Two quotes from yesterday highlight the stakes in this upcoming election better than any that have preceded it. One features a Democrat mistakenly revealing what she really wants, while the other shows a much more polished approach towards the same end. First, let’s review what Rep. Maxine Waters said to the president of Shell Oil during a House hearing:
“And guess what this member* would be all about? This member would be all about socializing — er, uh. [Pauses for several moments] …. would be about … [pause] … basically … taking over, and the government running all of your companies.”
Take a look at the video that AP posted last night while Waters says this. As soon as the word “socialization” exits her lips, she knows she made a big blunder, not the least of which is that the actual term is “nationalization”. Waters just declared a socialist policy of total confiscation in the House hearing room, and she looks for an exit strategy, finally winding up with the slightly more ambiguous idea of Washington “running” the oil companies. Two people in the background try mightily to stifle laughter at Waters’ predicament.
Waters provides the obvious example. Barack Obama tried the historically successful strategy of being generous with other people’s money in the debate over the GI Bill. Yesterday, he expressed puzzlement over why John McCain couldn’t be more generous to his fellow veterans, and McCain shot back in the wrong direction:
Obama used the opportunity to once again tie his rival to the president.
“I respect Sen. John McCain’s service to our country,” Obama said on the Senate floor this morning. “He is one of those heroes of which I speak. But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI Bill. I can’t believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue.”
The McCain campaign responded by issuing a sharply worded and lengthy statement in the senator’s name. McCain notes his support for an alternative to the Webb measure, but points out his own military service and points out Obama’s lack thereof.
“It is typical, but no less offensive that Sen. Obama uses the Senate floor to take cheap shots at an opponent and easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of,” McCain said in the statement. “Let me say first in response to Sen. Obama, running for president is different than serving as president. The office comes with responsibilities so serious that the occupant can’t always take the politically easy route without hurting the country he is sworn to defend. Unlike Sen. Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America’s veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge. I think I have earned the right to make that claim.”
McCain uses the wrong argument here, a thinly-veiled “chickenhawk” attack that demeans him. Does McCain really think that only veterans should run the government or have a voice in the Senate? Civilian control of the government and the military is a paramount principle of democracy. I know McCain understands that, but this pungent attack on Obama’s lack of military service is a misstep.
Where Waters failed yesterday, Obama succeeded. The Left argues incessantly about Why can’t the wealthiest nation in the world afford [fill in the blank]? The argument serves to shame their opponents into capitulating on the growth of federal spending and federal power, exploding entitlements into full-blown socialist nanny-state burdens that trap generations of future Americans into paying for our government-provided Utopia. In the end, this process will require the seizure of all capital by the government in order to support its bloated entitlement burden.
The real argument against the Webb version of the GI Bill, the farm bill, and nationalization of the oil industry is that the federal government already spends too much money, and it has other priorities than income redistribution. McCain did make this point in his lengthy statement yesterday, but it got obliterated by the money quote about Obama’s lack of service.
We did not become the “wealthiest nation” through government confiscation and central economic planning. Our economic success came through the free flow of markets, a respect for private property, and a federal government that knew its Constitutional place. The decades-long impulse to solve every problem and redistribute wealth through the auspices of Washington DC threaten that long-term economic viability, and every additional giveaway program — no matter how well-intentioned — adds to the catastrophic collapse we or our children will experience through entitlements.
Republicans need to make this argument central to their theme, but first they have to act like they believe it. And they need to convince the electorate to stop demanding these giveaways, a task which appears almost impossible, especially given the low state of GOP credibility on spending. McCain has more credibility on spending and reform, but he needs to focus his message better than he did yesterday.
* – Some heard this as “liberal”. The video seems inconclusive, but that would be quite an indictment ….