America without apology
The question I have most often been asked the past few weeks is whether I stand by my prediction that John McCain would win in November. Way back in ancient times, that is, toward the end of August, 2008, I said that "Personally, I think John McCain is going to win, and I'm not talking about a hanging-chad squeakeroo. No, I think it will be a blow-out for McCain." Interlocutors both anxious and gleeful have lined up to ask: Do I continue, after all we've been through these past weeks--the economy, the Palin-Katie Couric train wreck, the lackluster second debate, the economy, the economy, the economy--do I still believe that McCain has any chance of winning, let alone winning by a landslide?
I admit that my confidence has been dented. But it has by no means evaporated. "What? Have you looked at the polls?" Frankly, I feel about polls the way Disraeli (I think it was) felt about statistics: there are, he said, lies, damned lies, and statistics. Like everyone else, I am more inclined to believe them when they support an outcome I favor. Otherwise, I accord them the large measure of scepticism they deserve. Bottom line: I still believe John McCain will win, and I'll say why in a moment.
First let me say a word about the economy and its role in the election. Life, as Jimmy Carter, in his one true observation, said, is unfair. [My generosity towards Jimmy Carter got the best of me. It turns out that this observation was made by JFK. Thanks to those readers who pointed out the error.] It is certainly unfair that either George W. Bush or John McCain should be blamed for the frightening economic implosion we see around us. While there is plenty of blame to pass around, the primary, if inadvertent, architects of the current economic mess are the Democrats. Bill Clinton memorably reminded us that "It's the economy, stupid." Quite right. And that is one powerful reason to vote against the party that is chiefly responsible for the economic panic coming to a voting district near you. Did the Democrats intend to cause a financial crisis? Of course not. They intended to pursue their "progressive" program of redistributing wealth, helping the poor, and shackling the competitive energies of American capitalism. Their mantra for this program was "affordable housing." The result was a gigantic housing bubble, which has just burst with all the painful consequences of burst economic bubbles. Why should Obama benefit from an event that his party orchestrated and that Bush administration and John McCain repeatedly warned about? That's life. It's part of the unfair alchemy of incumbency that the party in power is blamed for bad things that happen on its watch. Thems the breaks.
McCain has been hurt by the credit crisis and resultant financial panic. I know that. But I also believe that most Americans have a visceral attachment and devotion to their country. They are proud to be Americans, and they are proud of America. John McCain and Sarah Palin are their spokesmen.
Not all Americans share this affection for their country, of course. Go to virtually any university and you will find a large contingent of anti-American sentiment. And you'll find the same thing among some of Obama's closest associates and allies. Let me pause for a moment to underline the distinction. As Thomas Sowell pointed out a day or two ago, associations and alliances describe very different sorts of relationships:
Allies are not just people who happen to be where you are or who happen to be doing the same things you do. You choose allies deliberately for a reason. The kind of allies you choose says something about you.
Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger, William Ayers and Antoin Rezko are not just people who happened to be at the same place at the same time as Barack Obama. They are people with whom he chose to ally himself for years, and with some of whom some serious money changed hands.
Some gave political support, and some gave financial support, to Obama's election campaigns, and Obama in turn contributed either his own money or the taxpayers' money to some of them. That is a familiar political alliance--but an alliance is not just an "association" from being at the same place at the same time.
Obama could have allied himself with all sorts of other people. But, time and again, he allied himself with people who openly expressed their hatred of America. No amount of flags on his campaign platforms this election year can change that.
Let's emphasize a key point: "Obama could have allied himself with all sorts of other people. But, time and again, he allied himself with people who openly expressed their hatred of America."
That hatred, in more or less muted form, at the center of Obama's appeal among leftists and Europeans. In their eyes, America is fundamentally an illegitimate enterprise in desperate need of redemption. Obama--the Harvard education, metrosexual, left-wing sophisticate--is just the chap to perform the exorcism. America as it is is deeply flawed; Obama will recast the country according to a vision acceptable to socialists in Europe and America.
The contrast between Obama, on the one side, and McCain and Palin on the other, could hardly be starker. One loves America for what it might be when suitably purged of greed, racism, inequality, sexism, indifference to the environment, etc., etc. The other loves America for what it is: in Abraham Lincoln's words: the last best hope of mankind.
Writing today in The Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz dilated eloquently on this difference: Obama, she writes,
is the leading exponent of the idea that our lost nation requires rehabilitation in the eyes of the world -- and it is the most telling difference between him and Mr. McCain. When asked, in one of the earliest debates of the primary, his first priority should he become president, his answer was clear. He would go abroad immediately to make amends, and assure allies and others in the world America had alienated, that we were prepared to do all necessary to gain back their respect.
It is impossible to imagine those words coming from Mr. McCain. Mr. Obama has uttered them repeatedly one way or another and no wonder. They are in his bones, this impossible-to-conceal belief that we've lost face among the nations of the world -- presumably our moral superiors. He is here to reform the fallen America and make us worthy again of respect. It is not in him, this thoughtful, civilized academic, to grasp the identification with country that Mr. McCain has in his bones -- his knowledge that we are far from perfect, but not ready, never ready, to take up the vision of us advanced by our enemies. That identification, the understanding of its importance and of the dangers in its absence -- is the magnet that has above all else drawn voters to Mr. McCain. . . .
These sharp differences between the candidates as to who we are as a nation may not seem, now, as potent an issue for voters as the economy, but they should not be underestimated. This clash -- not the ones on abortion or gay marriage -- are the root of the real culture war to play out in November.
I think Ms. Rabinowitz is right. Whatever else it is, this election is a referendum on two very different visions of America. Obama's vision is of country crippled by sin; McCain and Palin's vision is of a country fired by high ideals and expansive opportunity.
"You're beautiful, I love you, now change." That is Team Obama's message. "You're beautiful, I love you as you are": that is the message of McCain and Sarah Palin. It's the difference between the utopian--who finds himself disgusted with every real-world polity, and who finds himself willing, indeed, eager, to sacrifice real people for the sake of the ideal ones he wishes to create--and the simple patriot who says Yes to the family, community, and country in which he finds himself.
Most Americans, I believe, love their country for what it is--not what it could become if suitably socialized, taxed, neutered, and otherwise recast. If McCain-Palin can effectively articulate that message, they will win.