Friday, May 30, 2008

I can look you in the eye and tell you it’s succeeding

All week McCain has been trying to score cheap points off Obama for only having visited Iraq once – 873 days ago as an email from his campaign helpfully points out. Funny how he knew that number but not whether the number of US troops stationed in Iraq was greater or less than before the “surge.” The whole thing puts some of McCain’s worst traits on display.

First, he is every bit as smugly superior, self-regarding and condescending as Joe Lieberman, although it doesn’t come across as blatantly.

Second, he will not admit to mistakes even in checkable statements of fact, much less mistakes in judgment. George Bush has taught us how dangerous that sort of stubbornness can be. McCain claimed “We have drawn down to pre-surge levels,” but when caught out, weasely tried to edit the last three words out of his own statement in order to pretend that he hadn’t erred: “I said we have drawn down. And we have drawn down.”

Third, his approach to information-gathering and analysis seems to be dangerously unsophisticated. Just as Bush privileges his “instinct” over the, you know, facts, McCain has been going on and on about Obama having “zero first hand knowledge of conditions on the ground” and not having “take[n] the opportunity to sit down with General Petraeus and learn about the situation in Iraq firsthand” (quotes taken from two campaign emails), as if only the information one can gather with one’s own eyes or ears counts and as if such information is sufficient. John McCain don’t hold with none o’ those new-fangled forms of communicating data, like writing and film footage and statistics etc etc – after all, they didn’t have any of those things when he was growing up. It’s not just an anti-Obama talking point, either: he told reporters “I can look you in the eye and tell you it’s [the surge] succeeding,” as if his physical presence, his ability to look someone in the eye while making his claim, somehow proves the veracity of that claim. A president has to make decisions about literally thousands of issues he cannot personally investigate. Plus, of course, McCain is perfectly capable of personally investigating Iraq by spending a couple of days there, visiting a market surrounded by a hundred soldiers, and think he has gleaned the reality of the situation.

McCain is belittling not only Obama, but the vast majority of the citizenry as well. Many Americans will base their votes in November in large part on the war, but if McCain can dismiss as without value the considered opinion of a United States senator who has only visited Iraq once, in what low esteem must he hold the views of those of us who have the impudence to form them without ever having been there?

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