It was likely the GOP would lose the 2008 election, although that was hardly a sure thing. If the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent chain reaction in finance capitalism had occurred on November 18 instead of September 18, McCain might have won. If Hillary Clinton had somehow been able to pull out the Democratic nomination, whether or not the financial collapse and the revelation of the new Great Recession that had actually started some months earlier came before or after November 5, 2008, McCain might well have won anyway. (Given the way that Clinton ran her primary campaign, relying more and more on racism as it progressed, it is highly likely that huge numbers of African-Americans would have stayed home on election day.) But the financial collapse did occur before Election Day and Barack Obama was the nominee and he did win.
But let’s speculate for a moment (actually for the rest of this column) where our nation in general and the GOP would be if McCain had somehow won. Bad Day at Black Rock for both (no pun intended). For whether or not McCain served out his full term, by 2012, the Republican Party would have been facing at least 30 years in the wilderness. Why? Because they would have had to take the full responsibility for all the Republican policies and all the Bush/Cheney booby traps left for the next Administration, Republican or Democratic. But the Administration is Democratic and it happens to be one that simply doesn’t like to mix it up with the Republicans, that is all caught up in “bipartisanship,” and that does not like to “play the blame game,” no matter what the arguments are for doing precisely that.
And so, in terms of its political future, Barack Obama was heaven sent — for the GOP, in two senses. In this column, we will look at what the country would look like if McCain had won. Next week, we will look at how Obama is heaven sent for the GOP now, being in office and adopting, for the most part, the “let’s be gentlemen about this” strategy that simply doesn’t work with opponents who are anything but gentlemen. Reminds one of the foolishness expressed by FDR’s Secretary of State Henry Stimson when he was notified that U.S. Naval Intelligence had broken the Japanese diplomatic code: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”
Let’s begin with what a McCain/Palin Administration would have done on foreign policy, not necessarily in order of importance. There would be no movement of any kind towards furthering a settlement of the Palestine/Israel conflict. (Obama has taken very timid steps, but at least he has taken steps.) That would be simply adding more kindling to that tinderbox. On Iran, there would be not a hint of talks. Much more severe sanctions would be talked about, but preparations for a military attack, either by ourselves or the Israelis under U.S. protection, might very well be underway. The disastrous outcomes of that strategy would range from closure of the Straits of Hormuz to direct retaliation against Israel and further widening of the war. (Nuclear Pakistan comes in the Iranian side, anyone?) On North Korea, no talks, and thus that nation would be encouraged with its redevelopment of its nuclear program.
What is being proposed by the renegade Gen. McChrystal for Afghanistan would have already been done, U.S. public opinion be damned, and we would definitely be tied up there for years. (Obama still might very stupidly follow this path, but at least he hasn’t done so yet.) The “anti-Iran” missiles would be going into Eastern Europe and the relationship with Russia would be heading for the deep freeze. In support of their aggressive foreign policy, McCain’s personal reservations about this particular military construction program or that to the contrary notwithstanding, military spending would be soaring even more than it is under Obama. All of these policies would lead to either short- or long-term negative consequences for the United States. With a McCain Administration in place, they would all have the GOP label, whether a Democratic Congress (which would likely still be in place itself) went along or just offered the token resistance it did under Bush.
Turning to domestic policy, as is well-known to BuzzFlash readers, the Great Recession was caused by Republican policies. Because of the way he has conducted himself (more on that next week), the Republicans have been able to hang most of the blame around Obama’s neck. But under McCain, just think. There would have no stimulus package of any kind, except possibly for more tax cuts, which just make things worse, not better. The Democrats in Congress might have been able to put a mini one together, but if McCain had vetoed it they would have not been able to come close to an override. So the economy would be tanking even worse than it is, and that would be clearly laid at the door of the GOP.
There would be no debate on national health care reform, except possibly for some package of tax credits, that would cover no additional people and would do absolutely nothing to control the rise in health care costs, to say nothing of private insurance company premiums. Whether the system would collapse before the end of McCain’s first term, one cannot say. But that chances that that would happen would certainly have been increased. There would have been no tea party or birthers or deathers campaigns to distract the population from what is really going on. The bases of those movements do have some real complaints about what is happening to them. It would have been impossible for the GOP to organize them as they have into an “anti-government” (read “anti-Democrat,” race-based) movement and it might have been possible to organize some of them into a movement that would confront the real causes of their problems.
GM and Chrysler would have been allowed to go out of business. There would have been no extension of unemployment benefits. The bailout of the banks probably would have continued, because it was started under the Georgites. But the blame for its outcomes would have been correctly laid to the party whose policies lead to the mess in the first place, not to a Democratic Administration that out of weakness is just following along. Unemployment would be even higher, and so on and so forth. And there would be Sarah Palin, just a couple of heartbeats away from the Presidency.
The bottom line is that the country would be in even worse shape than it is now, due to a continuation of Republican policy. But, instead of being able to lay the blame at the feet of a Democrat who a) seems very reluctant to lay blame where it should be laid and b) is following some of those Republican polices himself, it would have possible to put the GOP right into the political crosshairs where they belong. And so, since the only nomination of Barack Obama made it highly unlikely that McCain would have won, Obama was indeed heaven sent for the GOP.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST, http://www.cjournal.info/; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter, http://lists.psalience.org/mailman/listinfo/ths; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century (POAC); http://www.oldamericancentury.org/index.htm.