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What if McCain Had Won?

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So far, no "Obama Sucks" bumper stickers have shown up in Berkley, but it's clear that Democratic partisans are significantly less enthusiastic than they were a year ago. Many display classic signs of depression: sadness, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, hopelessness and so forth. The underlying logic differs from person to person but there's a common thread: Barack Obama isn't doing what they expected; change hasn't arrived on schedule. Get a grip Dems: how would you feel if John McCain had won the election?

A year ago, Obama supporters were so happy George Bush and Dick Cheney were leaving office that many discounted the mess the Obama was about to inherit. (The day after the election, the Onion trumpeted Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job.) Most Democrats were aware the US economy was in trouble - Lehman Brothers had gone into bankruptcy two months before the election, causing a global financial panic. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration didn't announce that the US was in recession until December 1st and many Americans didn't fully understand how bad the economy was until after the holidays were over.

The onset of the most significant US economic downturn since 1929 is a good reason for Americans to be depressed. Nonetheless, things would be a lot worse if John McCain had been elected President on November 4, 2008.

During the Presidential campaign McCain admitted economics wasn't his strong suit. His primary economic adviser was former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who probably would be Treasury Secretary if the Republicans had won the presidential election. Gramm is the personification of conservative free-market ideology. In July of 2008,Gramm opined the US was in a "mental recession" and complained we had "become a nation of whiners."

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If McCain had been elected President, there would have been no economic stimulus package. Senator McCain voted against the package, noting "We need to make tax cuts permanent, and we need to make a commitment that there'll be no new taxes." President McCain wouldn't have funded infrastructure development or provided funds for education, healthcare, or struggling workers and homeowners. His response would have been grossly inadequate.

The American economy showed growth last quarter, primarily due to the Obama stimulus package (plus "cash for clunkers," another program that wouldn't have been initiated by a McCain Administration). If McCain had been elected President the recession would have mirrored The Great Depression: unemployment would be in the 15-20 percent range and there would be far more bank and business failures. We'd be comparing McCain to Herbert Hoover.

Besides screwing up the economy, President McCain would have had no domestic agenda except for cutting taxes. His health care plan was tax rebates. He wouldn't be pushing legislation to regulate the financial industry or reduce harmful emissions. Under the leadership of Vice President Palin he'd be promoting a conservative social agenda:We aren't providing jobs but we've made it more difficult to get an abortion.
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There'd be a huge difference in foreign policy. Many Democrats criticize Obama for Afghanistan, where Obama is carefully considering options to get us out of the mess Bush and Cheney created. McCain believes pondering a tough decision to be a sign of weakness. President McCain would have dispatched all the troops that Petraeus and McChrystal wanted.

Nonetheless, the biggest foreign policy differences between McCain and Obama likely would have been their handling of the June 2009 Iran Presidential elections widely regarded as fraudulent and a setback for pro-democracy forces within Iran. At the time,McCain criticized Obama saying the US should do more to support the Iranian people, "I hope we will act."

John McCain is cantankerous and impulsive, someone who has a reputation for having a short fuse. What would President McCain have done about Iran? (Perhaps bolstered by a Secretary of State Joe Lieberman.) At the least he would have pulled back diplomatically - the high-level talks about Iran's nuclear program wouldn't have happened. But it's more likely the bellicose McCain would have pulled a page from the Bush/Cheney playbook and taken military action, such as a blockade of Iranian oil shipments on the Persian Gulf, bombing suspected Iranian weapons labs, or worse.

By now, President McCain would have made an enormous foreign policy blunder. That would have made the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East far more difficult than it is today. Outside the US, Obama has gotten kudos for his renewed emphasis on diplomacy and multilateralism; President McCain would be regarded as worse than Bush, forcing the US into paranoid isolation.

No doubt George Bush will be regarded as one of the worst presidents in American history. Both in terms of domestic and foreign policy, Bush made a series of blunders, led America into the deep hole it finds itself in. Cheer up Dems, at least Obama is trying to dig us out. President McCain wouldn't have recognized the chasm and his policies would have made the situation infinitely worse.


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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You're absolutely correct. McCain, as well as almo... by Don Smith on Friday, Nov 6, 2009 at 12:12:38 PM
I did not ever think Obama was a liberal or that h... by PrMaine on Friday, Nov 6, 2009 at 2:41:15 PM
It's half full.Don't be critical, forget what your... by Kevin Gosztola on Friday, Nov 6, 2009 at 3:18:51 PM
The USA continues to decline no matter who runs it... by Jason Paz on Friday, Nov 6, 2009 at 5:15:23 PM
Well I don't think U've been to China or know much... by crispy on Friday, Nov 6, 2009 at 5:28:41 PM
China is - again - growing at nearly 9% a year, a ... by Scott Baker on Saturday, Nov 7, 2009 at 2:45:12 AM
OH sure Mc Cain would have been worse in SOME area... by crispy on Friday, Nov 6, 2009 at 5:19:06 PM
have followed the same game plan, the Bilderbergs'... by richard on Friday, Nov 6, 2009 at 10:45:32 PM
I said a long time ago that I would have preferred... by richard on Friday, Nov 6, 2009 at 10:52:53 PM
In theory, the voters of the United States have al... by PrMaine on Saturday, Nov 7, 2009 at 7:47:10 AM
I supported Obama because I couldn't stand the tho... by Dave Kisor on Saturday, Nov 7, 2009 at 9:56:57 PM