Perhaps it is time for me to revisit my thoughts on John McCain. An article, "A Time For McCain?," in today's Washington Post (free registration required) got me to thinking.
For a long time I have had a tremendous amount of respect for John McCain. The fact that he was trashed by the Bush camp at one point and then came back to support Bush's re-election last fall caused my support to falter. I felt he had betrayed his commitment to be a straight shooter. That was a hard pill for me to swallow since I hadn't seen anything in the four previous years resembling competence coming from the administration. Of course, it was more than a little challenging to get excited about the Democrats though I think John Edwards might have had some good points in spite of having been a lawyer.
McCainism ought to gain because both rival views of government are bankrupt. The small-government right has been discredited because it has presided over an astonishing 33 percent rise in federal spending since 2001, and a rise in non-defense spending of 29 percent. In 1987 Congress passed a highway bill that contained some 150 pork projects, but Bush and the Republican Congress have just produced a bill that contained more than 6,000. Conservative rhetoric about cutting government has proved totally empty.
I would have to agree that I haven't seen anything small about the way the present crew has run the ship of state. In fact if I had to characterize it with one word it would be grandiose. Of course the challenge as Mallaby rightly points out is that the opposing team hasn't done any better.
Meanwhile the big-government left doesn't look any better. The reason for all that government-cutting rhetoric is that, guess what, government is frequently dysfunctional. ...
New Orleans had inadequate levees because the process for allocating the government's water-infrastructure budget has been corrupt for years. ....
Once the hurricane hit, the dysfunction of state and local government was just as profound as the dysfunction of Team Bush. It's hard to be a full-throated government booster in the face of all this evidence.
I've done a number of posts such as "Where change has to come from" in which I talk about the problem being not big or small government, but our need for good government which comes from passionate people dedicated to helping others instead of enriching themselves. Mallaby seems to agree.
So the small-government right and the big-government left are equally exhausted. The only appealing political platform is good government. This is what McCainism is about. The senator has waged lonely battles not to make government bigger or smaller, but simply to make it better.
If you think about it, if we make government better the size doesn't matter. The problem is that our government is bigger and worse, and it has been brought to us by those who promised to make it smaller and better. Now holding politicians to what they promise has never been very successful, but we're at a point where the whole system could be approaching collapse. There's another interesting article in the Post today, "The Kablooey Principle."
You may have read about a series of experiments that involved dropping sand, one grain at a time, onto a steel plate. The grains built into a cone that somewhat magically found what scientists called its "angle of repose," and the cone seemed stable for a time. But as more grains fell, there were tiny avalanches here or there before the cone achieved a new stability.
And then, in each of the experiments, came the grain of sand that collapsed the whole affair into a disordered mess. Kablooey . There was nothing about that last grain to distinguish it from any of a million earlier grains and, therefore, no way to predict or prevent the collapse.
I don't think our government is going to collapse. Yet I do believe that the weight of all the lobbyists and others who are the public trough may outrage enough of us that McCanism has a chance. I believe in government. I just don't believe in bad government where we are fed a steady dose of lies and half truths.
I don't believe in our government torturing people for any reason. It's just wrong. I don't believe in our country almost unilaterally attacking another country no matter how bad that country might appear to us. If there were overwhelming evidence that an attack against us was imminent, maybe you could make a case for it, but when we went to war against Iraq, there was plenty of evidence that they weren't planning any attacks. Our government just chose to ignore that evidence. I don't believe in our government getting into bed with corporate interests to the point that our environment is trashed, our medicines cost more, and the oil companies laugh all the way to the bank.
We need good government which brings us together for the common good. The common good should include health care even if it means getting profits out of medicine. All of the children in this country should have a chance at a reasonable education. We also need a plan for the time when the oil runs out. We should be able to take care of our own countrymen in times of disaster. Finally it would be great if we had some tax policies that actually kept decent jobs in our country. We shouldn't make it easier for companies to move off shore and then bring the profits home tax free or create tax holidays like the one that Congress gave corporations last fall when companies were allowed to repatriate billions of dollars so we could finance more deficit spending.
We have a lot of smart people in this country, we need to get that brain power focused on doing things for the common good. Now many of our best and brightest are dedicated to helping a few people get rich. As a culture, we've come to idolize the sport heroes, film stars, and CEOs who rake in the mega-millions. We need to change our hopes from obscene individual success to what we can do together as a country. We don't have to quit being successful as individuals, we just need to understand that a future with the mega-rich living in gated communities sipping the last of the world's oil and gas won't be a pretty picture for of any of us.
There may be others like John McCain in government, and I hope for all of our sakes that there are. As Mallaby says, "The point about McCainism is not that you have to agree with every one of the senator's positions. You just have to understand their spirit." I think the reality is that we have to get beyond expecting politicians to mirror our every concern and all of our points of view. We have to trust that they will make the right decision. Right now, if I had to trust anyone to bring us good government, John McCain would be the one. Unfortunately he will need a tidal wave of change to be successful. Mallaby's article offers us a little hope. Perhaps he's right.
It's tempting to say that McCainism is hopeless: that the appeal to patriotic selflessness is futile in a narcissistic culture. But Americans' impatience with conventional politics is too obvious to ignore....
Only 29 percent of Americans say they trust government, down from 40 percent in 2000. McCainism -- whether practiced by the senator or by some other charismatic campaigner -- will eventually have its moment.
I suspect the country is filled with lots of successful ex-corporate types like myself willing and able to help in the renewal of our trust in government. Perhaps if we built our government on people committed to success instead of those accustomed to walking away from failures, our government might look a lot different.