Commentary Magazine


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A Test Of Independence

Matthew Continetti writes:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, experience cannot be separated from judgment. Experience matters. It was a lifetime of service and involvement in national security issues that gave McCain the perspective and insight to urge a change in strategy as early as 2003. When it came to Iraq it was the old man, McCain, not the young, fresh, and cool Obama, who was flexible in judgment and willing to try a new approach. And Obama has been inflexible in his error. He continues to advocate a political timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and states that he still would have opposed the surge regardless of its clear success. But a precipitous and premature withdrawal would undermine all the gains made in the last year and a half, and a timeline would breathe new life into the enemies of a stable and democratic Iraq. Barack Obama not only lacks experience and judgment; he lacks the capacity to admit he made a mistake and is therefore willing to risk everything the surge has achieved. Obama got it wrong when the stakes were greatest, and on the central issue of our time. Why on earth would we choose to reward him for it?

The piece is a must-read and thought provoking on the entire subject of “conventional wisdom.” It is not just that McCain had experience — lots of people, including those who were pursuing the failed “light footprint” strategy, had that in spades. It is that he was open to fixing, rather than abandoning the war effort, in large part  because he was unmoved by public opinion clammoring to shut down the war altogether.

In short, McCain often seems like he doesn’t really give a darn what others think. At key junctures in his career he certainly has been almost impervious to public opinion and certainly to his party’s own electoral fortunes. Whether that comes from an irascible personality or his POW experience is for others to ponder. But it gives him the ability to swim upstream and ignore not just MSM opinion but even those in his own party who shuffle their feet and head for the hills when public opinion temporarily shifts against them.

Voters always say they want someone “independent” and that they don’t like politicians who blow with the winds of popular opinion. They say they don’t like politician who are yes-men for their party. But do they really? Do they appreciate  someone who disagrees with them? It’s an open question. But this election is as good a test as we’ve ever had for that inquiry. We have one candidate with apparently no fixed views and an infinite ability to blow with the political winds and another with terribly strong (albeit eccletic) positions who doesn’t much care whether public opinion is with him or not. We’ll see which the voters like best.