Wednesday, December 05, 2007

You Have To Be Wrong To Be Right for the U.S. Presidency

To read my latest post head on over to Michael van der Galien's new blog PoliGazette, which just launched this week. Even though Mr. Van der Galien hails from "Old Europe" he knows more about American politics than many Americans do. I think you'll find that he and his co-bloggers have created a site that will soon become one of the must reads in the blogosphere. I was very touched that among the many luminaries he asked to guest post this week to celebrate the launch, he also asked this modest blogger. After reading my post, be sure to take a look around. Or read what I posted at his site below before taking a look at PoliGazette:

To a lot of Europeans, and Americans as well, U.S. presidential campaigns are a mystery. Perhaps three-time presidential loser Henry Clay explained the process best in 1839 when he said, "I had rather be right than President." In other words, you have to be wrong to be right for the U.S. presidency and that is just as true today as it was in 1839. The purpose of a presidential campaign is to give the candidates the chance to repudiate, back way from and explain away as many of their old positions and actions as possible in order to convince extremists and one-issue voters in their parties to nominate them. Then the candidates must run to the middle and regret a few more positions and actions they took in the past in order to get elected. Finally, once they are elected they must never change their minds or admit to any mistakes at all no matter what the situation. President Bush is a perfect example of how this strategy works. While running for President he regretted most of what he had done in his life, from his drinking to his performing badly in school and in business, which just made him more likeable. Now that he is President, he can't think of a single mistake he has made.

The main task of most of the Democrats running for President is to prove how wrong they were (as far as Democrats are concerned) about Iraq. Although New York Senator Hillary Clinton surged to the front of the Democrat candidates on the strength of being wrong about health care and all the other wrongs committed while her husband was President, her inability to completely regret her vote on Iraq, has given other candidates an opening. When it comes to being wrong on Iraq, Clinton can't seem to get it quite right. She says that she made the wrong decision for the right reasons and that if she knew then what she knows today, she would have made the right decision, which is at least better than being right for the wrong reasons, but not good enough for some people. Some Democrats are saying that she isn't the right candidate if she can't just say she was wrong. The early strength she got from admitting that her health care plan was all wrong, or, at least, that it was the wrong plan for the right reasons, has been jeopardized by her stance on Iraq. And now her husband has made things worse by saying he was right on Iraq from the beginning, which blurs Hillary's message that she was kind of wrong.

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards became the favorite of many progressive Democrats by claiming that he was the most wrong of all on Iraq. Most of his supporters say that the main reason they are supporting him is because he began his mea culpa "The Right Way in Iraq" with these three little words: "I was wrong." But there are other things about him that seem just a little too perfect, from his hair to his marriage, and this has caused his campaign to falter.

The only major Democrat running for President who won't admit he was wrong about the war is Illinois Senator Barack Obama. He still obstinately clings to the position that he had before the war, that the war was wrong. In October 2002 he said, "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the middle east, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars."

Obama's stubborn insistance that he was right on Iraq has led some to believe he doesn't have enough experience to be President. He hasn't had enough time to admit to any big mistakes. The fact that he has so few past positions to repudiate, misstatements to regret or scandals to apologize for has led some people to believe he lacks substance. Though he has made a few missteps during the campaign, none of them have gone far enough to convince voters that he is truly wrong enough to be President. Many worry that he may be saving all of his mistakes until after he is elected President.

By contrast, on the Republican side the candidates are falling all over each other trying to prove just how wrong they have been. Arizona Senator John McCain has had a years and years of experience of being disastrously wrong at the right times. Early in his career he got caught up in the Savings & Loan Scandal and was one of the Keating Five who received illegal campaign contributions from Charles Keating, the chairman of the corrupt Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. "It's a wrong appearance when a group of senators appear in a meeting with a group of regulators, because it conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do," he later said of the scandal. In the aftermath of this scandal he made up for his mistakes by becoming a staunch supporter of campaign finance reform and co-sponsoring the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. But to many Republicans his advocacy of campaign finance reform was even wronger still, so now he has been trying to make amends for that mistake by hiring as the co-chairman of his national finance committee A. Jerrold Perenchio, a man he once accused of trying to "evade and violate" the campaign finance law he sponsored.

