9/10/2008

Thoughts on the 2008 Campaign and a Presidential Endorsement

This is a post I was planning to write in October, not September, because I wanted to wait until after the debates to make a more accurate judgment of the two presidential candidates. But this nonstory about lipstick forced my hand.

I am angry. I am disappointed. And I am scared. But I am hopeful.

Coming into this election season, I was hopeful for America because I believed we finally had a chance to pick up the pieces and get America back on track after our long national nightmare. President Bush has been the worst president of my lifetime. I don't say that as a partisan. I say that because I genuinely believe he is the only president in my 31 years who has left the United States in a worse position than when he came into office. There is a pervasive sense of gloom, despair, apathy, and mistrust swirling around the nation that I have never observed before.

I love the United States of America. I believe this is the greatest country on Earth. It is only in America that someone can progress from having absolutely nothing to being on top of the world. It doesn't matter if you are a third-generation daughter of Polish immigrants, a true-blue son of Appalachia, a waitress working the late shift at a local diner, or a man whose parents abandoned him as a child on a street corner in Los Angeles. The United States offers more opportunities for everyone to succeed than any other nation on Earth.

But lately, it seems that more and more people are falling behind and the American Dream is becoming more and more unattainable. It's not just poor people or those who have made poor decisions who are falling behind. It's middle class people and those who are working hard and playing by the rules who are struggling now too. It costs more to drive our cars because of spiking gas prices. It costs more to go to college because of rising interest rates on student loans. It's more difficult to buy or sell a home. And it's harder to deal with being sick because health care is increasingly unaffordable.

There is a lack of confidence in our government, a lack of sophistication in our politicians, and a lack of professionalism in the media that cover them. People feel that the government doesn't understand their problems, the government doesn't understand its own responsibilities, and the government doesn't care. I'm not saying this as a criticism of conservatism which naturally advocates smaller government. I'm saying that people are losing faith in the very governmental institutions that run America. Think of the Federal Reserve, the State Department, and Homeland Security for example.

Having spent many years of my life abroad, I have seen the transformation that is taking place beyond our borders as well. Gone is the enthusiasm that outsiders once had for this nation. Gone is the respect that the mere mention of "America" commanded. This respect has been replaced by disdain, condescension, and lament.

This brings us to the start of the presidential campaign season.

There were about 20 candidates in the race altogether at the start of the campaign in the spring of 2007, so I figured there should be several candidates whom I'd be willing to support. But then I began to learn more about the candidates and began to cross them off my list.

The Republicans

Rudy Giuliani was a moderate Republican, so I thought he warranted a second look. However, I found him to be a fraud and jumped ship because who was once "America's Mayor" had since descended into pitting Americans against each other on the campaign trail by using terrorism to drive a wedge between Democrats and Republicans. And I believe he reduced September 11th to a mere political talking point.

Mitt Romney was a nonstarter because of the sheer number of policy reversals he undertook in an attempt to pander to certain parts of the Republican base. He came across as the type of politician who had no shame and would do and say whatever it took, even at the expense of his own dignity, to get elected. So I trusted nothing that came out of his mouth and viewed him to have no ideological core.

Fred Thompson was also a nonstarter because he did not seem serious about his campaign and figured that he could charm his way to the nomination with his Southern twang and red pickup truck. The basis of his campaign was merely that he was a Southerner with a wry sense of humor. There was no policy heft there. No thanks.

Sam Brownback was a candidate of the religious right, so he was automatically disqualified.

This left three palatable Republicans: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul.

I am most definitely not a social conservative. But why would this disqualify Sam Brownback and not Mike Huckabee? Because Huckabee was civil in his political presentation. He was humble, likable, substantive, and in touch. He talked about the economy from the point of view of regular workers, not corporate managers. Even though I strongly disagreed with him on issues like abortion and gay rights, I would have been okay with him as President because he did not use wedge issues to divide the electorate for the sake of finding common ground.

My inner libertarian is what endeared me to Ron Paul. I applauded the courage of his convictions, even if that made him a laughing stock at the Republican debates. He spoke about the insanity of staying in Iraq even though the Iraqis want us to leave and the billions and billions of dollars that are spent propping up countries that are hostile to the United States. Unfortunately, Paul's candidacy came about 40 years too soon and in a party that moved away from Barry Goldwater conservatism decades ago.

