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We Have a Winner By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 05, 2008

IF “SUPER TUESDAY II” DID NOT DECIDE BOTH PARTIES’ NOMINEES, at least it highlighted the most salient difference between the three contenders in the 2008 race: John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama were all surrounded by Communists during their formative years, and only John McCain fought back.

Although the media will continue to analyze the minutiae of votes and exit polls today, those results were either perfunctory (a much-needed stage hook for Mike Huckabee) or inconclusive (a Hillary-Obama dead-heat in the delegate count). However, the tenor of the campaign – and last night’s three acceptance speeches – forecast the kind of general campaign we may expect. And those concerned with national security and a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq have reason for (dare I repeat the word?) hope.

Hillary finally won three of four primaries last night, after losing 12 straight primaries (and acknowledging none of them; Obama graciously congratulated her in his speech). She won the two big prizes, Texas and Ohio, by simultaneously running to Obama’s right and left.


The Political is Personal

Both in the campaign and in her acceptance speech last night, Hillary scored points on national security. Her most (read: only) effective TV spot to date revolves around this issue: the “3 a.m.” commercial. She echoed the ad in last night’s campaign oration:

Protecting America is the first and most urgent duty of the president. When there’s a crisis and that phone rings at 3:00 a.m. in the White House, there’s no time for speeches or on-the-job training. You have to be ready to make a decision.

By arresting the process of Obama’s media canonization, if only temporarily, Hillary rendered an invaluable service; she reasserted the most important issue in any presidential race, namely keeping its voters alive until the next election. Polling demonstrated Texas Democrats appreciated her mildly more responsible policy on the war.

She also won through her continual appeal to less educated, lower-income (and primarily white) voters, promising “free” health care for all and advocacy for “every single hard-working American who deserves a shot at the American dream.” In economically ravaged Ohio, she promised to renegotiate NAFTA, the treaty her husband signed over Democratic objection. Again, she handed Barack Obama a policy sword, and again he fell on it, as the Canadian government produced a memo from his campaign adviser telling Ottawa to ignore Obama’s anti-trade rhetoric as so much pandering to the rubes. Ohio voters did not care for such classification and showed it handily, handing Hillary 55 percent of those votes decided in the last 72 hours. Indeed, she won as much as 80 percent of the vote in the state’s devastated (and overwhelmingly Caucasian) south and southeast with her soothing populism. Significantly, many of her strongholds abut neighboring Pennsylvania, the next major primary battleground.

National Defense: Not a Strength in November…

However, raising the national defense is a two-edged sword that could hurt Hillary in the primaries and the eventual nominee in the general election. Senator Clinton made her most important foreign policy decision in supporting the Iraq war, and as far as the DailyKos Democratic “base voter” is concerned, she made the wrong one. Obama quickly turned Hillary’s ad against on her. However, what he took away from her on policy he seemed determined to restore to her on personality, melting down after an eight-question press conference on election’s eve. To cover herself on policy, Hillary warbled last night: “We’re ready to end the war in Iraq and win the war in Afghanistan.” But Obama remains better suited to win the issue with the base.

Yet the biggest beneficiary of Hillary’s “3 a.m.” ad is – John McCain. Of the three candidates, Americans believe he is best suited to be commander-in-chief by a lopsided margin. Hillary argued that when the tough times come, “You have to be ready to make a decision.” You do, and Hillary isn’t. When the phone rang early in the Clinton White House, it was usually Monica Lewinsky reading from Vox. Hillary boasts of “35 year record of delivering real change,” but like the Pony Express, deliveries have not been dependable. She had no input on her husband’s foreign policy – and when she did, it was to counsel him to retreat-in-shame from Somalia earlier than he did. In truth, neither Obama nor Hillary can name an accomplishment that qualifies them for the office they seek.

We Have a Winner

John McCain’s speech, delivered alongside a banner that read “1191,” pointed out how he will attempt to box-in his opponent in the general election – and it makes a compelling campaign.

