Monday, February 5, 2007

McCain Crossing the Line?

I have been a big fan of John McCain since I first began to closely follow politics. I have always believed him to be a man of conviction and principle. He's not unlike every other politician (or human being for that matter) in that I do not always agree with him, but I have always felt confident that he puts the interests of the country, as he sees them, above his party.

An increasing number of my friends and colleagues have become uncomfortable with McCain's recent attempts to court the base of the GOP. For example, his much publicized meetings with Jerry Falwell, whom he once referred to as an "agent of intolerance", are particularly troubling to some I know on the left of the political spectrum (many of whom are Christians, by the way).

Throughout this, I have given him the benefit of the doubt. If he has to campaign a little more cynically this time, so be it. As long as he is the McCain of the last 20 years and not the McCain of the last 20 months after he arrives at the White House, what difference does it make? Merely talking to a Jerry Falwell in no way indicates a real shift in worldview or governing intentions.

However, when he makes specific promises to satisfy a constituency, I take notice. Particularly when I consider the promise misguided and foolish.

In a recent interview with Robert Novak, McCain apparently stated the following:

"I've never voted for a tax increase in 24 years...I will never vote for a tax
increase, nor support a tax increase

Such a broad, categorical statement is absolutely foolish and it is blatant political pandering. How can a potential president categorically withdraw a major tool of fiscal management from his policy arsenal?

Some would doubtlessly argue my assertion that this is bad policy. Taxes and government intervention in the economy are wasteful and destructive to growth, the argument goes. I will not dispute that this is often the case but it is certainly not always true. Consider taxes on cigarettes. These taxes benefit society in two large ways. First, they decrease cigarette consumption, thereby promoting health and lowering our nation's medical liability. Second, the revenue they generate help us finance the present day costs of medicare and medicaid - expenses which are partially attributable to smoking.

I would certainly agree that more needs to be done to eliminate government waste as a means to balance our budget and promote a healthy economy. I do not think tax raises should be a first option or undertaken lightly - on any income group. But to discard them entirely... is unjustifiable.

I would think it to be an unacceptable sacrifice for someone more concerned with the well-being of the country than their own political career.

Beyond bad policy, it could prove to be foolish politics. George H.W. Bush made such a promise in his 1988 campaign (remember "read my lips..."). Fortunately for the country, Bush Sr. had the character to support a tax increase during his administration when he deemed it necessary for the good of the country. Nevertheless, breaking his promise cost him severely in 1992.

This statement by McCain greatly troubles me. I guess he could be taking his new campaign strategy to an extreme - saying what he needs to say knowing that he will do what he thinks is right when the time comes.

But this is getting harder and harder to believe.


Unknown said...

As long as he is the McCain of the last 20 years and not the McCain of the last 20 months after he arrives at the White House, what difference does it make?

The difference is that we would only get to find this out after the fact. I generally like to know who I'm voting for before I vote for him. Mind games and double reverse psychology do not turn me on. I'd rather vote for a black silhouette with a question mark on it.

But this is getting harder and harder to believe.

Even if it were completely true, I am very uncomfortable voting for anyone for whom the end, no matter what it is, justifies such extremely distasteful means.

Unknown said...

More of McCain's crappiness

Bryan said...

Very interesting comments Steve. I read your link about McCain's proposed legislation to curb internet pornography. I will admit that this issue challenges my conservative thinking. On one hand, I think internet pornography is like cancer that someone else gets to introduce to my body. Even if I don't seek it, it is possible for it to reach my computer, my child's computer, or the computer of the unknown child molester next door. I therefore hate it's destructive nature for all parties involved.

On the other hand, I don't like government intruding into every aspect of life. I personally have nothing to fear from this legislation other than possible increased costs to internet service providers which will be passed on to me.

Jared mentioned the positive benefits of taxing tobacco products, perhaps we should tax pornography?

