McCain’s Excellent Speech

Largely overlooked in the drama of Hillary Clinton’s wins last night was John McCain’s excellent speech upon becoming the presumptive Republican nominee. While any Republican faces a very uphill battle against any Democrat in 2008, he used this speech to lay out a set of policies that could be the basis of a very smart campaign in the general election.

He began, as expected, with foreign policy. He wisely insisted that the relevant question vis-à-vis Iraq is not “What would you have done in 2002?”, but is instead “What should we do in 2009?”

He then moved to domestic policy, which has previously seemed to be less compelling to him. Maybe it still is, but I think he laid out a set of positions that are mostly good policy, and are likely to be good politics.

He started with:

I will leave it to my opponent to argue that we should abrogate trade treaties, and pretend the global economy will go away and Americans can secure our future by trading and investing only among ourselves. We will campaign in favor of seizing the opportunities presented by the growth of free markets throughout the world, helping displaced workers acquire new and lasting employment and educating our children to prepare them for the new economic realities by giving parents choices about their children’s education they do not have now.

This is a great one-paragraph summary of an economic strategy that recognizes that we should not stick our heads in the sand and pretend that we are not competing with the rest of the world. The last point about linking school choice to economic competitiveness is not one that I’ve seen him make before, and exactly the argument that I made in NRODT a couple of weeks ago.

He then proceeded with:

I will leave it to my opponent to claim that they can keep companies and jobs from going overseas by making it harder for them to do business here at home. We will campaign to strengthen job growth in America by helping businesses become more competitive with lower taxes and less regulation.

I will leave it to my opponent to propose returning to the failed, big government mandates of the sixties and seventies to address problems such as the lack of health care insurance for some Americans. I will campaign to make health care more accessible to more Americans with reforms that will bring down costs in the health care industry down without ruining the quality of the world’s best medical care.

And I will campaign to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil with an energy policy that encourages American industry and technology to make our country safer, cleaner and more prosperous by leading the world in the use, development and discovery of alternative sources of energy.

While in the specific case of global warming, I think his proposed solution of a cap-and-trade system is mistaken, the approach that he takes in each of these paragraphs – recognize a problem and present a more market-oriented solution than his opponent – strikes me as a sound strategy.

(cross-posted at The Corner)