The Collective
Thursday, October 23, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via WaTi: EXCLUSIVE: McCain lambastes Bush years

Sen. John McCain on Wednesday blasted President Bush for building a mountain of debt for future generations, failing to pay for expanding Medicare and abusing executive powers, leveling his strongest criticism to date of an administration whose unpopularity may be dragging the Republican Party to the brink of a massive electoral defeat.

As I have noted on numerous occasions, this is something that I think that McCain should have been doing all along. The problem now, of course, is whether it will be perceived as authenticity or as just another tactical shift in the midst of a losing campaign. Or, more importantly, is the question of whether this is, in fact, just another tactic in the midst of a losing campaign or if it is a serious attempt to raise the issues (sadly, it almost certainly the former).

Not only would crticisms of Bush’s fiscal policies have helped him with the base, but a vigorous discussion of Bush’s view of the executive branch would have been helpful, I think, with a lot of the Republicans who have now endorsed Obama. Along those lines:

He rejected Mr. Bush’s use of issuing “signing statements” when he signs bills into law, in which the president has suggested that he would ignore elements of the bills, labeling them potentially unconstitutional.

“I would veto the bills or say, ‘Look, I don’t like it but I’ll obey the law that’s passed by Congress and signed by the president.’ I think the signing statements was not a correct implementation of the power of the executive. I think it was overstepping,” he said.


“…I don’t agree with [Vice President] Dick Cheney’s allegation that he’s part of both the legislative and the executive branch,” he said.

These are good places to start.1 More, please, as these are issues that need more public attention.

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  1. In fairness, McCain has criticized signing statements before. []
Filed under: 2008 Campaign, US Politics | |
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    1. [...] Some of my other favorite blogger reax: The Heretik; Kyle E. Moore of Comments From Left Field; Oliver Willis; Michael Boh of my twin brutha from anothuh muthah, Matthew O’Keefe’s Papamoka Straight Talk has the exact opposite take; Dr. Steven Taylor of PoliBlog says more, more, more [...]

      Reply to In Stunning Admission, Sarah Palin Sidekick, Señor “I’m Not Bush” McCain Blasts Himself For Backing 90% Of President Bush’s Policies For Years | THE GUN TOTING LIBERAL™

      Pingback by In Stunning Admission, Sarah Palin Sidekick, Señor “I’m Not Bush” McCain Blasts Himself For Backing 90% Of President Bush’s Policies For Years | THE GUN TOTING LIBERAL™ — Thursday, October 23, 2024 @ 2:36 pm

    2. Prof. Taylor, I think that you’re making several unjustified assumptions:

      1) That ‘The Maverick’ of 2024 still exsits,
      2) That ‘The Maverick’ of 2024 ever existed, outside of McCain’s PR and the minds of some journalists who were easily bribed with BBQ, free drinks and some self-deprecatory (sp?) humor,
      3) That McCain could succeed after spending 8 years gluing himself to Bush’s backside, in order to get the nomination.

      Reply to Barry

      Comment by Barry — Thursday, October 23, 2024 @ 2:42 pm

    3. I still say a DNA test would have told us all conclusively that McCain is not Bush. They’re cheap, you can get them done at just about any hospital, and can tell with great scientific certainty whether someone is a clone of another someone or not.

      Reply to Captain D

      Comment by Captain D — Thursday, October 23, 2024 @ 2:44 pm

    4. You do, of course, realize that more than one politician can pursue the same, or similar policies, yes? Or do you actually think that I think McCain is Bush in a mask?

      As a voter it is more than fair that I would want some clarity, if not a great deal of, on such matters, yes?

      I can accept if you are utterly satisfied that all of the blunders of the current admin will be avoided by a President McCain. I, however, am not. (And I know you know that there will be blunders in any administration, but the current admin has been especially good at, I think we can agree, yes?)

      Beyond that, I am arguing that it would have been smart politics for McCain to have been clearer about these things from the get go.

      Reply to Dr. Steven Taylor

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, October 23, 2024 @ 3:19 pm

    5. Perhaps.

      At a minimum, there was a different campaign that could have been. It is fair to say that perhaps McCain himself couldn’t have actually run it, however.

      Partly it is my own fantasy, I suppose, that someone in this campaign would have forthrightly dealt with issues like executive power, torture, Gitmo, and the prosecution of the war on terror in general (especially on the domestic side).

      Ah well.

      Reply to Dr. Steven Taylor

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, October 23, 2024 @ 3:31 pm

    6. Yes, I realize that politicians can pursue the same or similar policies. But for me, the question was never “will John McCain govern like George W. Bush?” The question was “Will John McCain govern better or worse than Barack Obama?”

