Columns / Discourse / April 3, 2008

McCain too indecisive

To be the leader of the free world is, by definition, to lead. I remain unconvinced that any of the current presidential candidates properly understand being the President of the United States of America means one is largely responsible for the preservation of freedom and democracy. We are the model after which the free world patterns itself, and the positions taken by the President of the United States have a great deal of influence over how that model is perceived.

All of which is to say that as President, one is leader not only of the nation but of the free world. This is a statement of fact, not of principle; I am stating merely what is, not what should be. I would not expect that Hillary and Barack would comprehend what this means, being as they are liberal Democrats, but McCain, as the

Republican nominee for President, should, and I don’t think he does.

He gave a foreign policy speech last week which would have fit well in the mouths of most Democrats, something which should in itself scare us. The crux of his speech was that it is time for America to recognize we are not alone in the world, and to begin listening to our allies. He proposed a league of democracies, a sort of substitute UN which doesn’t acknowledge the validity of tyrannies and dictatorships, like the world’s communist regimes or other thug-run governments. He said we should recognize that, at times, we are wrong, and be open to being persuaded of the fact.

This is not leadership. This is moistening the finger and sticking it in the wind. Leadership does include the thought that one must acknowledge when one has been wrong, but McCain’s suggestion was that the US should recognize our opinions are neither more correct nor more valuable than those of any other nation in the world. As I say, this is not leadership.

I would like to reiterate from my list of conservative principles, the balance of which may be found at my website, UnvarnishedOpinion.com, number 13: You cannot follow from the front. Put another way, you cannot lead by consensus. One of my all-time favorite quotes on this subject comes from the pilot episode of House. When asked why he always thinks he’s right, he says, “I don’t. I just find it hard to operate on the opposite assumption.” As much of a bastard as House may be, he is a leader in the sense that he trusts his own judgment more than that of someone else. True leaders are rarely in the habit of acknowledging the moral or intellectual validity of their opponent’s positions. Rather, they work very hard to convert their opponents, and failing that, they act anyway. To be a leader, in this sense, is to have such courage of one’s convictions that one is not thrown by a countervailing consensus. Put bluntly, a leader does not ask the opinion of the consensus, he forges it.

In this sense, what McCain said last week was that he did not want to be the leader of the free world, but merely ratify consensuses. I’m not convinced he’d even be a proper leader of this country. The man is an excellent negotiator, but a compromiser, which has made him good at being a Senator and would serve him well as Vice President, but he needs someone else setting the agenda. His would be so compromised in its principles that one wonders what the point of having the negotiation would be in the first place.

This extreme dedication to compromise, comity, unity, and moderation, expressed in his foreign policy speech, characterizes McCain’s policy positions and form the core of the philosophy from which they are generated. This same trait was evident in Clinton, who will be remembered only for Lewinski, because nothing of note accomplished during his administration occurred as a result of his leadership. More than seven years after leaving office, he’s still in search of a legacy. Bush has also demonstrated this trait, though he does sometimes overrule it, and it will be for those occasions (tax cuts, Iraq, etc.) that he will be remembered.

The kinds of legislation I think would be typical under a President McCain are debacles like McCain-Feingold, McCain-Kennedy, McCain-Lieberman, and the No Child Left Behind Act, authored by Teddy Kennedy. It’s all bipartisan, all detrimental to the country, and all without a shred of leadership on the issue.

I recently read a quote which said, paraphrased, the biggest flaw of democracy is that it ensures politicians are running things. I wonder if that isn’t an excellent point.

E-mail Chris

Op-Ed Contribution Policy

Columns appearing in Discourse express the views of their authors, and do not reflect those of the TKS Editorial Board. To contribute, send a column for consideration (700 word limit) to the Discourse Editor by 6 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Chris Berger


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