John McCain is a tough guy, and like all tough guys he solves problems by being tough. Toughness is definitely what we need, and if John Wayne McCain were president, he’d fire the chairman of the S.E.C. Then he’d probably convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff and bring in General David Petraeus to clean up the mess.
Seriously, we need to be serious here. Individual people cannot be the saviors of our public welfare and cannot be the scapegoats either, no matter what John McCain may think. Were you to listen to how he passionately talks about General Petraeus with reference to Iraq, you’d think that Petraeus was more powerful than the entire military and the only person in the country able to “lead us to victory.” And if you heard McCain’s words yesterday, you’d think that by firing the head of the S.E.C., the financial woes of the country would magically dissipate and erase eight years of deregulation and minimum oversight.
That’s simply not what makes a democracy strong. Democracies need solid, independent institutions — institutions that are more durable than the people who run them. The entire U.S. military endeavor in Iraq has to be based on more than what’s in one general’s mind. Otherwise if that general dies (or quits), then what are we left with? The entire financial health of the nation cannot be on one person’s shoulders either. One of the principle reasons why the U.S. democracy has (so far) endured the test of time — longer than that of any other nation — is that its institutions have always been more reliable than the politicians they employ. By changing from one White House tenant to another, for example, the future of the nation, the stability of the legislative and judicial branches, and the overall welfare of the citizens have never been put at serious risk. Regardless of what McCain might think, this is not Venezuela, where a Chavez can suddenly and unilaterally change the democratic institutions at will to meet his personal interests. It is also not World War II where we kept electing the same the president over and over again.
Change isn’t scary in a strong democracy.