      I am not naive enough to believe that *all* of the blunders of the current administration would have been avoided by anyone. I’m not satisified that McCain would have avoided all those failures, but I’m not sure that Obama or any other person would avoid *all* of them, either. A lot of world-changing events happened during the Bush administration, and a lot of big decisions had to be made. I don’t think anyone would have scored 100% on that test. Either of them might have made other blunders if not the same ones. We don’t know, so we can’t say.

      I am, however, willing to say that I believe, based on my study of the candidates, that a McCain administration would do better than an Obama administration in all of the areas that are presently relevant. I don’t believe, and never have believed, that McCain is Bush in a different suit. I voted for McCain in the 2024 primary because I thought him the better man then; and I think had he been president during those world-changing events, things would have gone much differently. He never had to prove this to me; I knew it from prior research done 8 years ago. I think he is substantially the same man, just older and wiser now; I think that his failing to demonstrate that he is not Bush is a) a failure of the party system, which defines politicians so heavily by party affiliation that little else matters; and b) a failure at campaigning. Neither of these things disqualifies him from being a good chief executive, commander in chief, or otherwise good POTUS to me. They represent systemic and societal failures because they represent McCain failing to communicate something that I don’t think he should have had to communicate - that he is not a clone of W. That is my *opinion* about the matter of McCain not being Bush 2. We can have differing opinions - as far as I know that is still legal, and it’s reasonable for us to present our ideas for discussion. I thank you for giving me a forum to do that in.

      It’s also worth noting that you and I are trained in different disciplines. They overlap in places, but in others, they clash. I’m a historian before I am a political scientist; I do not have a graduate degree in PS, I do have one in History. I’m not sure that all of the blunders of the Bush administration will ultimately (a few generations down the line) be viewed as blunders in the same way that they are now. I’m not suggesting that history will completely vindicate the decision to invade Iraq, or make No Child Left Behind look like good litigation. I’m also not suggesting that history will not turn a harsh eye on Guantanamo and wire tapping and the Patriot Act.

      But, I know that with few exceptions, history has a way of taking the edge off of some of these things, and turning them from black and white, good or bad, up or down things into shades of gray. A few generations down the road, everything looks a little bit different because you can look at it in a broader context. In polisci we tend to look at things as snapshots of history - what is happening now, what are the present and near-future implications. This isn’t because it’s a worse discipline than history; it’s just that a historian might have a greater pool of information to draw from; we try to predict in political science, where in history, we know what happened, and we can plug it in to what happened everywhere else in the world at the time.

      As an example - I’m pretty sure that sooner or later, the chemical weapons production equipment that left Iraq in the months prior to our invasion is going to turn up somewhere in the world. I was at some of these sites, and I know with certainty that large pieces of equipment left shortly before I arrived. It was not heavily reported, and, in my eyes, is a case of that confirmation bias we talked about: the media had decided there were no WMD, so they found ways to explain the things we found. They would say the equipment we described could be used for making pesticides - and they were right. It could be. Is it more or less likely that the Baath Party (with or without Hussein’s knowledge) decided that their pesticide machines were too valuable to risk losing, and moved them all out of the country a few weeks before we invaded, or is it more likely that they didn’t want their sarin plant to be found? From my perspective finding these things in Iraq, it looked like the media was doing everything it could to give the Baath party the benefit of the doubt. It defies reason that Hussein’s Baath Party was not in the biochem business before the war, and yet that is what is popularly accepted *right now*, and thus has become a defining tenet of the critics of invading Iraq: Bush said there were WMD, we did not find them, so Bush must either be a liar, an idiot, or both.

      Suppose something happens ten or twenty years from now to expose with no uncertainty that this stuff was in Iraq, and it went to Syria while we tried in vain to get the rest of the world to buy into an invasion? Now suppose that equipment is used in some horrific attack somewhere in the world; might the conversation or critique of the war run-up turn, in hindsight, to why we waited so long to invade?

      Indeed, we might be thinking Bush a fool for entirely different reasons: spending months trying to win over allies to the cause, while Hussein’s men quietly scooted the goods across the border into Syria. We might think him a fool for not acting sooner.

      That kind of revelation would be a total game-changer, but I know as a historian that much milder types of revelations often come to light when looking backwards; and time itself softens the impact of bad decisions by taking the emotion of the moment out of them.

