New York Times columnist David Brooks made a trenchant observation last week concerning John McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate: McCain represents more an attitude than he does a well-thought out political philosophy or a particular set of policies. And in Palin he found someone who shares the same attitude, without in any way complementing him.
Brooks is right that not every issue can be reduced to an axis of public service versus narrow self-interest, or virtue versus vice. “The facts” do not dictate a single correct policy with respect to any issue. But certainly a knowledge of the facts, and the ability to anticipate the likely consequences of different policy choices is essential for public policy making.
Brooks’ observation, however, would be more telling if there were any evidence that the Obama-Biden team had substantive knowledge of disciplines like economics or energy policy that McCain-Palin lack. There isn’t. Neither Senator Obama nor Senator Biden claim or evince any knowledge of the dismal science. And on the issue of energy independence, Governor Palin is way ahead of the field. Nuclear energy and tapping America’s own vast oil reserves, not futuristic technologies or keeping our tires properly inflated, she noted in her acceptance speech, must be at the top of any plan to achieve energy independence.
But more importantly this election is about attitude – in particular, the attitude towards the United States of America and the willingness to fight to defend its values. For good reason, Senator Obama would like to have the candidates’ patriotism declared an illegitimate subject, and have it taken as a given that anyone who seeks to be president of the United States is a patriotic American.
Not so fast. Patriotism is an issue, perhaps the defining issue. There is something very different between the visceral love of country that McCain discovered while imprisoned and tortured in another country and the “patriotism” of Obama, defined primarily as working for the enactment of one’s preferred policies or one’s own election (to quote Michelle Obama).
ONE OF THE REASONS Americans were not more impressed with the tumultuous welcome accorded Obama on his rock star tour of Europe was that he presented himself as one campaigning for President of the World. Indeed, Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian has warned ominously that the worlds’ wrath will be directed at the United States should American voters reject its candidate. Obama presented himself to Europeans as one of them, as someone who shares their values and their loathing of our “cowboy” president. Under an Obama presidency, Europeans could drop their reflexive anti-Americanism, he seemed to say.
But there are many Americans who do not see Western Europe as the ideal with which America must be brought into conformity or Europeans as the paragons of all virtue. Rather than fret about America’s “reputation in the world,” as if European opinion polls were the true measure of America, they think it is Europe and the international community that have a lot of catching up to do. In short, they are not impressed by European opinion polls ranking the United States as a greater threat to world peace than Iran or North Korea, and which rate Israel as the world’s number one threat to peace.
Those Americans have no wish for America to follow the path of an aging Europe, whose sclerotic economies increasingly depend on the labor of Moslem immigrants. They are unimpressed by the “sophistication,” upon which the Europeans pride themselves. To Americans that sophistication is another word for cynicism, of which the recent multi-billion dollar gas deals signed by Swiss and Austrian companies with Teheran are a good example. Those countries reprise the role of the Christian arms merchants of the Middle Ages, who sold Moslem armies the weapons they needed to attack Europe.
Above all, those Americans are unimpressed by Europe’s unwillingness to defend itself and its values. Since World War II, the Europeans have been only too happy to subcontract their defense to the United States. European defense spending, as a percentage of the GNP, is a small fraction of the United States. Senator Obama promises to bring the United States in closer conformity with the European model by slashing tens of billions of dollars in defense spending.
Islamists have been given a free pass by Europe in the name of a multi-culturalism that runs only one way. Thus British Home Secretary Jaqui Smith orders terrorist acts committed by Islamists to be described as their Orwellian opposite: “anti-Islamic terror,” because it makes Islam look bad. In Canada, which is a European province in these matters, Dr. Mohamed Elmasry can state on Canadian TV that he supports the murder of all Israelis over 18 and drag author Mark Steyn before numerous provincial human rights commissions for demonstrating Islamophobia by pointing out how unlovely are Elmasry’s sentiments and all those like them expressed in the name of Islam.
The European peace movement has been since the days of Soviet Union the objective accomplice of tyrants everywhere. Peaceniks assume as a matter of faith that peace is the highest desideratum of all countries, conveniently ignoring, as Natan Sharansky has pointed out in many contexts, that totalitarian countries, like the former Soviet Union, must maintain a high level of external aggression to defer internal criticism. Obama’s instinctive response, “Can’t we just talk about this?” to the likes of Ahmadinejad partakes of the same folly.