This left John McCain. I had a favorable opinion of McCain after his 2000 presidential campaign and appreciated the way he occasionally bucked President Bush and the fringe elements of his own party. His participation in the "Gang of 14" at a time when the Senate was about to explode went a long way towards cementing my respect for him. When the race for the Republican nomination came down to McCain and Romney (Huckabee was still in the race too, but he had been marginalized), I was banking on McCain. I figured that of all the Republicans in the race, he was ultimately the most appealing.

The Democrats

As for the Democrats, I was not one of those voters who was bowled over by the Big 3 of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. All three of them were my last three choices.

I originally started off in Bill Richardson's camp. His resume was simply incredible. Like he said in some of the debates, nominating him would give voters both "change" and "experience." Being from New Mexico, he had the right geography. And as a Latino, he had the right demographics. Combining all this with the fact that he was a centrist Democrat made Richardson bulletproof. His "Interview" campaign ads were impressive too, so I felt comfortable showing my allegiance to the New Mexico governor. He was the first candidate to whom I ever donated money.

But then came the debates. He seemed sluggish, disoriented, and disappointing. I gave him several chances, but he never "popped." And his campaign staff didn't seem all that interested in my offers to volunteer for him either. So he left me cold.

As Richardson's star faded, Joe Biden's stock rose. He was my second choice who later became my first choice. Biden was an exceptionally strong debater with a good sense of humor. He had a lot of experience too and clearly understood the world in which we live. I had the opportunity to meet him three times and he genuinely seemed to talk to me as a person and not as just another voter. I donated money to his campaign too and was surprised when I received a thank you letter from him personally with a real signature. Not one of those computerized signatures, but a real signature with ink stains. This was a United States senator actually taking the time to be gracious to me, a generic PhD student in South Carolina.

As I watched him perform strongly in debate after debate, I hoped that the people in Iowa were paying attention. Despite my enthusiasm for Biden, I worried that he did not have enough star power to shine in the Iowa caucuses because Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards were sucking up all the media's oxygen. But I strongly believed this candidate could be trusted to win the White House and govern with a sense of competence and an awareness of the magnitude of his responsibilities. Unfortunately, he finished 5th in Iowa and was thereby disqualified from the subsequent debate in New Hampshire that Bill Richardson, who finished fourth, could participate in.

Chris Dodd was Joe Biden without the personality, so he didn't have a chance. Mike Gravel was not a serious candidate. And like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich was about 40 years ahead of his time.

Why wasn't I in the Barack Clintedwards camp? Because they were polarizing personality candidates with thin resumes. Obama seemed like a nice guy, but he did not have much of a record to run on. When it comes to voting, I place experience and accomplishments ahead of identity politics and personality. This is why John Edwards was also disqualified. He had even less government experience than Obama and did not prove himself to be a strong campaigner because of how little he helped John Kerry in 2004.

As for Hillary Clinton, she was certainly the "toughest" of the top three candidates, but I had really grown tired of the Bush vs. Clinton storyline and the constant snipping between their surrogates on the cable news channels. I was sick of hearing accusations of President Bush's lying be countered by reminding everyone about President Clinton's lying. I really wanted to move on from the Bush-Clinton dynastic noise and start over.

So my heart was with Biden. But after his loss in Iowa, Richardson's defeat in New Hampshire, and Edwards' embarrassment in South Carolina, I knew I would have to choose between Obama and Clinton. (I still voted for Biden in the South Carolina primary even though he had already dropped out of the race.)

After Super Tuesday my respect for Obama and his political skills increased. He was racking up delegates because he wisely created a campaign apparatus in far more states than Clinton, who felt she didn't need to do this because she was entitled to the nomination. As Clinton fell further and further behind, she became a lot more negative and off-putting. That just reminded me of the Bush-Clinton feuding and further turned me off from her.

But even though I was warming to Obama, I still wasn't sold on him. I appreciated the movement he was trying to create by giving regular people a greater stake in their democracy. And I appreciated his tone, which was more civil and not based on treating voters like they were stupid. But I feared he had too much brain and not enough heart. Hillary Clinton picked up on this and began to run up the score on Obama during the final two months of the campaign and largely rehabilitated her image in my eyes. Unfortunately for her, she had dug herself too large a hole.

