McCain: Courage or Foolhardiness?

Yesterday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) wrote a piece on NRO praising the "courage" of John McCain (R-AZ) in bringing forward the amnesty immigration travesty bill.

It saddens me that so many commentators will judge Senator McCain’s actions by how his role in this debate will impact the next poll or fundraising report. Survival is not the highest virtue in politics. Sacrifice is the highest virtue. In battle we don’t ask which soldier was a success — the one who charged the hill and lives a long life or his friend beside him who falls and leaves a widow and children behind. Whether this week helps or hurts Senator McCain politically is not the point. What matters is that without courage, we all lose.
I've been doing some ruminating, and I think I must respectfully disagree with Sen. Coburn. I see it not as political courage but political foolhardiness.

Coburn relates McCain's courage in military terms, so I will follow his example.

First off, McCain was fighting for the wrong objective. If we go with a military parallel, he was attacking the third house on the block when the objective was the fourth house. He was pushing a de facto amnesty, regardless of how the supporters spin it, and that has been shown by past experience (see 1986 Amnesty bill) to be of little help and probably much harm. As has been pointed out by many others, at the time of the '86 amnesty, we had an estimated 6 million illegals. Now the number is estimated to be two to over three times as many, 12 to 20 million. I don't call a 200-300% increase in the number of illegals a "success." By pushing a bill that would effectively grant all of these people amnesty, McCain showed that he was fighting for the wrong objective.

Secondly, McCain was using the wrong tactics. He was using sneaky closed-door bill-writing, playing fast and loose with the rules of the Senate, bypassing key steps (i.e. committees), and even stooping to tossing around insults about opponents of his bill that are reminiscent of the farthest left wing of the Party of the Donkey (i.e. racist). In military terms, this one is hard to find a parallel for, but we could say that he was relying on a plan that wasn't really kosher and above board, if you see what I mean.

Third, McCain's timing was way off. Doing something this controversial while running for President is ill-advised at best, and the factors above make it an almost sure-fire guarantee of political suicide. In military terms, he's hitting the house at high noon instead of in the dead of night when the US Armed Forces' advantage in night-vision systems would have given a great advantage (yes, this metaphor breaks down a bit when you consider that much of his political maneuvering was "in the dark"--work with me, here). If he could have waited until he was no longer a candidate, for whatever reason, he might have had more success, both with the bill and with his campaign.

Fourth, and finally, he's assaulting an objective that didn't need to be taken. There are laws already on the books that cover everything except his desired amnesty. The proposed bill would have authorized 370 miles of border fence... last year they passed, and Bush signed, a bill authorizing 700 miles of border fence (note that the proposed bill would not have added another 370 miles to the fence). The proposed bill offered another guest worker program... there are already five guest-worker programs in operation. So we really didn't need this bill. Continuing the military metaphor, McCain is assaulting a building that has nothing we need or really want at this time.

Wrong objective, wrong tactics, bad timing, and an unnecessary fight at that. That's not political courage, Senator Coburn. That's political foolhardiness.