Although McCain ran against President Bush in 2000 and has occasionally been a thorn in his side on such issues as torture, for the most part he has embraced the President, both figuratively and literally. As strongly as he appears to oppose torture, which is a big sticking point with many Republican voters who believe that being pro-torture is the most important issue in the campaign, he has reassured Republican voters by capitulating easily to the President when push comes to shove. Ironically, his support for the President's immigration plan, the one issue that most Republicans oppose the President on, has also been a huge problem for McCain. Somehow, he can't even seem to pick the right issues to support and oppose the President on. But if he just made a few pro-torture, anti-immigrant speeches, the nomination could be his.

McCain may ultimately decide he had rather be "right" on these issues, but he is making other efforts to appeal to the right-wing. McCain, who took the Straight Talk Express to Nowhere in 2000, is hoping that he can ride the Double Talk Express right to the White House this time, after taking one small detour to refuel. "Are you going into crazy base world?" Jon Stewart asked him about his efforts to cozy up to the late Jerry Falwell, a man he once denounced as one of America's "agents of intolerance." "I'm afraid so," McCain replied. Deep down McCain knows it's wrong to pander to the Christian Right, which he once attacked, but by admitting it, that makes it right. When the Christian Right was at the apex of their power, McCain took them on. Now that their power is beginning to wane, he is sucking up to them. His strategy seems to be to do everything exactly wrong, a strategy pioneered by George Costanza in the famous Seinfeld episode, "The Opposite." It just might be the key to victory.

But McCain has quite a bit of competition when it comes to being wrong from former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Romney and Giuliani are now in a battle to see who can repudiate more of the liberal stances they took on social issues in the past to appeal to the conservative wing of the Republican party. Both hail from liberal states, where they took liberal positions on such issues as abortion, gay rights and gun control. Now they are claiming that it was all just a ruse. By admitting their inauthenticity in the past they look more authentic now. "He tricked liberals into voting for him," Ann Coulter said when she endorsed Romney shortly before trying to sabotage his campaign by calling Edwards a "faggot." Having demonstrated their ability to fudge their positions once, while winking at conservative voters that they really believed something different all along, they aim to show that they can win by doing the exact same thing again in the general election. Like post-modern advertisements that mock the idea that they are selling you a bill of goods, even as they successfully sell you a bill goods, Romney and Giuliani hope to turn being double-talking politicians to their advantage.

Because McCain, Romney and Giuliani have not yet convinced voters that they truly regret most of what they said and did in the past, some voters are taking a look at former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee is a living embodiment of the "Before" and "After" ads for weight loss products that used to run in cheap magazines, having lost 110 pounds. His release of a serial rapist who went on to murder someone would seem to be a perfect mistake to regret, an opportunity to propose draconian measures against crime and perhaps connect these proposals somehow to torture and immigration to win over the base. Unfortunately, Huckabee has neglected to seize this opportunity, claiming he did nothing wrong and attempting to blame the criminal's release on his predecessors, Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton. Is that any way to win an election?

Even worse, some people believe Huckabee might be too morally upright to be President. Paul Mirengoff of Powerline believes that while Huckabee supports the War in Iraq, he supports it for the wrong reasons. As if that weren't bad enough, Huckabee opposes waterboarding and would close Guantanamo because he believes they are morally wrong. Mirengoff argues that Huckabee's reluctance to compromise his moral values could undermine his ability to fight terrorism. "Waterboarding and long-term detention aren't very 'Christian,'" says Mirengoff. "They merely keep terrorists out of action and, in special circumstances enable us to find out where we're going to be attacked next and/or where we can find those who are planning the next attacks." And on immigration Huckabee has opposed denying state benefits to illegal immigrants, calling it "un-Christian." Most Republican voters prefer Christians who don't have such a highly developed sense of right and wrong.

