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Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Republican Presidential Candidates?

Ezra Klein:

EzraKlein Archive: Alex directs me to this Fortune interview where McCain unsheathes a SuperSoaker of crazy:

Senator, what do you see as the gravest long-term threat to the U.S. economy?" That was the first question we put to John McCain when he sat down for an interview with Fortune on a sunny afternoon in June. The moment felt charged....McCain at first says nothing. He sits in the corner of a sofa, one black, tasseled loafer propped against a coffee table. We're in the presidential suite on the 41st floor of the New York Hilton. McCain has come here - between a major speech on the economy in Washington, D.C., this morning and a fundraiser tonight at the 21 Club - to talk to us and to let us take his picture. He is wearing a dark suit, as he almost always does, with a blue shirt and a wine-colored tie. He's looking not at us but into the void. His eyes are narrowed. Nine seconds of silence, ten seconds, 11. Finally he says, "Well, I would think that the absolute gravest threat is the struggle that we're in against radical Islamic extremism, which can affect, if they prevail, our very existence. Another successful attack on the United States of America could have devastating consequences."

"If they prevail."

There are essentially two sets of premises under which you could answer this question. The first is the real world, which contains likely threats to the American economy. Things like a deep recession that's worsened by a credit contraction. Or oil prices that turn out to be skyrocketing not because of transient speculation, but enduring global instability and a dawning recognition of peak oil. Or a health system that isn't fixed, and is chewing up 30 percent of our GDP in two decades.

The other set of premises is the fantasy world. This is more like Marvel's "What If?" series. What is the Supervolcano explodes? What if we have an "I Am Legend" style pandemic? Or a "28 Days Later" zombie virus? What if "radical Islamic extremism" prevails and terrorists establish a global caliphate?

McCain chose... neither. Radical Islamic extremism has no chance of "prevailing." Bin Laden lives on a rock in a cave near some mountains. He does not control the USSR, and he is not leading an Ultimates 2-style alliance of secondary powers determined to pool their militaries and decapitate America's command structure. He's a guy with a small, but occasionally effective, terrorist organization. That makes it impossible that he'll prevail and threaten our existence, so he's not an acceptable answer under the first premise. And even if you do suspend reality and assume the emergence of Bin Ladinstan. I think we can all agree that the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano would do more direct damage to the United States. So he's not the most direct threat there, either.

McCain's answer, like a lot of his answers, doesn't make any sense. But he wears a dark suit. He's an experienced looking white guy. He stares into "the void." He's the Republican nominee for president. And so we're supposed to take this stuff seriously. But it's absurd. Fortune gushes that he "starts by deftly turning the economy into a national security issue - and why not?" Why not? Well, McCain doesn't have a better answer because he knows utterly uninterested in the economic condition of this country, and didn't feel safe making something up. Happily, he's confident that the reporter in front of him wants a good story, not a shouting match where he pisses off the Republican nominee and possibly loses his job. So he just says whatever he feels like saying. But running for the president isn't like the final exam in your creative writing class. You don't get to explore whatever subject you find most interesting.

At least, you don't if you're not John McCain.

The in-the-tank journalist who breathlessly reports that McCain "starts by deftly turning the economy into a national security issue - and why not?" is David Whitford, editor-at-large of Fortune. Remember that name. He is one of the answers to the question "why oh why can't we have a better press corps?": we can't because people like David Whitford work for the press.

I suggest a change of career for Mr. Whitford. I suggest animal cosmetics safety testing--but not as a lab supervisor or as a janitor; as an experimental animal.