I know that as a good little progressive, I’m not supposed to like the details laid out in David Kirkpatrick’s piece in the Times today, but I can’t help myself: I do.
I guess the explanation for that is that I’m simply not a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. I still consider myself largely conservative1, with strong civil libertarian instincts because of which I would be considered (at least as judged by today’s media) “on the left.” On those issues, my views are not well-represented by any major party, as Glenn Greenwald is very quick to tell you. On other issues, some of my views align with the Democratic Party, some of my views align with elements of a few third parties, and some of my views align with the “moderate” wing of the Republican Party. (I can quite literally think of none of my views which align with the now-prevalent neo-conservative/Christianist wing of the Republican Party.)
And my positive opinion of this piece stands in spite of the fact that I was strongly, viscerally, viciously opposed to the candidacy of John McCain. That’s largely because 2008 Presidential Candidate John McCain was a very different man from 2000 Presidential Candidate John McCain2 as well as a different man from 1990-2002 Senator John McCain.
Two-thousand and eight John McCain was coopted by disciples of Karl Rove, and he subsequently ran the exact same campaign George Bush ran in 2004, engaging in conduct entirely unbecoming of himself in the process. I lost quite a bit of respect for John McCain for allowing himself to do things and say things that he would normally find despicable in the pursuit of power. I think it showed a lack of moral courage when the country needed it most; remember when everyone was saying that an Obama-McCain campaign would be the most high-minded and statesmanlike in recent history? There was a reason for those high expectations, even if the results were far different, and it rested on John McCain’s history; a history he damaged considerably by straying far from its course. I remain simultaneously impressed and horrified that Mark McKinnon saw it coming and bowed out; perhaps he intrinsically knew he could do nothing to change it.
The “old” John McCain seems to be back now; the first indication was his incredibly gracious concession speech in front of a crowd of booing “supporters.” The next day, I watched a shot on a cable network of John McCain driving out of a Phoenix hotel parking garage, by himself, in a champagne Toyota Sequoia, and even then I thought I could see a difference in him. Secret Service, gone; Steve Schmidt & co., gone; Sarah Palin, mercifully, gone. As he waved to the cameraman, he didn’t look like a man one day out of the highest-profile failure he had ever experienced — he looked like a man whom had just been relieved of crushing weight, on his shoulders, and perhaps his soul.
And so, with the return of the John McCain who doesn’t actually believe that the President of the United States should authorize to be done to our enemies what was done to him in Hanoi, who doesn’t actually believe that the Mexicans and the gays are the greatest enemies confronting us in our daily life, who doesn’t actually believe that being Muslim is equivalent to being a terrorist, I applaud the ability of both men to put aside the past and work together on important issues. Most everyone knows that even before the campaign, McCain did not like Senator Barack Obama one bit; it’s amazing to me that despite starting from that position, and after the rigors of an at-times nasty campaign, the two are able to turn to each other for real advice. Not the attractive-but-meaningless “bipartisanship” that the pollsters tell us voters love; actual, behind-the-scenes, not-shouted-from-the-rooftops, non-photo-opped discourse between two men who only want what is best for the country that they both love.
And, of course, what they each think is best for the country is going to be vastly different a significant portion of the time. I still disagree with John McCain on many issues; to this day I find his flippant endorsement of nuclear war with Iran horrifying. That’s okay. Discourse, discussion, disagreement is a good thing if you have the intellectual capacity to process and work with it, and there is little doubt that Barack Obama does. (It is, of course, significantly worse to not have sufficient intellectual capacity and/or curiosity to deal with it, and in response, to outlaw disagreement from everyone around you, a technique used repeatedly by George Bush, which remains to this day the clearest and most fundamental reason his presidency has been such a dramatic failure.)
I don’t think everything in the article is right; in particular, I think Lindsey Graham’s understanding of the Obama administration’s approach to the Iraq pullout is faulty, in addition to his misrepresentation of what Obama’s position was during the campaign. Obama’s position on Iraq has not changed one iota since the campaign; it has always been as pragmatic as it is today. It’s just that now Republicans are forced to actually listen to what he says, and watch what he does, rather than mentally constructing fantasies of Barack Obama in Islamic dress performing Salah to a three-headed altar of Saddam Hussein, the ACLU, and Adolf Hitler (or Mussolini? Hard to tell what gets them off, sometimes).
But the article remains a testament to both Barack Obama and John McCain, and is, in essence, the perfect encapsulation of what I want to see out of the next four years. I won’t agree with President Obama on everything, perhaps even most things3, but I will be perpetually at peace with the knowledge that he is a serious man who takes the advice of any and all who are willing to give it; weighs it, considers it carefully, and acts upon it using his best judgment, which, to date, has a phenomenal track record. Even if everything that possibly can, does, go wrong in his presidency, I have little doubt that the country as a whole will be left in a much better position in four or eight years than it is in today.
- Which, for all intents and purposes, makes me ineligible for membership in the modern-day Republican Party. [↩]
- Yes, a lot of bloggers in my sphere think that the conception of a righteous 2000 John McCain is a tired trope with little basis in reality, but based on my reading and studying and recollection, I respectfully disagree. Do I think he would have been a perfect President had he won the primary and general? No. But I would have liked to have seen that administration very much, especially given the hindsight of what we were actually subjected to. [↩]
- I remain conflicted on the selection of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation. I actually think I understand the reasoning behind it better than most, though I still think it is monumentally tone-deaf considering the reality of Proposition 8; I was going to write about it, and have, in pieces in other forums, but failed to fully articulate my thoughts here. I may still in the future since I haven’t seen anyone give my particular take on it. [↩]