Obama won the nomination fairly. The PUMA wing of the party can complain about superdelegates, Florida, Michigan, and half votes, but they should blame the Hillary Clinton campaign, strategist Mark Penn, and the Democratic National Committee for that instead, not Obama. He earned his place at the top of the ticket.

The outrage

So the battle was between a respectable Republican with a record and an intriguing Democrat without one. I thought this campaign would be a lot more civil and uplifting than the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, so I figured that regardless of who won the election, America would come out on top.

But then something changed. Channeling John Kerry, Senator John McCain became Candidate John McCain, and I did not like what I saw. And my worst fears about Senator Obama being overly cerebral came true.

Because of my disagreements with John McCain over foreign policy, the ongoing war in Iraq, and his tack to the religious right, I figured that there was only about a 30% chance that I'd vote for him. That has since become a 0% chance. Some of this is due to John McCain directly, but some of it is also due to his allies.

I am sick of this election being about middle names, flag pins, e-mail rumors, Paris Hilton, religion, and lipstick.

I am sick of the media fixating on insignificant nonsense while ignoring the issues that really matter to people.

I am sick of dishonest political advertising, political red herrings, stupid talking points, baseless accusations of media bias, and phony outrage.

I am sick of having my patriotism questioned because I thought the Iraq War was a terrible idea and don't support most of President Bush's policies.

I am sick of having flag pins determine how much an American loves this country.

I am sick of politicians demeaning our allies and then complaining when they don't enthusiastically support our policies.

I am sick of equating a politician's popularity abroad with political leprosy at home.

I am sick of the fact that a vice presidential nominee that nobody knows won't give media interviews because the media are not "deferential" enough to her.

I am even sicker of the media who let her get away with this in the first place.

The fears

This nation is in a state of historical decline in which we are becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the world and our own quality of life is decreasing. And that scares me.

We are spending billions of dollars in Iraq. Where is this money coming from?

Millions of people can't even afford to get sick, much less actually go to the doctor because health insurance and health care cost too much money.

The world is unstable, as Russia's incursion into Georgia and Iran's nuclear ambitions illustrate.

The environment is slowly degrading and the balance between man and nature is becoming skewed.

It costs three times as much to fill up my gas tank compared to 10 years ago.

A growing percentage of young people are failing to graduate from high school. And for those who do, it's more difficult for them to pay for college because tuition keeps rising and there is less financial aid available.

People are getting kicked out of their homes because of rising interest rates on their mortgages.

Brave Americans are dying and getting hurt every day in Iraq because of an ill-conceived war with an ill-defined mission. And these brave warriors are being neglected when they return home.

There is no transparency in our government. Instead, our national leaders are saying "Trust us" even though they have given us every reason not to.

Laws are being written, passed, and ignored because of presidential signing statements.

An American city drowned and has yet to be rebuilt.

We are one Supreme Court appointment away from major reversals in longstanding social policy.

Politicians are accusing other politicians of being elitists because they went to private schools and sent their children to private schools even though these very same politicians want to institute vouchers that would let parents send their own children to private schools.

Politicians are politicizing America by using phony and loaded slogans like "country first," as if every other candidate running for president doesn't do so.

I am sick of it. There are too many serious issues that need to be addressed, but the quest to win the daily news cycle is crowding everything out.

The endorsement

John McCain would probably be a competent president. And should he win, I would pray for his health every day because I have little respect for and little confidence in Sarah Palin. And I hope that President McCain would govern as Senator McCain, not Candidate McCain.

I have strong disagreements with Barack Obama when it comes to illegal immigration, corporate taxes, tort reform, and entitlement programs. But after what I have seen from the increasingly dishonorable McCain campaign and the doe-eyed media over the past two or three weeks, I have decided that enough is enough.

The path McCain took to get here has caused me to lose a lot of respect for him. His "country first" slogan is a total farce and the phony outrage coming from his campaign over accusations of sexism and celebrity show him to be nothing more than a tool of the very same people who turned George Bush into a polarizing 30% president who only cares about 30% of the electorate.

Real leaders don't accuse their political rivals of wanting to lose a war before losing an election. That's not "country first."

