinks all young ‘uns should be in the kind of mandatory public service where they are armed and sent off to get killed while maintaining the empire.

    I’m not saying the campus crowd will vote for McCain. I’m saying Obama better start soft-peddling the “public service” rhetoric or his campus supporters might not find a reason to vote in November.

    Obama should be proud of his record as a community organizer

    Just what did he accomplish as a community organizer?

  25. If you don’t know what he did, how do you know if he should or should not be proud of it?

    Anyhoo, outside of black helicopter circles, the existence of the Peace Corps and other service programs is not seen as the first step to rounding us all up into camps. I don’t think Barack Obama actually has to start “soft-pedalling” anything. Service programs are wildly popular among college students.

  26. “Obama should be proud of his record as a community organizer”
    No, actually it sounds like a lot of BS. While I dislike McCain, I prefer service in the fight against communism to whatever the hell Obama did. (Full disclosure: If your job title includes the word “community” I tend to dismiss you rather quickly)

    Didn’t the fight against Communism all but die last decade? Oh wait, I work for a community credit union, what I have to say doesn’t matter to you.

  27. “Didn’t the fight against communism all but die last decade?”
    I was referring to John McCain’s service in the Vietnam war.

  28. Just what did he accomplish as a community organizer?

    He organized the community! Duh!

    😉

  29. Americans generally respect people who work hard and take responsibility for their own welfare.

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