A Kinder, Less Crazy, John McCain

Polous lays out a “game-changing” message for John McCain:

Bet you McCain can lose more independents by getting stupid on Iraq than he can lose Republicans by getting smart. Under the circumstances. And under related ones — in the totality of them, if you like — McCain has nothing to lose by glomming onto Obama/Maliki on Iraq. He can draw a host of other important distinctions. He can question the 90% of Obama’s foreign policy that has nothing to do with Iraq. He could, in fact, make pledges not to preventively invade any foreign countries. Wouldn’t that be a game-changer, eh?

Except that McCain can’t do that. For starters, pondering what would happen if McCain eschews preventive war is akin to wondering how this election would be shaping up had we never invaded Iraq; it might make for good blog conversation, but it’s strictly an intellectual question because it can never come about in the real world. McCain is not going to denounce preventive war, meaningfully anyway, because McCain is one of the real standard bearers of preventive war. He was for it before being for it was cool, and believe it or not was the neoconservatives choice in the 2000 Republican primary. There’s just no good sense in assuming McCain is going to cast off a radical approach to foreign policy he’s held for so long.

And secondly, John McCain can’t cede much of anything to Obama on foreign policy. He certainly can’t accept his Iraq policy. The entire focus of the McCain campaign thus far has been about Obama not being qualified to be commander-in-chief and so on. In fact, that’s really McCain’s only opening thus far. He’s already playing roulette with the media on Afghanistan, doubling down that they won’t frame his recent statement as being ripped straight from Barack Obama, doing it with Iraq would probably be too much even for them. And while Polous might be right that McCain could continue to contrast himself with 90% of foreign policy issues, the problem is that, electorally speaking, Iraq is 90% of foreign policy in the minds of voters. So if McCain accepts Obama’s position on Afghanistan and Iraq, how exactly does he argue that Obama is unfit on foreign policy? How does he try to convince voters to vote on foreign policy issues, instead of economic ones? How does he dent the Democratic candidate in a year where the Democrats have a broad generic advantage?

There’s always the secret Muslim radical black liberationist [insert crazy right wing fantasy here] issue I suppose.