Real leaders don't distract the electorate from substantive issues by throwing up smokescreens about minutia. That's not "country first" either.

Real leaders don't choose their vice presidential nominees after just meeting them once. It reminds me of "looking into Vladimir Putin's soul." While Palin has so far turned out to be a tremendous success for his campaign, the fact remains that this was an irresponsible gamble that has been rendered even more irresponsible by the fact that he is restricting media access to her as if she should not have to be scrutinized by the press.

Real leaders don't cry sexism over stupid remarks about lipstick, especially when they themselves have used the exact same expression in the past and commonly ridicule others for political correctness.

Real leaders don't scare voters by linking their political opponents to children and sex education.

Real leaders don't continue to shout out talking points that have long since definitively been proven false.

An Obama defeat would vindicate the strategists who believed that diverting discussion from education policy, the economy, and Iraq to a discussion about lipstick and sexism are the keys to winning the White House.

An Obama defeat would vindicate a media that is derelict in its responsibilities.

An Obama defeat would lead to a likely Clinton nomination in 2012 and signify to voters that the only way you can win the White House is to throw mud and engage in character assassination. Bush did that in 2000 and 2004, McCain is doing that this year, and should McCain win, Hillary Clinton will do that again in 2012. I don't want politics to be that way.

No more wedge politics.
No more journalistic negligence and irresponsibility.
No more lipstick. And freedom fries. And jokes about France.
No more chants of U-S-A whenever a Republican politician bashes a Democrat.
No more scaring the electorate by linking politicians with children and sex.
No more hiding behind the flag and impugning another American's patriotism.

I have serious reservations about Obama's lack of experience. But the fact that he chose Joe Biden as his running mate reassures me. The two have a good personal relationship, so I know that Biden will always speak his mind even if it means giving Obama bad news. And he can serve as a liaison between the old Washington and the new. Biden-Obama would have been preferable to Obama-Biden, but that is not how the campaigns turned out. But perhaps because Obama is at the top of the ticket, that makes the contrast in tone between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin all the more stark.

I do not endorse Barack Obama because I care much for his political views. And I do not endorse him because of his personal story. I endorse Barack Obama because everything he's running against must not be validated by his defeat.

Even if you may not agree with Obama's political ideas, I hope you at least agree with his political approach. After Paris Hilton, feigned cries of sexism, blaming the media, and lipstick, it is safe to say that the United States can't afford to have this nonsense be rewarded by a McCain victory because that will only allow it to continue in 2012. America deserves better than this.

27 comment(s):

Brett said...

That was a powerful endorsement, Anthony. I doubt it came easy, particularly since you hold strong stances across the board that don't align with Obama or McCain.

In a way, I only partly blame McCain. That's not to excuse what he is doing right now; he has become an active participant in this nonsense (such as the "lipstick" response), and for that he deserves contempt and anger. But originally, his sins were only those of omission.

You see, McCain has just never been good at carving his own distinct path through presidential politics, in the way Obama has via the use of new technological tools, mass organization, and the development of a counter-force to the Clinton Brand (with his own distinct policies to boot, although many of them are liberal).

McCain tried once in 2000 to carve a moderate Republican path against Bush, and failed - utterly - for tactical reasons after one success. He tried again, in 2007, with the leading candidate status, lots of money, and his pick of staff and organization - and failed again, nearly destroying his candidacy in the process. In large part, he's only survived and won because of divisions among the conservatives because of Romney, Huckabee, and Giuliani (initially) that allowed him to win moderates plus a large fraction of conservatives.

So how did he fill this vacuum when he suddenly found himself facing the Obama juggernaut? He turned to the past, to what works. He turned to negative campaigning and campaigners, who told him that as contemptible as it may be, negative attacks work. They distort and deride, but they work, and frequently. McCain wanted to win, and he ultimately had little choice if he wanted to win.

But even he is not totally to blame. It's just that the political environment has changed so much. Technology and the media has gotten to the point where everything has become so visual (and as Al Gore has suggested, more visceral and emotional), and so fast, that the media does little but lap it up rather than be left behind for want of a story.

I share your position, Anthony. If McCain wins, it will be a truly sad day for American politics.

Jim said...

I'm with you. I voted for McCain in the primaries in 2000 (and might have voted for him in the general election, though I'm a Democrat).

