Would We Be Better Off If John McCain Were President?
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The following piece first appeared on Truthdig.
Democrats were united on one issue in the 2008 presidential election: the absolute disaster that a John McCain victory would have produced.
And they were right. McCain as president would clearly have produced a long string of catastrophes: He would probably have approved a failed troop surge in Afghanistan, engaged in worldwide extrajudicial assassination, destabilized nuclear-armed Pakistan, failed to bring Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to the negotiating table, expanded prosecution of whistle-blowers, sought to expand executive branch power, failed to close Guantanamo, failed to act on climate change, pushed both nuclear energy and opened new areas to domestic oil drilling, failed to reform the financial sector enough to prevent another financial catastrophe, supported an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, presided over a growing divide between rich and poor, and failed to lower the jobless rate.
Nothing reveals the true state of American politics today more than the fact that Democratic President Barack Obama has undertaken all of these actions, and even more significantly, left the Democratic Party far weaker than it would have been had McCain been elected. Few issues are more important than seeing behind the screen of a myth-making mass media, and understanding what this demonstrates about how power in America really works—and what needs to be done to change it.
First and foremost, McCain would have undoubtedly selected as treasury secretary an individual nominated by Wall Street—which has a stranglehold on the economy due to its enjoying 30 to 40 percent of all corporate profits. If he didn’t select Tim Geithner, a reliable servant of financial interests whose nomination might have allowed McCain to trumpet his “maverick” credentials, whoever he did select would clearly have also moved to bail out the financial institutions and allow them to water down needed financial reforms.
Ditto for the head of his National Economic Council. Although appointing Larry Summers might have been a bit of a stretch, despite his yeoman work in destroying financial regulation—thus enriching his old boss Robert Rubin and helping cause the Crash of 2008—McCain could easily have found a Jack Kemp-like Republican “supply-sider” who would have duplicated Summers’ signal achievement of expanding the deficit to the highest levels since 1950 (though perhaps with a slightly higher percentage of tax cuts than the Obama stimulus). The economy would have continued to sputter along, with growth rates and joblessness levels little different from today’s, and possibly even worse.
But McCain’s election would have produced a major political difference: It would have increased Democratic clout in the House and Senate. First off, there would have been no Tea Party, no “don’t raise the debt limit unless we gut the poor,” no “death panel” myth, no “Obama Youth” nonsense. Although there would have been plenty of criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, the fact remains that McCain, a Republican war hero, would never have excited the Tea Party animus as did the “Secret-Muslim Kenyan-Born Big-Government Fascist White-Hating Antichrist” Obama. Glenn Beck would have remained a crazed nonentity and been dropped far sooner by Fox News than he was. And Vice President Sarah Palin, despised by both McCain and his tough White House staff, would have been deprived of any real power and likely tightly muzzled against criticizing McCain’s relatively centrist (compared to her positions) policies.
Voters would almost certainly have increased Democratic control of the House and Senate in 2010, since the Republicans would have been seen as responsible for the weak U.S. economy. Democrats might even have achieved the long-desired 60 percent majority needed to kill the filibuster in one or both houses.