I’ve long wondered about the pseudo-debate over whether the next President should meet foreign leaders with or without preconditions. Obama has said “without,” observing that the whole point of meeting with hostile leaders is to get them to agree to important changes; a meeting is not enough of a reward to compel someone to make major policy changes. McCain-Palin have been opposed, but I’ve been frustrated that no one ever asked for clarification of what pre-conditions they’d want to impose.
WILLIAMS: — that you both have been hammering the Obama campaign on. What — first of all, what in your mind is a precondition?
PALIN: You have to have some diplomatic strategy going into a meeting with someone like Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-il, one of these dictators that would seek to destroy America or her allies. It is so naive and so dangerous for a presidential candidate to just proclaim that they would be willing to sit down with a– a leader like Ahmadinejad and just talk about the problems, the issues that are facing them. So that — that’s — that’s some ill-preparedness right there.
As should be obvious, these are “preparations,” not “preconditions.” Preconditions would be something like requiring Iran to disassemble its nuclear weapons program before we meet with them. But to negotiate such an agreement would require someone to sit down with someone else, and to make decisions at that level, it would have to be two leaders, not their representatives.
John McCain has not taken a question from the traveling press since last month, so we’re unlikely to get any clarification from him.
I contend, though, that McCain-Palin’s willingness to push this line of argument without ever clarifying what it is supposed to mean, what preconditions they believe Obama is omitting, is irresponsible, and it is dishonest and dishonorable.
When John Edwards was scrapping with Barack and Hillary in the early primaries, we had a serious national debate about the merits of a universal mandate as part of a plan for universal healthcare. The three of them elevated our national discourse and informed voters. The debates were a chance to hash out important issues, and the campaigns and their surrogates invested serious effort in keeping the primaries substantive and smart. All three are heroes for that, and ennobled us all by their example.
John McCain and Sarah Palin have dragged us into the gutter, and whenever a reporter attempts to drag the discourse to drier, less odiferous areas, McCain and Palin claw themselves and the watching nation right back.