John McCain's "academic argument"

McCain avoids talk of his record on Iraq, preferring to emphasize the "future."


Steve Benen
April 18, 2008 5:00PM (UTC)

On "Hardball" the other day, John McCain was confronted with his record of siding with the Bush White House on Iraq policy. McCain didn't want to talk about the past.

"We can look back at the past and argue about whether we should have gone to war or not, whether we should have invaded or not, and that's a good academic argument. But we're there now, and the question is, is what we do in the future."

I see. So, holding leading senators accountable for their votes is now "academic."

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As Matt Yglesias put it, "Over 4,000 people died in this academic arguments. People need to use the term 'trillion' to express its fiscal cost. And, obviously, the question about whether or not it was a good idea speaks to some important points of doctrine and theory. This isn't like quibbling over some vote on some amendment back in 1983, it was the biggest national security policy decision of the current era."

It reminds that the thing that's always seemed odd about McCain's campaign pitch is that it only works if you refuse to look below the surface.

McCain, for example, goes to great lengths to emphasize his past. He's running on his "experience." It sounds great, until we actually want to scrutinize this experience, at which point the past is an "academic exercise."

The argument, in a nutshell, is that McCain's past matters more than anything else, except when he decides it shouldn't.

Stepehen Colbert explained this very well recently.

"[W]hen you question his record he says this: 'I want to make it very clear this is not about excisions that were made -- decisions that were made in the past.' Now, decisions that were made in the past is how people without experience define experience. So how can McCain claim to be more qualified of a candidate because of his experience yet also claim that any history of bad decisions is irrelevant? Easy. Experience. You see, he is experienced enough to know that some experience is relevant, like the fact that he has experience. While other experience, like his previous experiences, are irrelevant."

It's quite a compelling argument, isn't it?


Steve Benen

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