The Consequences.

May 13, 2007

The Consequences.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Every Sunday CUIP’s political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, May 13, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”

Salit: Let’s talk about John McCain who was on “Meet the Press.” His position on the war in Iraq is that we’ve got to focus on what he calls “the consequences of failure.” The American people don’t seem to be swayed by that argument. At least that’s what the polls are showing. And members of Congress, including Republican members of Congress, are sufficiently convinced of the public’s position that they’re going to the White House and telling Bush ‘You’ve got to start to withdraw from Iraq.’ But McCain seems very convinced that his argument can connect. How do you think about the apparent disconnect between that argument and where the public is at?

Newman: Well, he’s interested in getting the nomination of the Republican Party, which is by no means equivalent to where the American people as a whole are at. But, in terms of “the consequences of failure” argument, I don’t know that I agree with his assessment. Who is he? Nostradamus? To me, he’s articulating a certain moral principle, which is his right, certainly, but not one that I necessarily agree with. One of my guiding moral principles, I would say to John McCain, is if you can’t afford to lose a war, don’t get into it in the first place.

Salit: Especially, when it’s a war of choice.

Newman: If you can’t afford to lose at poker, don’t play. And that’s what happened here. That’s the stupidity of the neo-cons, of Bush, of Cheney. They got us into a conflict that the U.S. couldn’t afford to lose. If you can’t afford to lose, then you shouldn’t get involved. The U.S. intervention was based on a kind of religious, patriotic, nationalistic, chauvinistic posture – whatever you want to call it – which says that We Will Prevail. But for me that moral principle is unacceptable. We have to accept the world situation for what it is. It’s a variation of what Colin Powell said: It’s not just if you break it, you own it, it’s that if you can’t afford the consequences, which includes the serious possibility of failing, stay the hell out. That’s my principle.

Salit: McCain made the point that we won the war before we started to lose the war. We won Operation Shock and Awe, the taking of Baghdad, the removal of Saddam Hussein, etc.

Newman: Did he advocate getting out then?

Salit: No. He didn’t advocate getting out then. His critique is of what happened next, which he blames on Donald Rumsfeld. However, that doesn’t respond to the point that you’re making.

Newman: No, it doesn’t.

Salit: So, McCain is seeking the Republican nomination. He’s putting forth a set of political positions designed to win that nomination.

Newman: And it’s not transparently obvious that he can’t win the support of the conservative base of the Republican Party, and thereby win the nomination. He thinks that no matter what Giuliani does, Rudy won’t convince the hardcore Republican right wing base to support him. He could be right.

Salit: You could say that McCain’s already forced Giuliani “to the left” on the abortion issue.

Newman: He didn’t force him to the left. He just forced him to be honest about what his views are.

Salit: Yes, to more fully articulate his position. Giuliani’s premise is that if you can elevate national security and defense issues to become the main focus in the primary, then the fact that Giuliani is pro-choice won’t hurt him. But the problem with Giuliani’s strategy, it seems to me – and this is where McCain stands to gain – is that if you do keep the focus on national security, arguably McCain is stronger than Giuliani on that terrain. And, what you get from McCain is you get all of that stuff on national defense without having to compromise on the “life” issue. So, Giuliani’s gamble can produce upside for McCain.

Newman: McCain can say to Giuliani, Listen, Rudy. I think you’re a good man. You’ve done good stuff, but let’s face it. Your main credential is that you did the best job possible at handling a terrorist attack on a major American city. Let’s grant you that. Some people wouldn’t, but let’s grant you that. My “know-how,” says McCain, is in developing policies which will prevent it from happening again.

Salit: He could surely make that case.

Newman: McCain could pursue it even further. Did you do some things which people questioned? Like where you put your headquarters and the failure of the communications equipment? Possibly. But that’s water under the bridge. We’re not talking about responding to a terrorist attack. We’re talking about preventing the whole country from being under terrorist attack. I have an aggressive plan for doing that, says McCain. You don’t.

Salit: That’s a strong scenario for McCain and I thought it was a strong performance today on the show. So, let’s say he gets through the Republican primaries and becomes the Republican nominee. How does his team think about the following question? McCain’s popularity and viability as a national political figure has rested, historically, on his support from independents. That’s been a very big part of the McCain coalition. And, as everyone says, independents are going to be the deciding factor in the 2008 presidential. But, independents have turned against the war, and they’ve turned against McCain, as the current polling shows. My polling is showing that, everybody’s polling is showing that. What does he do with that?

Newman: Who’s he running against?