Anyway, I enjoy reading your posts Steve.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Bryan. We'll probably have to agree to disagree on whether pornography is a major sociologically destructive force. There are ways to keep your children from viewing pornography on the Internet, from automatic content filters to only permitting kids to surf the Web under Mom and Dad's watchful eye. (Of course, we'll probably also have to agree to disagree on whether America's sexual prudishness makes us a nation of people with unhealthy sex hang-ups that make us so desperate for some kind of relief that we have created a billion pornographic web sites just to keep from going mad...)

But the question of whether Internet pornography or pornography in general is bad is a larger issue than I meant to address; my main problem is that McCain's specific proposal, which appears to focus primarily on child pornography, (1) can't possibly be enforced in a uniform manner, if it can be enforced at all; (2) will likely provide wildly Draconian punishments for many "offenses"; (3) creates a solution where there is no problem and punishes "crimes" without victims.

As a liberal, I, of course, am excited at the prospect of any tax increase. :) But the trouble with taxing pornography is, from my ACLUer point of view, the First Amendment. Would you want the government taxing any other form or genre of speech? How about a tax on sitcoms, or Monday Night Football, or Indiana Jones movies, or romance novels, or your church's newsletter? The idea of it rapidly becomes unappealing. (Of course, we may also have to agree to disagree on whether pornography is a form of protected speech, but then we come to the age-old question of defining pornography, this time for tax purposes...!)

Anyway, I hope we all can continue to have these dialogues in this lovely forum of Jared's. Non-insane political conversation is increasingly difficult in these troubled times...!

Bryan said...

Steve, I can tell you are very intelligent and keep yourself well informed. I appreciate your honest and candid responses. Your argument makes sense. Can this legislation be enforced? Probably not. Can this legislation be abused? Yes. The question I have is how does the government legislatively deal with Child porn? How would you tackle the problems Senator McCain is trying to address? Would some kind of "pay to play" bill be the answer? For example, if I want porn on TV then I have to order the channels and/or pay for the movie. If I want a porn mag then I have to go to the store and buy a copy from behind a covered display. Filters and parental supervision are responsible and somewhat effective tools for keeping porn off my or my kid's computers, however, I must bare the burden of protecting myself and my family. I don't see why we can't create some kind of pay for service deal for the internet. I don't think free porn and global internet availability is a right. I certainly don't regard porn as something we need to protect under the guise of free speech. I realize that we are all Americans and that our competing values must find a way to coexhist peacefully. My question now is how do our nation's leaders continue to address problems like Child pornography? Attacking the network of distribution seems like a reasonable approach. Is the government impotant to address such issues from a legislative perspective? Is this challenge primarily for the Church and not the State?

Anyway, I respect your ideas as well as Jared's. I hope you don't mind me asking these questions. I like politics and enjoy hearing other policy perspectives.

Take care Steve.

Unknown said...

I don't mind at all. I'm enjoying our discussion immensely!

I think that we are discussing simultaneously two issues that are really quite distinct: (1) the availability of pornography in general on the Internet, and (2) child pornography.

Child pornography is always illegal, no matter the mode of delivery. You can't rent a child porn movie from Blockbuster, and you can't get child porn on Pay-Per-View, and you can't buy a child porn magazine at the convenience store. I also don't know anyone who has a major problem with this or who believes that the government should not play the leading role in eliminating child pornography. I think that the situation is similar to that of illegal drugs; when you have tens of thousand of users at the bottom of the pyramid, and a few producers and distributors at the top, who do you go after? Who do you spend your resources trying to throw in jail? You will never get rid of all the drug addicts one at a time, and you will never get rid of all the pedophiles one at a time; the primary focus has to be on the people making the product. This, after all, is the real reason that child pornography is illegal--not because Joe Pervert is sitting at home looking at pictures, but because someone much, much scummier actually took those pictures with a real, live child and, in doing so, necessarily sexually abused that child. The sexualization and abuse of actual, living children is the issue, and the people who are directly guilty of that offense are the real problem. You still punish the end-users as they come up, but if you really want to make a dent in the core problem, you have to go to the source. (This is also why I take issue with McCain's proposal regarding "cartoon" child porn. Sure, if you look at cartoon child porn, you're a pretty disgusting lowlife, but you're not really hurting anybody or even benefiting from someone having been hurt.)