I was proud of McCain for standing up to Giuliani and the other right-wingers in the Republican debates who were trying to outdo each other with who could kick the most ass internationally, who could be toughest on illegal immigration, and who could be the least concerned about people being tortured by our government. I liked the fact that he broke ranks with Bush and the incompetents in the administration rather than blindly toe the party line.

I was expecting him and Obama to run one of the most civil campaigns ever. That's how they ran for the nominations.

Clearly that hasn't happened. McCain has moved hard right and adopted the Republicans' divisive tactics, and I think that belittles him. It may win the election, but it's lost my respect.

I am a Christian, and my decision making is significantly influenced by how people treat each other. It's one way I check to make sure my vote is in accordance with my beliefs.

I don't believe in belittling people.
I don't believe in distorting others' records.
I don't believe in lying about my own record.
I believe people should be treated with respect, even when you disagree.
I don't think everything is black and white.
I don't believe in hypocrisy.
It's not always "us" and "them."

Given my beliefs, I can't vote for McCain-Palin.

I think the most horrifying part of this election is that neither side seems willing to keep an open mind and listen to criticism; just read the comments in any story about the election and it's venom being flung both ways. The media doesn't seem to care, and even if they did I fear at this point we're so polarized that the media CAN'T help because they won't ever be viewed as objective.

This is the triumph of the Republican Party.

They may win this election. The country will lose it.

Brett said...

The saddest thing about it is that I can't think of a way to go back to the civility that existed before, short of either a technological collapse or another massive outside threat to force at least some degree of internal consensus between the parties.

The factors leading to bloody politics have just gotten so strong. From the spread of video that causes visceral, emotional reactions before our brains can even process it rationally - to a media that, in its cutthroat competition with each other and alternative media, has only a weak internal editorial filter anymore - to incredibly short-attention spans among Americans, and a kind of perpetual arrogance about their lack of knowledge - to campaigns that have adopted the ever-increasing power of fifty years of marketing research - it's just a mess.

I don't think it's all bad, though. To be perfectly honest, I've always found honesty to be far more important than civility, and I wish people had thicker skins. But the problem is that we aren't getting people who use insults with a point to teach and drive; we just get insults to cut and destroy. They've always existed in American politics (go back to Jefferson), but now the reach and rapidity of them has become so strong.

Brett said...

To summarize, politics in America has always been a contact sport with rough and tumble battles, some of them bloody. But lately, it's become a perpetual blood sport.

Silence Dogood said...

Anthony, thanks for some sobering thoughts on your endorsment. I actually concurr on a lot of it and was probably going to vote Obama over McCain (primarily on my usual democratics leanings and voting against this new angry pseudo-hard right McCain or faux-hard right McCain).

While it is true VP picks don't usually mean much, this year could be an execption and the addition of Palin to McCain's Ticket and Biden to Obama's ticket really sealed the deal that I was voting Democrats this year. However, I still wish it was Biden-Obama

DB said...

Wow Anthony, I might as well have written this. I have been a McCain guy since 2000 when I voted for him in Nevadas primary (then Bush-no flaming please), and out the door this election he was the only one who would meet with me in the middle. He has just become a product of those who vote for him and that is too far-right for me. Palin was the final nail in the coffin (the first being his flip-flop on the torture definitions-if he could retreat on THAT issue, he is not my guy). Like you mentioned before, some people are looking for a reason to vote for McCain and I am one of them. Unfortunately he has gone to a place I can no longer follow. If he wins, even I will pray for his health. :-)

Political Realm said...

I will echo, DB. Your process mirrored mine almost exactly. I came into this cycle determined to give every candidate a real look. And thanks to my closeness to Iowa, I was able to see every major candidate save for Giuliani last year.

As for the state of politics, it truly is sad and our country suffers because of it.

Mike said...

Thanks for this post. Like the others, I've found a lot of my process to be identical to yours.

We suffer from the legacies of Atwater, Morris, and Rove. I don't know if there is any way to put that evil genie back in the bottle. I wish there were.

Anthony Palmer said...

Thank you all for your support. I would have felt much more comfortable with a Biden-Obama ticket, or even a McCain-Huckabee ticket, but it didn't turn out that way.

