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September 23, 2008

The McCain Who Cried Wolf
Posted by Patrick Barry

John McCain sees crises just about everywhere.  He's a bit like the boy who cried wolf, in the sense that he is constantly shooting his mouth off without regard for the severity or the sensitivity of a given issue.

As Matts Yglesias and Welch have both pointed out, his dizzying leaps from headline to headline definitely have unquestionable implications for how he would conduct foreign policy as President.   But where I want to diverge slightly is to say that McCain's tendency for hysterics is not just an issue of exxageration.  It's also about prioritization.   

Take his most recent statement about our economic meltdown:

"We are in the most serious crisis since World War II."

Though the comparison between the threat of an economic collapse and a war which killed millions of people seems stretched, I agree with the thrust of Senator McCain's observation. The next President should absolutely elevate addressing economic instability to the top of his agenda.  But there's still a greater problem here.  Based on how many times expressions like "biggest crisis since" and "a greater crisis than"  pass through McCain's lips, it's far from clear which, of the crises he identifies, will be at the top of his list.  Just look at these examples:

McCain on North Korea in 2003:

"I disagree with my friend Secretary Powell who says it's not a crisis. I think it's a crisis of great magnitude, a greater threat than Iraq poses in the short term."[John McCain, Hardball, 2/10/03]

McCain on Iran in 2006:

"the most serious crisis we have faced - outside of the entire war on terror - since the end of the Cold War." [John McCain, 1/22/06]

McCain on Terrorism in 2007:

"My friends, this is a transcendent struggle between good and evil. Everything we stand for and believe in is at stake here." [John McCain, 6/05/07]

McCain on Russia-Georgia:

"My friends, we have reached a crisis, the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War." [John McCain, 8/14/08]

Leaving aside the fact that McCain's taxonomy leaves out the pretty obvious crises of 9-11 and the Iraq War, and that his propensity for exxageration is quite obviously on display, there is another point to be made.  Every crisis in the long list that McCain has cataologued hasn't gone away.  Some have grown worse, and every one is likely to be a challenge for the next administration. Addressing each challenge entails a process of seperating and prioritizing, not lumping them all together using hyperbolic language and one or two points of historical reference.  The alternatives would be either paralysis, or worse, error, like ramping up military assistance to Georgia when you need Russia's cooperation on Iran or staying mired in Iraq when you should be focused on Afghanistan.  So it may ring true when McCain says that our economic crisis is the worst since WW II, but whether he actually makes it a priority remains in consiberable doubt. 


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This is something that I've been watching ever since McCain was looking like the party nomination. Now, not that all politicians talk to the audience, and give them what they want to hear; but I have to agree, Mr. McCain does have a propensity to lay on the rather dramatic side of things. The drama aside, his prioritization list does seem rather questionable when it comes to the number one spot. And if that IS in fact the this the person we really want sitting in the White House?

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