May 20, 2013
If McCain Had Won
Posted on Jul 15, 2011
Democrats were united on one issue in the 2008 presidential election: the absolute disaster that a John McCain victory would have produced. And they were right. McCain as president would clearly have produced a long string of catastrophes: He would probably have approved a failed troop surge in Afghanistan, engaged in worldwide extrajudicial assassination, destabilized nuclear-armed Pakistan, failed to bring Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to the negotiating table, expanded prosecution of whistle-blowers, sought to expand executive branch power, failed to close Guantanamo, failed to act on climate change, pushed both nuclear energy and opened new areas to domestic oil drilling, failed to reform the financial sector enough to prevent another financial catastrophe, supported an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, presided over a growing divide between rich and poor, and failed to lower the jobless rate.
Nothing reveals the true state of American politics today more, however, than the fact that Democratic President Barack Obama has undertaken all of these actions and, even more significantly, left the Democratic Party far weaker than it would have been had McCain been elected. Few issues are more important than seeing behind the screen of a myth-making mass media, and understanding what this demonstrates about how power in America really works—and what needs to be done to change it.
First and foremost, McCain would have undoubtedly selected as treasury secretary an individual nominated by Wall Street—which has a stranglehold on the economy due to its enjoying 30 to 40 percent of all corporate profits. If he didn’t select Tim Geithner, a reliable servant of financial interests whose nomination might have allowed McCain to trumpet his “maverick” credentials, whoever he did select would clearly have also moved to bail out the financial institutions and allow them to water down needed financial reforms.
Ditto for the head of his National Economic Council. Although appointing Larry Summers might have been a bit of a stretch, despite his yeoman work in destroying financial regulation—thus enriching his old boss Robert Rubin and helping cause the Crash of 2008—McCain could easily have found a Jack Kemp-like Republican “supply-sider” who would have duplicated Summers’ signal achievement of expanding the deficit to the highest level since 1950 (though perhaps with a slightly higher percentage of tax cuts than the Obama stimulus). The economy would have continued to sputter along, with growth rates and joblessness levels little different from today’s, and possibly even worse.
But McCain’s election would have produced a major political difference: It would have increased Democratic clout in the House and Senate. First off, there would have been no tea party, no “don’t raise the debt limit unless we gut the poor,” no “death panel” myth, no “Obama Youth” nonsense. Although there would have been plenty of criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, the fact would have remained that McCain, a Republican, Caucasian war hero would never have excited the tea party animus as did the “Secret-Muslim Kenyan-Born Big-Government Fascist White-Hating Antichrist” Obama. Glenn Beck would have remained a crazed nonentity and been dropped far sooner by Fox News than he was. And Vice President Sarah Palin, despised by both McCain and his tough White House staff, would have been deprived of any real power and likely tightly muzzled against criticizing McCain’s relatively centrist (compared to her positions) policies.
Democratic control of the House and Senate fostered by disastrous Republican policies would have severely limited McCain’s ability (as occurred with George W. Bush) to weaken Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and other programs that aid those most in need. (Yes, domestic spending might have been cut less if McCain had won.)
And had McCain proposed “health insurance reform,” because health insurers saw a golden opportunity to increase their customer base and profits while retaining their control, the Democrats would at least have passed a “public option” as their price for support. And possible Health and Human Services Secretary Newt Gingrich—placed in that position in a clever move to keep him away from economic or foreign policy—might have even accelerated needed improvements in computerizing patient records and other high-tech measures needed to cut health care costs, actions that he touted in his book on the subject.
In foreign and military policy, McCain would surely have approved Gen. David Petraeus’ “Afghanistan surge,” possibly increasing the number of U.S. troops there by 40,000 instead of 33,500. But Gen. Stanley McChrystal would probably have remained at the helm in Afghanistan, since he and his aides would never have disparaged McCain to Rolling Stone. McChrystal might have continued a “counterinsurgency” strategy, observing relatively strict rules of engagement, unlike his successor, Petraeus, who tore up those rules and has instead unleashed a brutal cycle of “counterterror” violence in southern Afghanistan. (Yes, far fewer Afghan civilians might have died had McCain won.)
McCain, like Obama, would probably have destabilized nuclear-armed Pakistan and strengthened militant forces there by expanding drone strikes and pushing the Pakistani military to launch disastrous offensives into tribal areas. And he would have given as much support as has Obama to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s opposition to a peace deal because he believes that present policies of strangling Gaza, annexing East Jerusalem, expanding West Bank settlements and walling off Palestinians are succeeding. (It is possible, however, that a McCain secretary of state might not have incited violence against unarmed American citizens—as did Hillary Clinton when she stated that Israelis, who killed nine unarmed members of the 2010 Gaza flotilla, “have the right to defend themselves” against letter-carrying 2011 Gaza flotilla members.)
While McCain would have wanted to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2014, he might have been forced to reduce their numbers as much as has Obama. For McCain would have faced a strengthened and emboldened Democratic Congress, which might have seen electoral gold in responding to polls indicating the public had turned against the Afghanistan War—as well as a far stronger peace movement united against Republicans instead of divided as it now is between the desires for peace and seeing an Obama win in 2012.
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