Thursday, December 20, 2007

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Question time for John McCain

It's apparently endorsement season in the blogosphere. The hardworking staff here at is deep in debate about presidential endorsements. With this blog's powerful and deeply distrubed coterie of supporters, it's humbling to think that I could very well double the poll numbers of Duncan Hunter or Chris Dodd if I so chose.

The staff is nearing a consensus, but frankly, it hasn't been easy. I can reveal, however, that the blog is taking a hard look at John McCain. Even if I disagree with him about Iraq, I thought his Foreign Affairs essay was well crafted, and a few weeks back the Economist made some smart points about McCain:

His range of interests as a senator has been remarkable, extending from immigration to business regulation. He knows as much about foreign affairs and military issues as anybody in public life. Or take judgment. True, he has a reputation as a hothead. But he's a hothead who cools down. He does not nurse grudges or agonise about vast conspiracies like some of his colleagues in the Senate. He has also been right about some big issues. He was the first senior Republican to criticise George Bush for invading Iraq with too few troops, and the first to call for Donald Rumsfeld's sacking. He is one of the few Republicans to propose sensible policies on immigration and global warming.
Today, the Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg writes about McCain's views on executive power -- and after eight years of the unitary theory of the executive branch, it's very refreshing:
McCain is not much of a sentimentalist, but over a series of scattered remarks in recent speeches and informal interviews he has begun to lay out a vision for a presidency that would feature the trappings of a much simpler time. Besides cutting back his Secret Service coverage so he could move around Washington in a single car instead of a full motorcade, the Republican presidential hopeful says he would like to host weekly press conferences and even subject himself to a congressional version of the rhetorical brawl that Britons know as Prime Minister's Question Time.

To undo what he calls the "lack of credibility in government official statements" on Iraq, McCain says he would hold a separate weekly war briefing to delve into military and political specifics. "I don't know if a lot of Americans want to pay close attention, but at least you're giving them an opportunity to get details," he said in an interview.

The McCain administration he describes would stand as a stylistic riposte to the modern imperial presidency, and especially to President Bush, whose White House is described by specialists as one of the least accessible in recent history.

Read the whole thing. I'm not sure how much of this will actually happen if McCain were elected -- but the fact that his instinct is to push in this direction is a major bonus for me.

I'm a foreign policy wonk, which means that my natural tendency is to sympathize with the executive branch. But even I think the imperial presidency needs to be scaled back a fair degree. So one of the things I'll be asking myself during this endorsement debate is: which candidates will cement the Bush position of executive authority, and which will not?

posted by Dan on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM


and after eight years of the unitary theory of the executive branch, it's very refreshing

So you're saying that under a McCain administration the EPA could sue the Department of Justice? That congress could set up executive agencies completely independent of the President? Or are you conflating the unitary executive theory with a theory of untrammeled executive power?

posted by: John Jenkins on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

I'm not sure how someone who is a scholar of foreign policy could take McCain seriously after he announced that the US should unilaterally attack North Korea over any objections from South Korea. See McCain's very own article here:

posted by: Denver Lawyer on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

I don't see how anyone could take any of the candidates seriously. I should be president. Actually, I think I should be king.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

He didn't keep us out of Iraq though. Late to the party may be better than never but it hardly instills confidence.

posted by: Lord on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

If McCain apologizes (or admits he was wrong) for "campaign finance reform" I will happily vote for him, otherwise I suspect I am sitting this one out.

posted by: scott on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

Since I am sympathetic to McCain's views on almost every issue except Iraq -- admittedly a fairly significant exception -- I think I should be the one to point out that the big problem with McCain's being President has been acknowledged but not addressed.

The problem is his age. If elected he would be older than any President except for Reagan during his second term. However well we think we know Sen. McCain, his infirmity for any reason would put us in doubtful territory. Reagan, remember, had the advantage of a surging economy and a crumbling Soviet Union and still managed to stumble into the Iran-Contra nightmare. I grant that McCain is a more intellectually vigorous person than Reagan was, now. After two or three years in what for most people who have held it is a very draining position, will that still be true?

Truth is, were the rest of the GOP field (and indeed the upper echelons of the national Republican Party) not as thin as it is McCain's age would disqualify him as a potential nominee. The tone of his 2000 campaign, in fact, strongly suggested a man embarking on his last adventure in public life. Circumstances have invalidated that expectation. But that doesn't mean McCain is getting any younger.

posted by: Zathras on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

The man has less respect for individual liberty than Bush does--he's made it clear that he looks on the 1st Amendment as an annoying obstacle to good government. And, most critically, he has zero executive experience and there is no evidence that he can run a disciplined operation even at the level of a campaign.

posted by: srp on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

McCain? You're spending time thinking about McCain?

posted by: Mitchell Young on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

"Besides cutting back his Secret Service coverage so he could move around Washington in a single car instead of a full motorcade"

It will be a short Presidency!

posted by: Alain on 12.20.07 at 11:18 AM [permalink]

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