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Populist Demagoguery Knows No Party Identification

The best kind of person to have in one’s life is someone who will be both a fair-weather critic and a foul-weather friend. When things are going fine and dandy for a given individual, that person will benefit from having another offer gentle–and sometimes, not-so-gentle–reminders that all glory is fleeting. On the flip side, when even your own mother doesn’t like you, having the support of a stalwart friend through the tough times is nothing short of invaluable.

I support John McCain for President but I will only do so as a fair-weather critic and a foul-weather friend. Nowadays, McCain–surprisingly to some–appears to be holding his own against Barack Obama. Good for him–he and his campaign staff must be happy.

But their latest effort deserves some serious criticism:

What to say? First of all, it is more than a little appalling that McCain chooses to carry on his puzzling and bizarre crusade against the drug companies. Drug companies may not be warm, cuddly creatures in the mindscapes of people like John McCain, but they do more than he ever will to save the lives of sick people and to prolong the lives of those who otherwise would be swiftly and mercilessly finished off by incurable and terminal illnesses–HIV/AIDS being the most prominent among those illnesses. Yes, drug companies make a lot of money, but they are also forced to spend a lot of money as well thanks to the rigors of testing new products before they are allowed on the market. The business plan is fraught with expense and risk and McCain’s boasts about “fighting” drug companies sounds like so much empty bravado when one considers the basic facts.

The same goes for “Big Oil.” I have had it suggested to me that McCain’s attacks on this issue relate to his efforts to cut corporate subsidies. I love cutting corporate subsidies and hope that we get around to doing a lot of it soon. But I can’t buy the argument that McCain’s “fight” against the oil companies revolves around cutting their subsidies. In the current environment, such talk is a clear wink-and-nod in the direction of those who believe that oil companies are making “obscene profits” thanks to the high price of gasoline and who also believe that there is “gouging” going on, whatever that means. McCain’s attack ignores the fact that record taxes accompany the record profits that oil companies “enjoy” (if “enjoy” is the proper word here), that the profit margin of oil companies is actually nothing to write home about and that the profit margins in industries like electronics, chemicals and computers all outstrip those found in the oil business. Don’t believe me? Then read this. The article is meant to criticize Senator Obama for his plan to impose a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies, but it now appears that John McCain could benefit from reading the article as well.

I suppose that we can add an excerpt from this blog post as well. Indeed, let’s go ahead and do just that:

So John McCain is running against the GOP, turning Ronald Reagan’s famous case against Jimmy Carter–are you better off now than you were four years ago?–into an argument for supporting a “maverick” within the incumbent party instead of throwing all the bums out. Add the invocation of populist boogey-men (very Al Gore at the 2000 Democratic National Convention), and you get an advert script that any Democrat could copy and paste, with a few minor adjustments, for his or her own campaign. When a Republican is using Democratic rhetoric that failed earlier this decade, it’s a real sign of how bad it is for Republicans these days.

One might add that when an electoral choice is between a fake Democrat and a real one, the real Democrat wins. Something for the McCain campaign to keep in mind the next time it wants to cut an ad. Too bad there was no one to warn them away from this ad.

Yes, I will still vote for John McCain. Yes, I think that he is a better candidate than is Barack Obama. But I have high expectations of my candidate and when he fails to live up to those expectations, he should be called on those failures. I’ll do my best to be a foul-weather friend for John McCain when the time comes to do so. But when the time comes to be a fair-weather critic, one shouldn’t shirk one’s responsibilities.

The McCain campaign appears to be doing fine. But they can do a whole lot better than this.

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