The ‘head-knocking style of governance’

THE ‘HEAD-KNOCKING STYLE OF GOVERNANCE’…. About two years ago, with the war in Iraq going poorly and conditions on the ground deteriorating quickly, John McCain met with an exclusive audience of wealthy Republicans in New York and addressed the subject on voters’ minds.

“One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, ‘Stop the bullsh*t,'” McCain said.

Digby recently described this as the “head-knocking style of governance,” and it’s clearly a McCain favorite. Complex problems can be resolved, he believes, through force of will. In February, in the midst of the FISA debate, McCain told the New York Times, “[P]eople that are patriotic Americans need to sit down together and work this out.”

This came up again last night when the debate turned to Social Security. McCain argued:

“Social Security is not that tough. We know what the problems are, my friends, and we know what the fixes are. We’ve got to sit down together across the table. It’s been done before.

“I saw it done with our — our wonderful Ronald Reagan, a conservative from California, and the liberal Democrat Tip O’Neill from Massachusetts. That’s what we need more of, and that’s what I’ve done in Washington.”

Look, I know it’s nice to think well-intentioned people can sit down in a room and resolve complex problems through discussion and negotiation. But this is just an intellectually lazy way of approaching policy challenges.

Iraq? McCain wants to sit Sunnis and Shiites down at a table. Social Security? McCain wants to sit Democrats and Republicans down at a table. The moral of the story is, if you’ve got a problem, John McCain has a table.

But what candidates for national office need to do in order to be credible is talk about what they’d do at that table. It’s incumbent upon McCain to have actual policy positions on these issues. If he believes Social Security is facing long-term challenges, fine. He should explain, then, what he’d like to do about it — beyond promising to talk to other policy makers about what they’d like to do about it.

The “head-knocking style of governance” isn’t leadership; it’s egomania.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.