The peace movements abetted totalitarian governments in another way as well by treating the internal affairs of other countries as beyond their purview. Nothing more appalled Europeans than President Reagan’s talk of an Evil Empire or President Bush’s of an Axis of Evil. For Europeans such talk reflects American simplisme and lack of sophistication. Moral relativism, then, has become the height of European wisdom. NATO’s failure to agree a single concrete response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia is but one measure of how such wisdom leads to total passivity in the face of more ruthless nations.
THAT STRAIN of European sophistication dominates the Democratic Party as well. That the war in Iraq was not only misconceived but “immoral” is axiomatic to the Party’s base. Not one word was heard in Denver of pride in what American troops have accomplished in Afghanistan and Iraq. Under the Taliban, Afghani women could not leave their homes unaccompanied or receive medical care from a male doctor. Under Saddam, 60,000-70,000 children died of malnutrition annually, as he diverted billions to building palaces and maintaining his state security apparatus. Every citizen lived in a permanent state of terror, never able to speak openly to another human being, without fear that he or she might be a government informer.
Today, Saddam is dead; both Al-Qaeda in Mesopatamia (Sunni) and the Mahdi Army (Shiite) have been routed, and Iraq is the best situated of any Arab country to experience some form of functioning democracy. But all one heard at Denver was about the waste of money and lives.
Most of the troops who have fought in Iraq take pride in the above achievements. But sharing that pride is beyond the Democratic base. For them American militarism is a threat to the world. Remember San Francisco’s ban on voluntary participation in ROTC in city high schools.
My guess is that the Obamas would be appalled if one of their daughters were to choose a career in the military, and view it as the height of foolishness to voluntarily risk one’s life. When he speaks about the value of public service, Obama never mentions the military. As the 2004 Democratic standard-bearer once let slip, despite his own service in Vietnam, serving in Iraq is something that happens to you if are dumb and don’t get good grades in school. McCain, Palin, and Biden, however, all have sons currently serving in the military, and take pride that their offspring find something about their country worth risking their lives for.
To get a measure of the difference between McCain and Obama try to imagine McCain consorting easily with William Ayers. Obama is right that he can hardly be tarred with a string of Weatherman terrorist bombings that took place when he was eight years old. But as recently as 2001 Ayers was still lamenting that he and his Weatherman colleagues, including his wife Bernadine Dohrn, had not wreaked more havoc with their bombs. And that did not keep Barack from serving on foundation boards with Ayres and working on projects directed by Ayres. (Stanley Kurtz, a fellow of the Ethics and Public Center, was recently denied access to the records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a foundation founded and directed by Ayres and whose board Obama chaired for four years, by the library of the University of Illinois at Chicago, where Ayres is a professor.)
Or try to imagine McCain saying, as Senator Biden did at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2004, “America has no moral authority to preach democracy in the Middle East. We don’t have much democracy ourselves . . . . Remember Florida.” (Incidentally, every single independent recount showed President Bush receiving more votes in Florida.)
The sense of duty that guides John McCain’s life – the willingness to place country above party or even one’s own life – sounds old-fashioned to many ears today. It is the antithesis of the solipsism of devoting one’s major intellectual energies to the writing of not one, but two, autobiographies.
Admittedly, that love of country and sense of duty does not by itself dictate good policies (and many of McCain’s are misbegotten). But there is no reason to accept the Democrats easy assumption that they are the party of the brains. Remember Hillary Clinton, flashing her one line of Aristotle, telling General David Petraeus that it would take a willing suspension of disbelief to think the surge in Iraq could work. (Senator Obama was even more dismissive.) Or consider the success of ethanol, once touted as the solution for dependence on fossil fuels. Now it turns out that the production of ethanol produces more carbon dioxide than burning the fuels it was meant to replace. The principal effect of the switch to ethanol has been to send world food prices skyrocketing and to plunge millions into starvation.
A sense of duty and belief in the value of freedom that American represents are not sufficient, but they are necessary if America and the West are to survive. In a moving passage in his new book Defending Identity, former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Sheldon Adelson Center for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center, explains why:
“In prison, I learned that without a commitment beyond yourself, the fear of death inevitably takes control of you. What is true of individuals is true for a society. Without a strong identity, without a commitment to a particular way of life, without a feeling of connection to the generations who came before and to those who will come after, there can be enjoyment of life but not the strength to defend that life when it is endangered. . . . A negative effect of the good life available in democratic societies is that it can often weaken the very strength to fight for it. . . . [The] insatiable desire for the safety of the self can become the greatest danger to the safety of all. . . . ”
Following Europe down the post-national, post-identity path is the road to doom.