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January 31, 2008

"For Patriotism, Not Profit"

This isn't another McCain bashing post. I don't understand the anger over McCain's line, expressed here by Mark Steyn. Though many others have sharply criticized it.

I'm getting a bit tired of Senator McCain's anti-business shtick. The line about serving "for patriotism, not for profit" is pathetic. America spends more on its military than the next 35-40 biggest military spenders on the planet combined: Where does he think the money for that comes from?

Well, look. Romney has a good credential: he was a wildly successful and very canny businessman. He knows how to manage and lead and get things done.

McCain has a damned fine credential of his own: he was a patriot and hero who served his country in a time of war and stoically endured torture at the hands of "the gooks" (and on that point, having never endured torture myself, I'm willing to give him a pass).

Romney is by no means intentionally denigrating McCain's service when he points out how his own career path makes him very qualified for the presidency. But implicitly, it really can't be taken otherwise: Yes, indeed, he was a superb businessman. But that was because he chose that path. Had he chosen McCain's path -- service to his country in the armed forces -- he would not have have had so much time to excel at business.

I think McCain's "for patriotism, not profit" is a fair shorthand for a simple idea: Yes, Mr. Romney, you surely have acquired a good resume. Perhaps I can't directly compete with many of the bullet-points on your resume. But I have bullet-points of my own which you can't match. While you chose business, I chose the Navy.

I'm not really sure how McCain could make this point without being perceived as "denigrating" Romney's career in capitalism, anymore than Romney can't quite avoid suggesting that his own experience in business is more valuable than McCain's experience as a pilot in war. Either man, by arguing his own experience is more valuable than the other's, implicitly and unavoidably denigrates the other's.

Surely Romney doesn't intend to suggest that McCain's service is somehow second-rate -- but how can he avoid doing so in urging that his own business experience makes him the most qualified candidate? Similarly, McCain really can't help suggesting that a career in business is less worthy than a career in the armed forces if he is to champion his own credentials.

Urging that either is consists of a greater credential for the presidency implies, inevitably, that the other is lesser. It is the nature of the thing and cannot be finessed.

The other McCain quote noted up by Steyn -- there are some "greedy people" on Wall Street who may need to be "punished," -- plus McCain's resistance to the Bush tax cuts as "unfairly" benefiting the rich, do indicate, together, a skepticism towards capitalism and free enterprise than we're used to seeing in a Republican nominee. McCain can talk up the Reaganite platitudes of free people pursuing their own economic dreams, but he seems to have at his heart an antagonism to the system, or at least its excesses (both real and imagined) that are far more common to liberal economic thought. His calls for a society motivated primarily by idealism and patriotism are at odds with the notion that, while idealism and patriotism are fine motivations, the central impulse that actually drives a dynamic capitalistic economy is, frankly, self-interest, or at least a local rather than national interest -- providing for oneself, and of course providing for one's family, and not necessarily devoting the greater portion of one's working hours directly to the common weal. Capitalism posits that the common weal is served best by free people making economic decisions that better themselves; McCain does seem to have reservations about this notion, and seems to pine for a society in which people skip the middleman of enlightened self-interest and work directly for the vague cause of "America."

But on the actual "for patriotism, not profit" quote -- I find it unobjectionable and, indeed, rather unavoidable, unless McCain is expected to simply say in a debate, "You've won me over, Governor. Your experience in business surely is more relevant to the presidency than my own experience defending my country."

And, let's face it, McCain could certainly make the point more insultingly, if he wished:

I'm reminded of the Kipling quote (I think) along the lines of "All men think less of themselves for having never served as a soldier." I think that's largely true, especially on the right, and I'm not sure some of the anger of McCain's line isn't partly a defensive reaction to that. Say what you will about McCain, but he is, in fact, a hero, and if it hurts to be reminded that the great majority of us are not, that's not really McCain's fault, nor even his intent. "I am a hero" always carries with it the slight "...and you are not," but all of us non-heroes ought to just accept that and give the hero his proper due.

I don't think he deserves to be president, but I do think he's earned the right to remind us of what he gave for the country.

"Greedy People:" Chad objects that McCain may be right about some "greedy people" having crossed the line of the law and needing punishment. And Chad might be right about that.

However, it seems to me that this is rather easy target of opportunity, too. Politicians are always good at pointing fingers; "predatory lenders" are the new "junk bond dealers," I guess. And as with junk bond dealers in the eighties, there are almost certainly some illegalities going on here.

Because there are crimes and criminals in every industry.

Blaming an easy target may be a good bit of throwaway bullshit on the hustings - especially for someone who doesn't economics as well as he should -- but let's remind ourselves of the nuances here.

Instapundit's nothing that the Old Evil of denying loans to bad credit risks has now apparently given way to the New Improved Evil of giving loans to bad credit risks. Oh, it's not quite reverse-redlining; redlining is an odious practice of using an external factor -- the neighborhood were one resides, which is often, of course, a racial monoculture -- to deny an individual a loan.

But the general point holds -- those who once railed against lenders for not giving a chance to bad credit risks are now railing against them for granting them that chance... with consequences that should have seemed more obvious than they apparently did.


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posted by Ace at 03:58 PM

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