      A good example of this - if you survey people from my generation about the Vietnam War, and President Johnson, you will probably find a great disparity of opinion between that and what you find when you survey the Boomer generation on the same thing. That’s because we learned about it as history, where they lived through it. Future generations that learn about the Bush administration are going to learn about it in a context that is much broader than we can know right now, because we don’t know what is going to happen in the future. Where Bush is loathed and despised right now, future history teachers will bring up his administration and there will be conversations devoid of emotion about whether this or that was a bad move on his part; and they’ll be doing this with information that we have no way of knowing right now.

      The benefit of hindsight, and the clearer picture it provides tends to change things. Arming the contras; arming the Mujahideen in Afghanstan against the Soviets; invading Canada during the war of 1812 - these things, they all looked different when they were happening than they look to us now. The things that Bush dealt with were momentous and I have no doubt that history will look at them differently (maybe not better) than the political analysts look at them today.

      So. . . what am I really saying? I’m saying that I’m not willing to call the Bush administration on all of its blunders right now. I need some time and some perspective to fairly do that. Your greater training in political science gives you more credibility and skill to look at the Bush administration NOW. I lack those skills and I know it; where my opinions will be valuable will be in ten or twenty years, when the Bush administration is firmly part of history, wedged in between the administrations of Clinton and (probably) Obama. We will have more information then than we do now about the broad implications of the Bush administration and what we are right now calling its blunders.

      John McCain has resolved to my satisfaction that he would do better than Obama - which is what he had to do for me. Bush was never in this election for me, nor were the things we are currently calling blunders by his administration. He is about to become a figure of history. As such, in a few months, his image will begin to change, and may get better or worse depending on what we learn in the future. Some of the blunders will deepen and become bolder, more pronounced blunders; some will soften; and some may ultimately be vindicated. We don’t know.

      From my chair - Bush was never relevant to this election. But you and I sit in different chairs, and look at things from different angles. I don’t think mine is better than yours. I just come from a slightly different social science backaground, and certainly a different set of life experiences. You seem to understand things that make no sense to me; and I know some things that you do not know because I’ve been in some places you haven’t been. It doesn’t make us better or worse than each other.

      But that we can meet in a forum and still have a (mostly) civil conversation about these things gives me some hope that our system is salvable - although I must confess to giving in to some urges to take a hostile and harsh tone in recent weeks. There are a lot of reasons for that, some of which are personal in nature. I apologize for my general tone.

      In any case - I’ll be glad when this election moves out of your realm (political science) and into mine (history). I’m getting genuinely tired of it.

      Reply to Captain D

      Comment by Captain D — Thursday, October 23, 2024 @ 4:52 pm

    7. It baffled me that, when McCain got the nomination, he didn’t do this. He was the candidate most equipped to be the Bush-repudiating Republican, in a year when that seemed like a good thing to do. However, he never did anything of the sort, and that is simply mind boggling.

      Reply to B. Minich

      Comment by B. Minich — Thursday, October 23, 2024 @ 8:09 pm

    8. Yup.

      I am boggled as well. Indeed, I argued at the time that that was he needed to do. Did he listen to me nooooo. And so losing is what he gets.

      Really, I did my part.

      Reply to Dr. Steven Taylor

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, October 23, 2024 @ 8:35 pm

    9. I find it interesting that Senator McCain disagrees with Vice President Cheney’s allegation that he’s part of both the legislative and the executive branch. Governor Palin, his very own vice-presidential candidate, clearly stated (as clearly as she states anything else) in the vice-presidential debate that she agrees with Cheney on this issue.

      Here is a portion of the transcript:

      IFILL: “Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?”

      PALIN: “Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation.”

      Specifically, I draw attention to the “Yeah, so I do agree with him…” part, which is the opposite of McCain’s “I don’t agree with Dick Cheney…” statement regarding the same issue. It is not a good sign when the presidential and vice-presidential candidate do not even agree on how the VP should do his or her job. This is not a difference that can be explained away using the “It’s because we’re both Mavericks” excuse.

      Reply to S. K. B.

      Comment by S. K. B. — Friday, October 24, 2024 @ 10:38 am

    10. [...] Steven Taylor has an interesting point over on Poliblog where he essentially argues that McCain’s recent bashing of Bush (as reported in the Washington Times) is a good thing, he should do more of it, but it might be too little, too late. [...]

      Reply to Should McCain have lambasted Bush more? » A Couple Things » A couple things about politics, sports, travel, and other stuff.

      Pingback by Should McCain have lambasted Bush more? » A Couple Things » A couple things about politics, sports, travel, and other stuff. — Friday, October 24, 2024 @ 5:10 pm

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