Like Obama, Huckabee seems to have adopted an odd strategy that is puzzling pundits who believe that Americans are not ready for a President who will not turn his back on his principles to get elected. They worry that a candidate who is not willing to bend his principles to win an election won't be able to bend his principles to fight our enemies, who have no principles at all. Obama and Huckabee should remember that in 1964 Barry Goldwater ran for President with the campaign slogan "In Your Heart You Know He's Right," and he lost in one of the biggest landslides in American history. And yet, sometimes I wonder if maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing to have a President who stuck to his principles throughout the campaign and didn't change his positions just to get elected. Maybe it would be a nice change of pace to vote for someone who was right about a few things instead of one who now says he was wrong about everything. But I suppose, as President Richard Nixon once said, "That would be wrong."


Terrible Tory Girl said...

It's strange but true how that strategy prevails in the USA.

Over here in Britain, to admit you were wrong on an issue means your head served on a platter to quench the media's thirst for blood.

So many of the British politicians face calls of resignation each day for putting a foot wrong.

Enjoyed the blog - very informative on the American voting record.

Keep up the good work!

a said...

Van der Galiën is associated with the Pajamas and I don't understand why you want to be on his blog.

Dave Dubya said...

I can only hope Mr. Swift comes to realize how wrong he was to allow his glowing red white and blue post to be displayed in such an elitist international forum.

And may that be his first step onto the path toward his presidency.

Bukko_in_Australia said...

"Van der Galien" sounds like a fake name. Why would a dedicated conservative like Jon Swift want to be associated with any whiff of bogosity?

Michael van der Galiën said...

"Van der Galiën" is a real name o anonymous Australian.

'a': for your information, PJM adds quite a lot to the internet. It's a great opportunity for bloggers to ear money and to reach a wider audience.

Is PJM conservatives? Yes, but the NYT is liberal. You're not boycotting them, are you?

Michael van der Galiën said...

And Jon: thanks again for that great post. I know I'm not as dedicated to conservatism as you are, but at least you're an open-minded rightwinger ;)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Van der Galiën,

"Ear money". I like that. But shouldn't it be "eye money"?

punkinsmom said...

Your posts are much more lucid here. I think it's the color. Something about the red, white and blue that is distracting to patriots such as your loyal readers. The buff color allows the gravitas of your writing to stand on its own.

Or not.

liquiddaddy said...


Great post.

I'm thinking that Mitt and Huckabee are willing to be entirely within your definition of a winning politician. They could be great presidents unless one is atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, gay, non-demoninationalist, anti-disestablishmentarian, Mexican, Sikh, Budist, or Methodist.

Personally, I think Michael is a very decent blogger and person. I wish he didn't believe in pajama people, but what are you gonna do?


Carl said...

michael van der galiën said...

Is PJM conservatives? Yes, but the NYT is liberal.

Errr. No.

Sorry. Even us reasonable conservatives can see that.

But thanks for playing! Tell the asshole what he's won, Johnny!

Anonymous said...

I haven't actually seen the movie or read the book, but i understand that Coulter is hot.

I also find it just a bit creepy that your captcha is "jewy"

Anonymous said...

I haven't actually seen the movie or read the book, but i understand that Coulter is hot.

Oh fuck blogger.

Sweet baby jebus in a hat of thorns, the captcha is now "caligula", what sort of demented evil are you up to here?

Anonymous said...

Oh no, you aren't gonna go there, no you are not, I am absolutely not using that as a captcha. "Lord Akgtru"? Do you have any idea what that hell is like?

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention that i didn't read your post on VanderGrumps or whatever its called blog but I'm sure it was quite good and keep up the good work. You are one of my favorite bloggers, altho you are a bit wordy and i rarely finish one of your posts, i always feel smarter after not finishing it sorta like reading Time magazine only not as liberal.
(Just a suggestion, more pictures? I mean i don't need them, I'm perfectly capable of reading without pictures, but maybe some other people might benefit and it wouldn't hurt if you catch my drift)

And thanks for changing the captcha to something bearable.

