George Will Thinks John McCain Has Lost His Head

It has become commonplace to see centrist columnists who have been favorable to McCain write columns opposing him since he resorted to a dishonest Rove-style campaign. It is less expected to see McCain come under attack such as this from both George Will and The Wall Street Journal. Will writes that John McCain has lost his head:

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journal to editorialize that “McCain untethered” — disconnected from knowledge and principle — had made a “false and deeply unfair” attack on Cox that was “unpresidential” and demonstrated that McCain “doesn’t understand what’s happening on Wall Street any better than Barack Obama does.”

To read the Journal’s details about the depths of McCain’s shallowness on the subject of Cox’s chairmanship, see “McCain’s Scapegoat” (Sept. 19, Page A22). Then consider McCain’s characteristic accusation that Cox “has betrayed the public’s trust.”

Perhaps an old antagonism is involved in McCain’s fact-free slander. His most conspicuous economic adviser is Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who previously headed the Congressional Budget Office. There he was an impediment to conservatives, including then-Rep. Cox, who, as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, persistently tried and generally failed to enlist CBO support for “dynamic scoring” that would estimate the economic growth effects of proposed tax cuts.

In any case, McCain’s smear — that Cox “betrayed the public’s trust” — is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are “corrupt” or “betray the public’s trust,” two categories that seem to be exhaustive — there are no other people. McCain’s Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending. (For details, see The Post of Sept. 17, Page A4; and the New York Times of Sept. 20, Page One.)

Will concludes by considering whether he wants McCain to be choosing Supreme Court justices and by comparing McCain to Obama:

On “60 Minutes” Sunday evening, McCain, saying “this may sound a little unusual,” said that he would like to replace Cox with Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general of New York who is the son of former governor Mario Cuomo. McCain explained that Cuomo has “respect” and “prestige” and could “lend some bipartisanship.” Conservatives have been warned.

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

Will is primarily concerned with McCain’s consideration of Andrew Cuomo. If one wants to question his ability to make sound appointments, Sarah Palin would be a much better example. He is correct in his analysis of Obama. I am far more willing to support someone less experienced such as Obama who shows understanding of the issues and has made the correct call on the big questions such as going into Iraq than someone who has years of experience but otherwise appears unfit to be president such as John McCain. No amount of experience will make someone like John McCain fit to be president.

Many conservatives are expressing similar concerns about McCain. While still backing him, James Joyner also notes McCain’s fundamental lack of support for conservative economic principles:

I’m in the minority in thinking that anointing the Treasury Secretary as the unalloyed czar of the economy is a bad idea. So, that fact that McCain is backing the bailout and the biggest socialization of the American economy since the New Deal — if not in history — is forgivable. That he seems not even to be giving it a second thought, though, is much less so.

Conservatives should not be surprised that Republican leaders will show little concern for their principles. Younger conservatives often seem unaware that one of the greatest intrusions on the free market came under Republican president Richard Nixon who instituted wage and price conrols. Anyone who thinks that a McCain presidency will result in limited government is as delusional as, well, John McCain.

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