Thursday, August 14, 2008

Back in the USSR: The Intersection of McCain's Confusion and McCain's Hotheadedness

Last night I had a spirited debate with a friend of mine about the US electoral implications of the conflict between Russia and Georgia. We had a few agreed-upon points.

-The McCain camp had effectively controlled the news cycle as it related to Georgia.

-McCain controlled the cycle by ratcheting up provocative rhetoric.

-The long-time close ties of McCain's advisers to the the Georgian government, McCain's proud disclosure that he speaks to the Georgian president every day, and his decision to immediately send Senate allies to Georgia underscore McCain's tendency to the staunchest neoconservatives of the Bush administration.

-Close ties between people in the McCain camp and people in the Bush camp have colored the official US response to the conflict. That essentially insinuates that the less neoconservative Bush advisers have been quieted by stauncher colleagues in an effort to assist John McCain's efforts to boil down this conflict to good v. evil and make Barack Obama seem not sufficiently on the side of good.

-All of this is bad for America.

So we agreed on all of those things but disagreed as to how McCain's decision to play the Soviet Union card will effect voters.

My friend argued that McCain's gambit would fall entirely flat. First, he argued McCain looks old and confused for dusting off Cold War rhetoric. More forcefully, he speculated that the close ties between McCain's people and the Georgian government and his campaign's unprecedented political interference on the handling of a national security crisis will ultimately be painted as dangerous and inappropriate.

I argued that McCain's furious reaction to Russian aggression in Georgia had already effectively pressured Barack Obama to depart his initial and appropriately moderate reaction to the conflict in order to sound more overtly pro-Georgia. I argued that McCain's Russia-bashing earned cheap points with a lot of moderate swing voters or amongst whichever electoral cleavages that intersect with the stereotypical 'nuke the bastards' attitude or whatever bastardization of values occurs when pride in America intersects with testosterone and cross-cultural ignorance. I also said that what it does more than anything else is give right wing pundits and McCain surrogates something that, at the very least, they'll be comfortable taking to the airwaves. They'll be able to pontificate about how this solidifies McCain's 3am phone call credentials or how Americans want the experienced hand when situations like this arise without getting totally laughed out of newsrooms or kicked off their side of the split-screen.

I also pointed out that Senator Obama has already decided to lay off the attack on the Georgia issue. While I see Obama on the attack on domestic issues with targeted swing state ads, he has largely decided to hold off on the national level. For the most part, I agree with the strategy. Americans are watching the Olympics and the convention is approaching. Obama can wait and let McCain's constant running of the sleazy 'celebrity' ads ultimately tick off everyone just wanting to watch Michael Phelps kick everyone's ass. Yet, had Obama already been on the offensive against McCain by tying him to Bush and hitting the behind-the-times/confused/hothead memes, he might have been better positioned to hit Bush-McCain for their overall handling of Russia, allowing the arguments of my friend to factor more prominently in the mainstream media "discussion."

Either way, the pleasant Olympic distraction will ensure that neither candidate's response to the conflict in Georgia will have too much electoral bearing. And in that way, my friend was at least partially correct. McCain's aggressive interference, however, may have already damaged our credibility to lead any productive diplomatic efforts there. McCain's war-mongering against Russia makes us look weak.


Just some thoughts, hopefully not too incoherent. I'd love to know where y'all weigh in.


jeffrey said...

In other words, McCain's bellicosity in this matter as well as his inappropriate ties to the Georgian government (while embarrassing and disturbing to most of us) generally play better with the electorate than does Obama's decision to follow McCain rather than take any risk by leading. But at the same time so few people are paying attention to this that McCain's "win" remains a minor one.

Did I get that right?

E said...

That's more-or-less my sentiment. I was fascinated enough by the arguments each way that I wasted however many words fleshing out what you stated succinctly in two sentences.

Pistolette said...

Bottom line is, when there was a foreign policy crisis, everyone looked to McCain for a response first. This looks really bad for Obama because even the media that is up his ass abandoned him on this one.

Russia just has superpower envy, and wants their old cold-war cred back. Picking on Georgia is a brilliant strategy because they put the US in an impossible position on the chess board. If we don't engage then we are backstabbing hypocrites (abandoning a struggling little democracy that helped us in Iraq). But it we do engage then we're effectively at war with Russia.

As usual, it sucks to be #1.