As to the availability of legal, adult pornography on the Internet, I think it is hard to draw such analogies to "conventional" porn in other media. You have to pay for your porn magazine not because the fee is some kind of vice penalty or porn tax, but because you have to pay for any magazine. (And the store doesn't put them in a separate, covered rack because they're required to by law; they do it voluntarily to stay in the good graces of the clientele.) You have to pay for porn on TV, but you also have to pay for the heavyweight title fight. Heck, unless you still have an antenna on the top of your house and a pair of rabbit-ears to adjust, you're paying for all your TV. And in all these cases, the money isn't going to the government as a vice tax to discourage your behavior; it's going to whatever company is providing you a service as a simple matter of capitalism. There's nothing to stop the store from giving away free porn magazines or to keep the Playboy Channel from giving itself away for free other than the prospect of going out of business.

The big difference with the Internet is that it costs essentially nothing for one to distribute one's content. This has been a great strength of the Internet, the uninhibited flow of information between regular, non-rich, non-privileged people like you and me. I think you underestimate the importance of a simple thing like parental supervision. To me, this should be right up a conservative man's alley; the government backs off, and personal responsibility steps in. If you don't want your kids to look at pornography, then don't let them. If I want to look at pornography, and I'm an adult, then what do you care?

As for whether pornography falls under freedom of speech, this is not a new question, and I doubt that I have anything new to contribute to such an argument. But it will puzzle me eternally why sex should be more of a taboo than the terrible violence that we regularly condone on TV, in movies, and in video games.

Bryan said...

Steve, thanks for taking the time to leave such a detailed response to my previous post. You make some outstanding points. I agree that child porn and adult porn are two distinct issues from a legal standpoint. You have also convinced me that my comparisons between TV, Magazine and Internet porn are a bit simplistic. The vice tax vs. capitalism point you made was excellent. You are also correct about the principle of personal responsibility and parents supervising their children. Conservatives do like the idea of personal responsiblity. I find it amusing how many of us will adopt conservative or progressive mentalities when doing so suits our interests. I also agree with your comparison of sex to violence. We are hypocritical when we oppose one social injustice and then pay big bucks to support another social injustice. I personally don't condone violence on TV. However, I do watch movies and shows that contain some violence and that makes me as much a contributor to the problem of violence in media as anyone.

Pornography concerns me. I have 4 small children and I can't imagine them being the object of such abuse. I'm glad our society opposes child porn, however, I know men who have allowed adult porn to contribute to the damage or destruction of their marriages. I don't hate people who struggle with porn, but I hate the consequences they face. I hate that many in the porn industry are hoping to find fulfillment through exploiting and exporting their sexuality. Anyway, I digress. I don't want this to turn into a diatribe on sexual immorality. We are talking about public policy here and I am commending you on your well reasoned and thoughtful response to my questions. You have enlightened me Steve.

I look forward to conversing with you again and hearing your thoughts on more issues.

Take care Steve.

Unknown said...

Bryan, I'm glad you enjoyed it. As to the question of sexual immorality, I personally think that (adult) pornography is no different from a lot of things: it is not intrinsically evil, and it is all right in moderation, but the potential to abuse it is certainly real. It is exactly analogous to something like alcohol or gambling or junk food or video games or any other addictive vice; lots of people enjoy it in a perfectly healthy, sensible way, but some people take it too far and let it harm their lives. And, as we learned with alcohol early in the last century, banning it outright just doesn't work, and it needlessly punishes all the people who have managed to keep it under control.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know.