John McCain in New Orleans
The Responsible Anti-Bush Message
By Ben Domenech Posted in 2008 | Bobby Jindal | John McCain | Louisiana — Comments (94) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
More than a year ago, a conversation among RS editors ended with this point being made, and solidly: that whoever the nominee was (at that point, Rudy Giuliani seemed likeliest), he would have to steadily and respectfully run against the record of George W. Bush.
The chief debate among the Republican base during the primary season concerned a central disagreement about which part of that Bush record deserves running against. The fiscal conservatives argued that a break from Bush’s fatigue-inducing economic policy is what’s needed. Anti-immigration Republicans pointed to Bush’s stalled border policies and yelled. The libertarians argued – in an odd break from fact-based analysis for otherwise rational people – that Bush’s Christianity-tinged pro-life and pro-marriage domestic policies overreached, and should be rebuked to attain some portion of the solidly Democrat atheist, agnostic, and mainline church demographic. Still other GOPers said the moment demanded only a break of stylistic points – claiming Bush’s policies were in large part correct, but they were sold to the public with about as much grace as the New Coke campaign.
This always seemed a bit too complex to me. In my view, the next candidate needed to run a campaign that respectfully rebuked the President on the two major overarching issues for his unpopularity – two areas that did far more damage to his brand outside the beltway than any steel tariffs or faith-based funding: The mismanagement of the war in Iraq, and the failure to respond to the disaster of Katrina.
To the unexpectedly good fortune of the Republican Party, the reemergence of John McCain has provided us with the only other candidate who can conceivably run a campaign that achieves both these aims.
A year ago, Rudy seemed like he could’ve answered both of these demands with his reputation for solid management. But the underlying problem with him, even then, was his questionable choices in his team. The Bernie Kerik problem wasn’t the first time that a loyal Rudy associate – one who likely would’ve been a Cabinet member in his administration – was revealed to be a less than admirable figure. Rudy seemed to value loyalty in much the same way Bush did, and this was not a good sign for a general election where the Mayor himself would have character questions to answer.
The McCain campaign already has staked out turf that reveals their unique capacity for criticizing the Bush administration on the war while still winning the overwhelming majority of people who voted for the man and his post-9/11 policy. McCain wins both pro-war and anti-war Republicans – the latter more a statement of management then purpose. He wins frustrated vets who want the boys to come home, and frustrated vets who want the surge to work. After years of building him up as the noble maverick on issue after issue, the MSM’s calls of “out of touch” and “warmonger” are just too late to be effective – and likely to backfire in their faces should anyone point out that Marine lance corporal Jimmy McCain just got back from Iraq, and should be headed out again soon. The war is not his problem.
Yet until this week, it remained to be seen whether McCain could effectively confront the Bush administration’s inaction in Katrina with a response that demonstrated his recognition of that colossal failure, his ability to grasp the management demands at issue, and his commitment to lead when the next disaster comes.
Now I don't want to disillusion the business community of Louisiana, but I'm afraid that these same standards of efficiency, commonsense, and honesty are not always observed by government. At both the state and federal level, government has been known to act in an arbitrary, inflexible, and irresponsible manner, indifferent to the wishes of the people it is supposed to serve. Too often, government has its own peculiar way of doing things, following practices that in the private sector would invite financial ruin or worse. Even in this information age, often our federal government still relies on the old bureaucratic model, in which little offices in Washington are assumed to be the centers of knowledge. Regardless of which party controls Congress or the Executive Branch, our federal government is far too process-oriented -- measuring success by rising budgets instead of actual results ... forever declaring new goals but so seldom meeting any of them.
All of this is bad enough in the day-to-day routine of many federal departments and agencies, in the confusion and air of futility that often hangs over their work. But the ineptitude of government can have far graver consequences, as the people of this state know better than anyone, from events still fresh in memory. At a very minimum, we depend on our government to protect us from danger when the danger is greatest. We assume that when the worst happens, it will bring out the best in our government. We trust that police, emergency workers, federal authorities, and elected officials will do their duty and do it well. But that is not what happened here in Louisiana. That is not what you and the world witnessed in the fall of 2005.
What happened, instead, was a series of failures that shook of the confidence of Americans in their government as much as any event in recent memory. There were heroic exceptions, as there always are. There were some who performed with courage, speed, and presence of mind in the most difficult of conditions. But as to the overall performance of government during and after the crisis, the verdict is in, and first impressions were correct. With many thousands of lives in the balance, across 90,000 square miles of misery, there was a failure of foresight, a failure of planning, a failure in execution and a failure in follow-up. And the incompetence of leadership didn't end with the rescue efforts. In the conduct of Congress in the year after Katrina and Rita, we saw the same excesses, lack of focus, and short-term thinking that left New Orleans vulnerable in the first place. As one critic observed, while the hurricanes "proved to be the worst and costliest natural disaster in our history, the waste and fraud uncovered ... has been a disaster all in itself." Apparently a lot of Louisianans agreed with this critic, because you elected him governor.
One of the worst aspects of Katrina, as a measure of emergency-response by government, is that Americans are renowned for their ingenuity and resourcefulness in a tough spot. Ask the military historians, and they'll tell you that the ability of American men and women in war to react quickly to crisis, to think fast and solve any problem of logistics, has been one of our greatest assets. And yet with the exception of our Coast Guard, our National Guard, reservists, and others, these qualities were hard to find in the response of federal and state agencies to an enormous danger that, as a congressional report put it, was "not only predictable, it was predicted." There were all those school busses lined up in a parking lot, and no one in authority with the sense to use them. Wal-Mart had the ice, water, and generators ready ... Federal Express the planes ... and other companies and groups stood ready to help. But they were leaderless. And some of the most inspiring work was done by churches and charities and volunteers, working around FEMA instead of with it.
McCain went on to detail his views on some of the needed reforms of the moment: a recommitment to veto every earmark; a review of the budgets of every federal program; a one year pause in discretionary spending increases; and an accountability program that demands more transparency and puts every governmental purchase, in plain English, on the internet. He outlined his approach to a comprehensive reform of emergency response plans. And he made a commitment to the people of Louisiana to continue to work with Gov. Jindal in all these areas.
This is standard good government speak, but in McCain’s case, you get the feeling that he actually means it. And that can make all the difference.