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's me again, just wanted to make sure there aren't any misunderstandings or hard feelings about the 'I feel creepy typing jewy' thing. I'm not racist or anything, some of my best friends are of the hebrewish faith and i even have a negro neighbor, on retrospect i probably shouldn't have said 'creepy', more 'confused' or 'disturbed'. Hope that's not a problem.

Of course, now the captcha is 'faggybm' so I'm pretty much confused again.

damozel said...

Van der Galien, eh? I've often read his other "all Van der Galien all the time" blog. I like the new venture but think he should have named it VanderGazette.

Well done you, MVDG, for recognizing a sensible conservative when you see one. But I too am troubled by this:

"Is PJM conservatives? Yes, but the NYT is liberal. You're not boycotting them, are you?"

This is the sort of construct in which so many conservatives (not, of course, Mr. Swift) rejoice: State your premises as facts and ask me to join in your inferences.

Michael van der Galien,it does not follow.

Though I DO wish there were a network such as PJM for moderately conservative bleeding heart liberals like me. I'd like to eye some of that blogging $$$ myself.

frayedknot said...

Dear Mr. Swift.
You suggest that Mr. VDG understands American politics better than most.
Well, he links to little green foot balls concerning the tragedy in Colorado. A comment from the "thread" e: #4 Killgore Trout

Could be a Muslim skullcap, or a kippah worn by a Jew. Either way, whoever did this is a murderer who can and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

REad all the knowledge here:
There is some old saw about dogs and fleas.

Jolly Roger said...

I'd say that these days, you have to be more wrong to be President than at any time in our history.

That thing you noticed was an oversight due to movement of the blog platform, and it has been corrected. I apologize for the oversight.

Johnny Pez said...

I have not read PoliGazette, but I have to say, Jon, that you run a terrible risk of losing your "reasonable conservative" creds when you consort with Old Europeans. That's just wrong (and not in a good, election-winning kind of way, either).

liquiddaddy said...

Mr. Swift,

I felt compelled to share with you and your readers that my attempt to post what I consider to be a reasonably staid comment on George Romney's horrible spinning in his grave, Michael didn't post it. (?!)

I thought we were buds.


Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Of course the wrong person is preselected - it's a precondition, usually pre-membership of the CFR.

rickdog said...

i continuously find it amusing how so many visitors to your site don't understand your subtle satire. it really exposes right-wingers for the numb-skulls that they really are. it's OK for me to say this because they will never "get it."

keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Everything I was going to say was said by anonymous 4:47. Bastard.

Houston said...

Oh, and one more thing: What sort of idiot thinks the New York Times is liberal? For chrissake, get a clue. The NYT is establishmentarian.

Houston said...

Anonymous 4:31 was moi. I did everything exaclty as one is supposed to do, but it still kept my identity a secret.

Another thing, I'm not sure what the word "captcha" refers to.

a said...

It stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart," in this case asking you to type in a nonsense word like "hkhnb."
You could look it up, being as you are connected to the Internet.

Anonymous said...

But it's so much easier to pose a silly question and get a snarky answer. I'm not Houston, but I do that sometimes just to irritate someone smarter than me. I have no power in this world, so annoying my betters is the only way I can get back at them.

P.S. I am collecting the captchas I see to decipher the hidden messages in them. They are of the Devil, I can feel it!

Sub Lumen said...

Some loyal Huckabooster should get your PoliGazette article into the candidate's hands, post haste. He's getting being wrong all wrong.

Case in point: When questioned by Fox about a statement he'd made in 1992 calling for isolating AIDS patients, Huckabee said "I'm not going to recant or retract from the statement that I did make...." The best he could do was an anemic "Now, would I say things a little differently in 2007? Probably so."

Where's the wronginess in that?!!?

Ed said...

As a displaced Brit who never understood politics anywhere, I guess I will leave the smart remarks to them that know what they are postulating about. Ann Coulter is hot though!!