I'm doing okay financially. I have no car payments, I have no mortgage, I have no student loans with crazy interest rates, I have health insurance, and I have no family members currently serving in the military. So a lot of the Obama's platform doesn't affect me personally. But the way McCain has run his campaign has really disgusted me, and should he win this election, it would tell strategists, pundits, and political observers everywhere that slashing, burning, distracting, distorting, and lying is the strategy for victory. And that means the exact same slime would return in 2012. I've had enough of it and will do everything I can to see that it gets stopped in its tracks this time.

Reginald Harrison Williams said...

Goodness...

...so much to take in.

This could be a superb "long term" research project, Dr. Palmer.
(wink, wink).

I would have preferred a Richardson-Biden ticket or McCain-Chaffee Ticket.

This Is the Seventen's Best So Far,
Reggie:)

Thomas said...

Palmer said,"I have serious reservations about Obama's lack of experience."

Personally, I think experience is over-rated. Bush was the governor of a large state for 6 years and a businessman before that. Look where the economy is now. Cheney had tons of foreign policy experience and so did Rumsfeld. Look where their foreign policy experience has taken us. How did we get to our present state of affairs? Lack of experience or bad judgment? I believe it was the result of bad judgment.

Khaki Elephant said...

As you know, I am a McCain supporter but certainly respect and acknowledge most of your views. The one point that frankly baffles me is this consistent belief that Obama has run a clean campaign and not thrown mud. Let's look at this objectively. The attacks of Obama and his allies turned Bill Clinton, "the first black president," into a racist. Oh, and they did the same favor for Ferraro. It was the Obama's supporters who broke the story that Hillary exagerations about being "under fire" and then kept the fire burning. It was Obama's references to "not looking like other candidates" and his allies comments about Hillary thinking that the nomination belonged to her because she was white that made race an issue. It was Obama's constant reference to McCain as "Bush II" that turned the guy conservatives like Limbaugh and Coulter hated because he wasn't Bush into . . . Bush II. And that particular negative campaign will continue until November. It was Obama who claimed that McCain failed to support one of the the GI Bills because he was turning his back on veterans. It was Obama and his allies who called Palin a religious radical. It was Obama's allies who have attacked her family and her abilities as a mother. And it was Obama himself who said that Palin was even closer to Bush than McCain -- which I would have thought impossible since Obama had already established that McCain was Bush.

Frankly, I could go on for pages, but I've probably already lost anybody who started reading this.

I certainly have no problem with anybody supporting Obama on the issues, but can we please stop pretending that this guy has run an honorable campaign and didn't win the nomination through attacks on Hillary and hasn't continued the strategy. I know he is attractive and soft-spoken, but he has displayed pure Chicago style politics from the onset. He is just clever about how he unleashes the dogs.

Brett said...

"Personally, I think experience is over-rated. Bush was the governor of a large state for 6 years and a businessman before that. Look where the economy is now. Cheney had tons of foreign policy experience and so did Rumsfeld. Look where their foreign policy experience has taken us."

Don't forget James Buchanon, the experienced President back in 1856-1860 that allowed the Civil War to happen under his watch and did nothing but leave the problem to his successor, the "inexperienced" Abraham Lincoln.

I wouldn't dismiss experience entirely. Not every new kid on the block has done well; Kennedy may have inspired a generation, but he was a terrible president in most regards, and his presidency probably left a far more devastating legacy than if Nixon had won in 1960. But when you consider that so many "experienced" people have had such poor judgment . . . it makes you suspicious.

Thomas said...

brett,
I wouldn't necessarily call Kennedy inexperienced. 4 years military service, followed by 14 years in DC before he became president.

the bay of pigs was stupid, but he was calm enough to keep us out of WW3 during the Cuban Missle Crisis. Could you imagine nixon or bush as president during that crisis?

kennedy's accomplishments:
peace corps
proposal of civil rights act
space program initiatives
nuclear test ban treaty
plans to withdraw from vietnam

sounds pretty good to me

DB said...

Could you imagine nixon or bush as president during that crisis?

Better yet, could you imagine McCain or Palin as President during that crisis? McCain is coming off more cowboyish than Bush and Palins complete ignorance on foreign affairs (evidence of interview yesterday) is simply scary. I mean, come on, she would prefer an actual war with Russia rather than another Cold War? Cold War sucks, but at least thousands of people aren't dying because of it.

