In 1864, as America trod the bloody fields of fratricide and Abraham Lincoln staidly bore the rhetorical slings and arrows of Democratic opponents who accused him of mismanaging the Union's four-year war against the outmanned and outgunned armies of the Confederacy, a wholly different type of war raged in British Naval circles.
For several years, the Jacks of the Royal Navy had struggled through a painful transition from muzzle-loading to breech-loading cannons. The disadvantages of muzzle-loading cannons were obvious. Each cannon on a man-of-war required a highly coordinated crew of six to eight sailors to run in, load, run out, and fire the several-thousand pound weapon. Simply running the guns in and out was fairly dangerous business when done at full speed; indeed it is possible that more sailors' limbs have been lost to wayward gun carriages than to cutlasses.
Breech-loading cannons, on the other hand, remained fixed in one position, which allowed increased rates of fire with smaller, more easily trained gun crews. But despite these advantages, after a brief flirtation, the British abandoned breech-loading cannons and returned to their old muzzle-loaders for another 15 years. I'll explain why in a moment.
In recent days and weeks, I've run across an extraordinary phenomenon: formerly Republican voters who claim they will vote for Senator Barrack Obama next Tuesday. We've seen this among public figures such as Christopher Buckley, and I've seen it among several acquaintances and family members. Last spring when the slate of Presidential candidates was finally set and we knew Senator McCain and Obama would face off in November, I remarked to my wife that McCain would lose because his disadvantages in campaign funds and volunteers combined with media complicity on behalf of Obama would prevent him from exposing Obama as the radical leftist politician he is. The hour is getting late for McCain, and I fear I'll yet be proven right in my prediction.
But what is the sine qua non of Republican support for Obama? I still don't know. I haven't yet heard it explained in a coherent, logical fashion that can reconcile what is known about Obama with these voters' moderate to conservative values. He is "authentic". They "like his economic policies". He has a "first class temperament", says Christopher Buckley. He is "intelligent", a "graduate of Harvard". He "transcends race". He'll "change the failed policies of Bush".
But the questions remain: Which economic policies? The economic policies he's espoused for a mainstream Presidential campaign audience or those of the Democratic Socialists of America? Which temperament? The one we see now or the one that led him to rest comfortably in the pews of Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ for twenty years? Or the one that led him to associate with radicals and terrorists through his career to date? Or the one that led him to work for and fund the ACORN voter fraud factory? Or the one that led him to challenge every signature on the ballot petitions filed by opponents in his first Illinois state senate race?
Minimize these relationships all you want, but the fact remains that if the media applied the same standards to Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers as they would a Republican associated with an abortion clinic bomber, Obama would never have reached the national political stage, let alone be poised to become President.
You want concrete policy criticisms? Obama stands firmly in support of several that should be deal-breakers for any moderate or conservative even considering supporting him. Obama is a co-sponsor of card-check legislation that removes the requirement for union organization through a secret ballot election process--which is an open invitation for a rebirth of union thuggery and coercion. Obama was instrumental in blocking passage of an Illinois bill identical to the Federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which passed 98-0 in the United States Senate. Obama opposed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed 64-43 by the United States Senate in 2003.
Have you given up on capitalism lately? Feeling a bit of European style social-welfare is just the thing to perk up the American economy? Are you liking the idea that Obama will sock it to the rich and greedy fat cats at the top of corporate America? Well, you've probably heard the case that redistributionist government policies aren't exactly good for prosperity. You may know that after 50 years of communism North Korea's GDP is roughly 1/40th that of South Korea, and that per capita GDP for the countries of Western Europe is 25 percent lower than in the United States (an average standard of living equivalent to Mississippi, America's poorest state). You may believe a little slower growth is worth the inherently greater justice and virtue of wealth redistribution, but there is no personal virtue in voting to give away other people's money. And there's certainly no virtue in redistributionist policies when you realize they negatively impact everyone on the income ladder proportionately. In other words, when government destruction of wealth reduces the after-tax income of all households, the ones at the bottom are hurt much worse than the ones at the top. Or to put it another way, you won't find many doctors, lawyers, engineers, or corporate managers sneaking across our southern border from Mexico!
Are you voting for Obama because you don't like Bush's aggressive prosecution of war against Islamofascists in Iraq and around the world? Or because you think Bush mismanaged the war or made a bad decision to fight in Iraq in the first place? I certainly hope not, because wishing and hoping for change won't make America's enemies go away, and voting for Obama because you think his election will suddenly make the world a nicer, friendlier place where diplomacy's, mellifluous tones will soothe the savage Shiites of Iran is just about the most foolishly irresponsible reason to vote for him of all.
I'm not particularly fond of McCain as a Presidential candidate myself. He's mostly pointed in the right direction, but he'll sometimes latch onto and stubbornly drive forward bad policies like campaign finance reform; or he'll accept a foolish compromise in the spirit of bi-partisanship (which always seems to mean giving Democrats what they want). On the other hand, I can see him digging in his heels against a Democratic Congress and vetoing just about every bill containing an earmark, even to the extent of shutting down the government, which I wouldn't consider a bad thing.
The danger with McCain is that he could be a loose cannon as President. A loose cannon can be dangerous. It may fire in the wrong direction. It may roll around and break things you don't want broken, but at least you can see it coming and get out of the way.
Obama is something else. Remember those breech-loading cannons the British Navy discarded in favor of their tried and tested muzzle-loaders? Just when you thought you had them loaded, buttoned-up, and pointed in the right direction they had a bad habit of blowing up in your face. Take another hard look at Obama before you light that fuse America. He's not aimed where you think he is.
The photos of President Reagan and Air Force One over Mount Vernon are from prints given to my parents in the 80s by their friend, Don Dean, a former White House photographer.