He first sought to unite his party in opposition to the leftist candidates and around his own patriotic program. He began by asserting that “given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, [his election is] in the best interests of the country we love.” Foremost, he would cut off the six-year-long argument about whether we should have toppled Saddam Hussein. “The next president doesn’t get to remake that decision,” he noted. “We’re in Iraq,” a powder keg that “could quickly descend into genocide, destabilizing the entire Middle East…and emboldening terrorists to attack us elsewhere with weapons we dare not allow them to possess.” Rather than gauge the speed with which the Reserves can be sent packing, McCain will leave Baghdad “with our country's interests secure and our honor intact.”

He, alone of the three remaining candidates, mentioned the primary fact of American foreign policy: that we still have a violent and determined enemy, one he dared to call by name. McCain vowed “to restructure our military, our intelligence, our diplomacy, and all relevant branches of government to combat Islamic extremism” and “encourage the vast majority of moderates to win the battle for the soul of Islam.”

McCain also took aim at both his potential rivals. “I have never believed I was destined be president,” a barbed reference to Hillary – who once told Katie Couric she had not considered the possibility that she would not be her party’s nominee. McCain said he was running to serve his beloved country, not to serve up “false promises, empty sound bites, or useless arguments from the past.” He expertly melded that into a defense of free enterprise and free trade that would withstand the economic demagoguery Obama acknowledged and Clinton concealed. In his funniest moment of the night, he quipped, “I will leave it to my opponent to claim that they can keep companies and jobs from going overseas by making it harder for them to do business here at home.”

From this, he truly pivoted into territory Reaganesque in its scope, essence, and inspiration:

We're not a country that prefers nostalgia to optimism; a country that would rather go back than forward. We're the world’s leader, and leaders don’t pine for the past and dread the future. We make the future better than the past. We don’t hide from history. We make history. That, my friends, is the essence of hope in America.

He concluded with a feisty call-to-arms: “Stand up with me, my friends, stand up and fight for America – for her strength, her ideals, and her future. The contest begins tonight.”

It was a rousing moment – and the Texas hall responded heartily. This soaring rhetoric and palpable love of country, set against his personal history as a war hero, rivaled any of Obama’s declamations for eloquence and transcended them all combined on substance. It is a winning message, not just in the primaries, but in November.

Obama, Hillary, and the Hate America Left

As if sensing this, Obama sought to position himself as more than a left-wing motivational speaker, the charge leveled by Clinton for months. Last night, Obama clarified his vagaries with platitudes, illuminated by bromides and anecdotes. He succeeded only in that he certainly failed to motivate.

On foreign policy, Barack said he will be “a commander-in-chief who has the judgment to know when to send them into battle and which battlefield to fight on,” playing directly into McCain’s charge that his party is afflicted with perpetual esprit d'escalier without any countervailing foresight about how to avoid more 9/11s.

Obama also stood before the San Antonio crowd, lapel unadorned by an American flag, and promised not to use “patriotism as a bludgeon.” Undoubtedly, this was for the same reason the holdouts at the Alamo did not use canon fire on Santa Ana’s forces: they recognized the limits of their collective reserves.

Instead, he posited the ways he would care for a hypothetical American child. He assured, “if that child should ever get the chance to travel the world and someone should ask her where is she from, we believe that she should always be able to hold her head high with pride in her voice when she answers, ‘I am an American.’”

This was an exceedingly odd elocution for a man dodging accusations that his wife has not been “proud” of her country “in my adult lifetime.” And this is precisely the dividing line between Barack, Hillary, and McCain: he fairly exudes a patriotism (his critics would say a hyper-patriotism). The Left blames America first, and it was ever thus. Obama has surrounded himself with unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, a pastor who visited Muammar Quaddafi alongside Louis Farrakhan, a wife who is not proud of her country, and a slumlord undergoing trial. The young Hillary sat at the feet of “Tommy the Commie Emerson and imbibed the rich wisdom of Saul Alinsky while observing on behalf of the Black Panthers.

John McCain also surrounded himself with Communists – and took home different lessons from the encounter. At the heart of all the policy disagreements, this is the deepest division between the three candidates vying to become president in 2008.

Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).

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