I have read numerous comments thanking the polity for the November decision in the context of discussing the protests in Iran. A quick recap - Many analysts and observors laud Obama’s hands-off approach to the protestors under the reasonable assumption that giving open support to the protests will enable the ruling elite to marginalize and suppress the protestors. McCain criticized Obama’s muted response, saying that the U.S. should openly support the protestors. Many have pointed out the predictable results of that tack, namely a lot of feel good tough guy posturing here and more blood spilled abroad. Speculate how our government would respond to a protest movement that was singled out and endorsed by Iranian Super-villain Ahmadinejad for an analog. A lot of people are breathing sighs of relief at this, whew, thank goodness Mad dog McCain isn’t in office right now! (Google “Mccain iran dodged bullet” for examples).
The problem is that this is an argument from speculation and hypothetical, something one may consider a liberal specialty. Prior examples include: "Thanks, Ralph." “You really think we’d be in Iraq if Gore had won? Come ON!” Speculate on a past event and argue about the present circumstances on that set of circumstances. If anyone disagrees or calls this a fixed game, get indignant with a come on. A related set of arguments that project into the future are especially frustrating with respect to international politics – “what if we could take such and such an action without incurring a lot of collateral damage? I know it may be impossible, but assuming we could, let’s make an argument for why it would be a noble mission…” Eventually the impossibility is muted and you are left with the noble mission and –stifle your laughter - blundering efforts to do good. I hope you follow me here.
The “thank heavens McCain isn’t president” hypothetical is particularly galling because up until now we have had a president Obama who has largely continued upon and expanded his predecessors much reviled policies with respect to war, surveillance , state secrecy, torture, detention and corporate hand outs. He has walked back or completely spun around on many of the important issues of the most historic presidential campaign in generations, as many predicted. His statements in that reality, the one where he courted a particular electoral sensibility in order to become president, were often at complete odds with his actions in the present reality, where he is president. Why should we assume campaign McCain, or non-president McCain today, would behave exactly as President McCain would? Does it matter? And in the larger scope of things, if McCain would have been different on Iran but largely the same on everything else listed above, is that really a big deal? (I mean, besides to the Iranian protestors). This is such a marginal difference, indulging in that fantasy is a way to prop up the illusion that our system isn’t as closed as it is, that public opinion matters, and so on. It’s bullshit. After all, do we not have a bright shining example right in front of us that demonstrates how little political campaign rhetoric and mannerisms reflect upon actual policies once the candidate is in power? Of course non-President McCain is going to say something to criticize the president’s reaction; it’s the nature of our politics. Don’t take his statements past or present for how he would behave as president, similarly to just about everything Obama has done while in office runs contrary to things he did outside of the white house.
There is something sad about clinging to this scrap of nothing to keep hope alive for the lesser of two evils dynamic in our electoral politics.