Friday, November 18, 2005

John McCain

John McCain spoke today at the University of Mississippi. He was the first of what will become the Lott Lecture Series sponsored by the Trent Lott Leadership Institute at the University. Senator Lott was also present and introduced Senator McCain.

As a part of the introduction, the University Chancellor presented Senator Lott with copies of the yearbooks covering his tenure as an undergraduate at Ole Miss because his orgininals had been destroyed with his home and everything else he had by Hurricane Katrina. Sometimes, disasters strike everyone.

McCain and Lott both made it very apparent that they had great respect for each other, though they disagreed on many issues. Lott certainly suggested that McCain was a leading potential candidate in 2008 for the Presidency and McCain asked those in attendance to encourage Lott to run for reelection and not retire from the Senate at the end of his current term.

As for McCain's comments, he really did not say anything unexpected. While Iraq was a significant topic it was not his only one. He started by suggesting that Congress needed to do a better job of controlling spending and managing the budget. One significant comment was that the Republicans needed to be especially concerned as they were beginning to alienate the fiscally conservative portion of their base; a condition which could seriously damage the party if it was allowed to continue. Showing his rather wry sense of humor, he stated that Congress was spending money like a drunken sailor, though no sailor he had ever known had Congresses imagination when it came to spending. One of his favorite examples was a $2 million earmark to study bear DNA in Montana, though he was unsure if it was a paternity issue or not.

When it came to Iraq he had a number of comments. He began by responding to John Murtha (D. PA)'s demand was US troops be immediately withdraw from Iraq. McCain argued that a premature withdrawal would be devestating. If the US fails, Iraq will most likely dissintegrate into feuding factions which will simply create a larger breeding ground for fanatics that will carry the conflict to our shores. He quoted Al Queda statements that this conflict will be widespread and devestating.

He also argued that the most important portion of the conflict was the conflict of ideas. That while the US has been an example of democracy in places such as the Ukraine, Lebannon and Georgia, our enemies in the War on Terror want to destroy the ideas that we promulgate. Only be working towards a success conclusion of the action will we increase our safetly as well as that of the region.

McCain was explicit in stating that we had certainly made mistakes in Iraq and all we can do is learn from them and try not repeat them. He also made that point regarding all of the discussion of how we got into this sitution that in the end how we got to this point is not relevant to how we need to conduct US policy in Iraq. Since we are there we have to succeed.

One of the most interesting points he made during the Q and A was that democracies are generally flawed at the outset and that we should not expect Iraqi democracy to spring forth like Athena from Zeus' head (my aliteration not his) fully formed but rather understand that it will have problems and difficulties and will change over time. As he said, the US government evolved over time and had some difficult moments, the Civil War for example, before it reached the point it is at currently.

As for my impressions of McCain's speech. In my opinion he is certainly laying the groundwork for a Presidential bid. He was explicit in stating that he was not running yet and I believe that this is correct. One of his jokes was that in 2000 he started with a name recognition of 3% with an error of margin of 5%. This will not be a problem for him in 2007 and 2008. He will certainly be a front runner if he decides to run. As he stated towards the end of his remarks, this decision will be based on the situation in the country at the time. The issues that the nation faces at that moment and whether his talents and experience would be use. I suspect that a fairly careful examination of the situation within the Republican base will also be a part of his decision making process. As a fiscal conservative rather than a social conservative, whether on not his candidacy is truly viable may come down to what the Republican base looks like in 2 years.

He also had a great Arizona joke. "Arizona, a state with so little water that trees chase dogs there."


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