Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 2008 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan 5769
Put aside candidates' faults and ponder their qualities
By Jonathan V. Last
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | After three months of negative ads, you might think that both John McCain and Barack Obama were monsters bent on destroying America.
That's probably not true. Certainly, our two nominees are highly imperfect candidates. But they also have much to recommend them.
So it's worth putting aside their faults for a moment and considering the best case for each man, on his own merits.
Let's start with Obama. You can't have an honest discussion about his candidacy without mentioning race, because the simple fact is - in the most abstract sense - it would be a moral good to have an African American president.
That doesn't mean one should vote for Obama primarily, or even partially, because of his race. It means that whenever an African American does ascend to the White House, it will be a proud moment for our country. There are a lot of hucksters and bigots who exaggerate and exacerbate America's racial problems, but that doesn't mean the country doesn't have those problems.
Obama has been criticized for abandoning certain positions in a calculated fashion. For instance, he voted for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act renewal after saying he would filibuster it; he declined public financing for his campaign after promising to take it; and he recently adopted Hillary Clinton's proposed moratorium on foreclosures, which he mocked during the primaries.
In each instance, Obama saw advantage in making a promise and then breaking it. That doesn't bolster confidence in Obama's promises.
But, really, who trusts politicians anyway? Seen in another light, Obama's ruthless repositioning is reassuring. One concern about his candidacy is his limited foreign policy experience. But if he's as calculated in dealing with Kim Jong Il as he has been in the campaign, he'll be a tough, canny head of state.
Obama's biggest selling point is his temperament - not the same as judgment, by the way - which appears to be genuinely first-class. He's a pretty cool customer.
Obama seems to start by giving people the benefit of the doubt. He isn't prone to snap decisions or shooting from the hip. And he thinks about the medium and long term. In short, he's deliberative.
And you could make a case that temperament is the single most important quality of a good president.
Then there's McCain. For starters, McCain's legislative record suggests that not only does he know how to work with Democrats, but he also enjoys doing so. Better still, McCain has made a career of tweaking his own party - always a sign of good character.
McCain's experience in the military and as a longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has helped him understand the limitations and merits of hard power. He also understands that a great power should reward its friends and punish its enemies. In the long run, this realist outlook is likely to net more friends, because there is no greater provocation than perceived weakness.
As for McCain's temperament, it's very different from Obama's. The Democrat's campaign has called McCain "erratic," which isn't quite right, but it does get at something. McCain has a tendency to freelance - for instance, in his meandering proposals on the financial crisis over the last month.
His decision-making is more intuitive than analytical on big-picture items, such as immigration and the Russian invasion of Georgia. (He's actually quite analytical when it comes to policy details, such as budgets and military tactics.) But this tendency could be a substantial deterrent to America's enemies.
Uncertainty creates problems for our adversaries. If the bad guys can't game out how a President McCain would respond to provocation, they're likely to be more tentative in their hostilities. Which is probably why some of America's enemies, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas, have openly rooted against him.
And now back to our regularly scheduled campaign.
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Jonathan V. Last is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.
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