Here is a quite touching photo of John McCain at the Western Wall which provokes some reflection about where our presidents or future presidents should go and the symbolism created by their mere physical presence. McCain is telling his American and international audience that there is where he stands and will stand as president.
Throughout the early part of what for him is already a general election campaign, McCain’s goal continues to be to explain the very stark contrast between him and his Democratic opponents on how they see the world and how they envision America’s obligations. The dichotomy he would like us to see is this: he is a man who knows who are friends are, understands the stakes if we do not take our responsibilities seriously and refuses to play to the polls; his opponents, he contends, to varying degrees (either due to lack of political courage or lack of clear-sightedness) refuse to fess up with the American people about the stakes in Iraq and the type of adversaries we face around the world.
In contrast, Barack Obama speaks as though the dangers in the world are largely of our making and the “hard” thing is to “talk to our enemies.” For him what matters is to go and be seen by those who despise us.
It is, of course, demonstrably false that it is “hard” to go running off for meetings with Raul Castro and Ahmajinedad. In fact, the media will applaud, the Europeans will swoon and there are legions of academics who will encourage it. What really is hard is to stick by our friends and allies in the face of international pressure (or even when your personal “mentor” is villifying them in public) and see through unpopular commitments.
Where a president chooses to stand, visit and remain (or decline to walk out of) speaks volumes. McCain is hoping voters will come to understand that and agree with his choice of venues.