Brett said...

brett,
I wouldn't necessarily call Kennedy inexperienced. 4 years military service, followed by 14 years in DC before he became president.


Compared to Nixon and the prior presidents immediately before him, he was. Nixon had been Eisenhower's VP for 8 years, and before that he was both a senator and a representative in congress from the ending of World War 2 onward. Before him, Eisenhower had been the Supreme Allied Commander and an example organizer in World War 2.


the bay of pigs was stupid, but he was calm enough to keep us out of WW3 during the Cuban Missle Crisis. Could you imagine nixon or bush as president during that crisis?


Had Kennedy not made such a poor showing to Khrushchev in their first meeting, the Cuban Missile Crisis arguably would not have occurred, or at least reached the level it did in 1962.


kennedy's accomplishments:
peace corps


A good moral program, but a relatively insignificant humanitarian program.


proposal of civil rights act


Largely done under pressure from Lyndon B. Johnson. Interesting story, there - when Kennedy won, he tried to neutralize Johnson by putting him on nearly powerless committees like the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities. Being Johnson, though, he managed to use it to push heavily for civil rights legislation.


space program initiatives


His challenge to reach the Moon was a bold throwing down of the gauntlet, but the program would have continued regardless of whether or not he was elected.


nuclear test ban treaty


This is questionable. It basically made it much more difficult for the United States to keep up on the next generation of nuclear weapons, when in large part our strength depended heavily on our nuclear deterrent.


plans to withdraw from vietnam


You're joking, right? Kennedy heavily escalated the Vietnam War in a way that only Johnson would top (by sending in large numbers of American troops). Kennedy not only sent tons of military advisers, but he also supported efforts by his defense secretary to build up a large army that would be capable of fighting in Vietnam.

Anonymous said...

I cant understand for the life of me why someone would want 4 more years of the same things we have now. Why would you vote McCain he wants the same things as bush wants. We need change in this country. Palin is a joke, there are tons of hockey moms in this country what difference is one more. She is using her down syndrome baby as a crutch there are alot of moms with such babies also. I say McCain & Palin = bush. Obama & Biden = change. Vote for change vote obama. debbie

Thomas said...

brett,
i know a few on the ground for the peace corps and they would certainly disagree with your assessment.

as for the space program being inevitable, you could also say that about almost anything: emancipation proclamation, women's suffrage, civil rights act, etc. how convenient.

as for kennedy and vietnam, perhaps the joke is on you. kennedy's last public statement on vietnam in november 1963 included: "Now that is our object, to bring Americans home, permit the south vietnamese to maintain themselves as a free and independent country."

in fact, kennedy approved a withdrawal of 1000 men by december 31, 1963 (6% reduction) with plans to remove the bulk of us personnel by the end of 1965. kennedy even caught heat from the defense department over this. upon, kennedy's assassination, johnson reversed kennedy's order.

source: in retrospect by robert mcnamara.

Anonymous said...

Thomas, I appreciate Robert McNamara's attempts to fix up his reputation and blatant lying which led to a lot of the errors of the Vietnam error as much as the next guy, (esp. that he tries to do it "in reptrospect" and to do so with just enough self deprecation to make one think "hmmmm, well why would he write bad stuff too if he wasn't telling the truth?").

However, in other inner circle advisers of Kennedy point out that he was planning on leaving troops in Vietnam for the sole purpose keeping his position in Vietnam "strong" for the upcomming 1964 elections and then make a determination after that as to whether or not to pull out. Now letting U.S. service members die ina cause you don't believe in, in order to hedge for the next election. Now there's some real honor eh?

Thomas said...
This post has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

anonymous,
you can smear mcnamara all you like to make yourself feel better.

as for kennedy, you act as though he did something worse than johnson or nixon. yes, vietnam was dangerous in 1963, but the amount of fighting involving us soldiers was minuscule compared to later years. from 1955(when eisenhower first sent military advisers) until 1963, 78 US soldiers were killed in action (source: us army center of military history).

i don't recall war protests over 78 killed and i don't recall people burning draft cards during kennedy's presidency. draft lottery didn't start until 1969.
so if kennedy wanted to leave soldiers in vietnam until after the election, it wasn't like he was actively putting their lives in danger with large military operations. only 16,300 were in vietnam at the time.

there's plenty of blame to go around for vietnam, the least of which belongs to kennedy (in office less than 3 years). if you really want to blame someone for vietnam, try the french, eisenhower, johnson, or nixon. they share the majority of the blame. as for mcnamara, he was really just a puppet of kennedy and johnson. he was only following the policies of the administrations, and he left before his time was up because he couldn't take johnson's incompetency any longer.

so please get your facts straight before you start talking.