Salit: Okay, good question. If he’s running against Hillary, he gets a bump from the extent to which the anti-Hillary camp unites around his candidacy. This is presuming there’s not an independent candidate in the mix. Hillary’s not that fantastically popular with independents, so, independents stay home, or are neutralized. If it’s Obama, Obama’s very popular with independents. If he holds onto that popularity, I don’t know how McCain does against Obama.

Newman: The issue is going to be that if McCain is strongly supported by the Right, can he put out enough moderate and bipartisan initiatives, not to dominate the independent vote, but to in effect neutralize it, to not provoke independents to go elsewhere in decisive numbers. If the premise is that Hillary or anyone else, including Obama, can’t win with just Democrats, it could be a winning strategy for McCain. I think McCain’s overall perspective on both the primary and the general, is that he has to do what he has to do to not lose it.

Salit: And that gives him his best chance of winning.

Newman: I don’t know that it’s a ridiculous plan in light of the fact that there are so many candidates. So McCain’s plan, from what I can see – I’m not advising him, of course, but as I see it – is “Let’s come up with a strategy for not losing. That’s our best shot at winning.”

Salit: Do you think Hillary’s camp has a similar version of that?

Newman: In the Democratic primary?

Salit: Yes.

Newman: I think they have had that strategy, but I think there’s some reason to believe they were wrong.

Salit: Because of Obama?

Newman: Because of Obama, who has changed the status of the field. For one thing, there now is a field. I think Hillary’s plan – formulated by her team, including her husband – was that they wanted to project her as invulnerable. They’ve done a not bad job, but things have happened that they have no control over. It’s unclear whether that’s still a workable strategy for Hillary.

Salit: Chris Matthews made mention of the “third party on the right” scenario. The scenario is Giuliani manages to win the primary and the social conservatives, who’ve said that they won’t support Giuliani, get behind an independent run on the right. Do you see any prospects for that?

Newman: I think it’s unlikely that will happen, frankly. The Right has become accustomed to being in power. I don’t think they want to wind up being the obvious cause of electing a Democrat to the White House.

Salit: “The McLaughlin Group” discussion could perhaps have been titled “The Consequences of Success.” They discussed the state of the international economy and the American economy and how well things are going. They had Maria Bartiromo and Christa Freeland from The Financial Times on the panel. The picture they paint is low unemployment, virtually no inflation, high levels of job creation, etc. and so forth. Everyone gives a nod to the “wealth gap,” the gap between the richest and the poor, and McLaughlin comments ‘Well, the biggest problem is the duality,’ as he calls it. What’s McLaughlin’s duality? If you legislate for the corporations who are producing all this wealth, it takes you in one direction. But, if you legislate for the country, for the average person and the average family, it takes you in another direction, and those things are not easily reconciled. The history of the country for the last 60-70 years is the reconciliation of those two opposing pulls. McLaughlin seems to be suggesting that the tension is somehow different, or that there are other factors now in the picture that make it increasingly difficult to reconcile. How do you think about this notion of the irreconcilable directions?

Newman: Well, there are other factors in the picture. The biggest “other” factor is the environment. In this national sector attempting to narrow the wealth gap has involved producing more and more goods and services. But there are now limits to production, including limits that come about by virtue of what ever-increasing production does to the earth and the atmosphere, the very source of wealth expansion. I think it’s that three-part relationship which is intensifying the pressure.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: To say the simplistic thing that is often said in economics books or history books, wars are supposed to make things better. They’re supposed to be good economic stimulants. But it’s not so clear that this war is having that effect for ordinary Americans. If so, why would they be so seriously opposed to the war? Americans don’t like the wealth gap. They also don’t want war. Put another way, they want everything. And so does everybody. And if everybody could sit down and try to figure out a rational plan for that, we could have a nice little celebration. But, I don’t know that they can. Everybody wants to have a “United Nations” of some kind, and globalization of some kind. At the same time, everybody wants to wave their national flag faster and faster.

Salit: So, it becomes harder and harder to impact on that gap. When Maria Bartiromo talked about some of the positive economic indicators, she said, ‘There is no inflation. It’s completely flat, if you take energy and food out of the picture.’ Those are rather major things to take out of the picture, however.

Newman: In fairness to her, I think what she’s essentially saying is that there are volatile spots in the overall growth – energy and food being two important ones. Now, is there an ability – among the people, among the elected officials, among the policy makers, to do anything about those two areas? If so, how come they haven’t done it? That seems to me to be the interesting criticism to raise.

Salit: Thanks, Fred.