Streetwise Professor

March 27, 2008

That Would be a Feature, Not a Bug

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 10:03 am

John McCain gives FT commentator Anatol Lieven the vapors. According to Lieven, the muscular neocon McCain makes Bush look like a mild mannered milquetoast: “The problem that Mr McCain poses stems from his ideology, his policies and above all his personality. ” Other than that, Lieven has absolutely no problems with McCain.

Using Walter Russell Mead’s categories, Lieven calls McCain a “Jacksonian nationalist”–and he’s not paying a compliment to our seventh president (and few do these days.) Jacksonians are notably touchy, and are willing to fight–and if they fight, they fight to win. Jacksonians are also American exceptionalists, value personal liberty, and have little patience for international organizations that enable tyrants instead of smiting them. All of which drive postmodern Eurosnobs like Lieven to conniptions.

As an instinctual (if not intellectual) Jacksonian, all I can say is from Lieven’s lips to God’s ear. If McCain is indeed a Jacksonian–and the case can be made–that would be his saving grace in my eyes.

But there is much room to doubt Lieven’s characterization. What is so Jacksonian about supporting Kyoto and other measures to control carbon emissions? What is so Jacksonian about campaign finance reform? And immigration “reform” is Jacksonian? In what universe? I have no doubts that Old Hickory is doing about 1000 RPM at the very thought.

Indeed, John McCain’s big problem is that many Americans, especially many who remember fondly America’s last true Jacksonian president, Ronald Reagan, seriously doubt that he is in fact a Jacksonian. Lieven’s case that McCain is a foreign policy Jacksonian is plausible, and that is quite honestly the only reason that McCain is the Republican nominee. But many fear that his Jacksonianism stops at the water’s edge. Overcoming those doubts is McCain’s daunting task.

And ironically, jeremiads like Lieven’s will go far in building McCain’s cred among the skeptics. The more people like the University of London professor (and I have nothing against professors, believe me) attack McCain for his muscular Americanism, the more McCain doubters will embrace him. Especially if the contest comes down to McCain vs. Obama, the contrast between a Jacksonian patriot and a man who refuses to wear a flag pin accompanied by “Goddam America” fellow travelers will be be decisive. In particular, Reagan Democrats are instinctual Jacksonians who would find Lieven’s characterization of McCain quite attractive (no doubt to the good professor’s horror)–and who no doubt find Obama’s anti-Jacksonianism repellent. So, quite unintentionally I am sure, and perhaps not quite accurately, Professor Lieven has crafted the narrative that is most likely to put McCain in the White House.

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