Brett said...

anonymous,
you can smear mcnamara all you like to make yourself feel better.


There's no need to "smear" him when he has done so much stuff that was terrible in the long-term for the US military in reality.

You know, things like

A)shifting the US nuclear strategic deterrent away from bombers to missiles, even though the missiles were actually more expensive to deliver on a per-warhead basis, and the US's air fleet of bombers was almost untouchable by the Soviets.

B)Completely FUBARing the bombing campaign on North Vietnam. Against the advice of the Joint Chiefs, who told him that a stop-and-go bombing strategy would only give the North Vietnamese more time and breathing space to prepare for the bombing, he did it anyways.

Thomas said...

brett,
just answer one question: who does the secretary of defense answer to?

don't get me wrong, mcnamara is to blame, but the bulk of the blame goes to the president. just like everyone likes to blame rumsfeld, but bush/cheney were driving the policies. the president is, after all, the commander in chief.

Anonymous said...

Thomas, there is plenty of blame to go around for Vietnam, and arguably Johnsons administration was the one on the switch for the majority of the damages. However, it is important that you point out Eisenhower as well (which should mean Kennedy would be included too, as you note) because those who set events in motion are also to share in the blame of the outcomes.

In conjuction with what Brett has already noted, it is important to keep in mind McNamara's hands are not so clean as you may believe. If you look at his later writings McNamara has written a lot of stuff, most of done in a self depreciating way yet also (personal opinion) in a direct attempt to clean some of the very deep and severe blemishes from his own involvement in getting us furhter and further enmeshed in Vietnam, to include but not limited to twisting and even completely manufacturing information from the war front in order to give reports to the Commander in Chief that looked significantly more promising than the situation really was and ensuring our continued involvement.

After watching "The Fog of War" it is easy to feel pity for McNamara, especially as and older man - with seeming contrition for his actions - and a keen eye toward only revealing the less damnable of his actions.

However, look back at his actions related to the first Tokin Gulf incident as well as his "stastical magic" and I do mean MAGIC, in reporting war numbers that drove much of the strategic actions.

For the record, I appreciate your position and will go back and read "In Retrospect" as I have not read that book, however, it may be worth going back and reading some of the accounts from other leading persons of the time who were not a merciful to McNamara as he may have been to himself and whose opinions are arguably entitled to equal weight. Another good book to consider, if you have not read it, is President Kennedy: Profile of Power by Richard Reeves for what it says about McNamara in particular.

Brett said...

just answer one question: who does the secretary of defense answer to?


Kennedy may have hatched the ugly chicken that was America's military and Vietnam policy in the 1960s and 1970s, but McNamara took it to extremes and added his own personal flaws of arrogance and the like into it. Anonymous mentioned how he would modify information going to the President on how well things would go down, and that's only part of it. He also did things like using a technicality to kill the B-70 bomber even though the Senate had voted overwhelmingly to approve funding for it.

Thomas said...
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Thomas said...

anonymous,
As I mentioned before and you reiterated, there is plenty of blame to go around and that includes McNamara. But I believe you and Brett are giving McNamara too much credit.

In my opinion, McNamara was mostly a pawn. Did he know he was a pawn? More than likely yes. Did he skew the stats to please his bosses. More than likely yes. And did Johnson ask him to cook up some favorable stats? YES. But if Kennedy or Johnson said they were going to leave Vietnam, I seriously doubt McNamara would have been gotten in the way.

When the commander in chief makes a decision, dissension in the ranks is discouraged. You play the game or you lose your job. This needs to be changed. It has to do with leadership.

Eisenhower was accurate when he warned of the Military Industrial Complex. Was McNamara a part of the MIC? Yes, but to a lesser extent than others. It's ironic that Eisenhower is the one who gave the MIC a foothold in Vietnam.

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