Monday, June 16, 2008

Strength and Weakness of McCain and Obama

A British conservative journal, entitled the Spectator, publishes a special blog named Americano to present brief commentaries on US presidential election this year. On this blog, I found an interesting post, “If it's the economy it's Obama, if it's foreign policy it's McCain” (13 June, 2008).

Quoting a CNN poll released on June 12, James Forsyth, Web Editor of the Spectator, says “The poll finds that Obama leads McCain 50-44 on the economy, while McCain has a 54-43 advantage over Obama on foreign policy.” At this early stage, it is not of much use to speculate overall results, and determine which candidates are in a better position. Michael Dukakis led George H. W. Bush in June 1988, and John Kerry led George W. Bush in June 2004 (“Fat Lady Not Singing Yet (Except in California)”; The Plank=The New Republic’s Blog; June 12, 2008).

What I would like to argue is that voters do not trust Senator Barack Obama’s competence in foreign policy despite his wholehearted appeal for sooner withdrawal from Iraq. Senator John McCain’s 54 to 43 lead in foreign policy is substantial, compared with Obama’s 50 to 44 advantages in the economy. As I have mentioned in a previous pots, McCain has already discussed vital security issues with European and Middle Eastern leaders this March to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War. Yoshiki Hidaka, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and former Japanese journalist, often comments that McCain’s unyielding commitment to the Iraq War is widely respected among the public. Come to think of it, Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out flip flop attitudes of Senator John F. Kerry and Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton on Iraq.

Now, I have a question. Is Barack Obama so well versed with the economy? He has not articulated his economic policy during the campaign at this stage. Those who chose Obama over McCain in the economy are simply frustrated with economic crises under the Bush administration such as the Subprime mortgage problem. But the economy will not improve through simply denouncing George W. Bush and the Republican Party. If the mortgage problem is so serious as pessimistic economists say, it must be resolved through multilateral policy coordination as seen in the Plaza-Louvre accord in late 1980s. In that case, Obama’s incompetence in foreign policy will be a critical disadvantage. While McCain has launched an initiative for a League of Democracies and talked with European leaders, Obama has not done anything. In addition, Japanese leaders are concerned with Obama’s pro-Chinese stances. Can Barack Obama really lead policy coordination among top industrialized democracies without winning sufficient trust? I doubt it.

More importantly, John McCain is not a carbon copy of current President Bush. In foreign policy, he is more interventionist, and not in favor of early Bush “humble diplomacy”. McCain is more active in cutting greenhouse gas emission. He draws more support from grassroots “Sam’s Club Republicans”, rather than relying on one of Bush’s political bases of “Country Club Republicans”.

Apparently, Barack Obama has not proven his competence and qualification for the President over John McCain. It is John McCain who is really capable of rearranging America’s partnership with Europe and Japan. The problem is the trend of low-information voters as the Economist’s blog “Democracy in America” says (“Which way for Obama and McCain?”; June 13, 2008).

In face of domestic and global challenges, America needs a Theodore Roosevelt, not a Jimmy Carter.

In any case, it is too early to foretell the result of this election. When both candidates select their running mates, prospects will be much clearer.