The boilerplate in a candidate’s speeches gets little attention because words used over and over never constitute “news.”
But one of John McCain’s favorite lines — his declaration that “the transcendent challenge of the 21st century is radical Islamic extremists,” or, as he sometimes says, “extremism” — could define the 2008 election.
Whether McCain is right or wrong matters to everything the United States will do in the coming years. It is incumbent upon McCain to explain what he really means by “transcendent challenge.”
Presumably, he’s saying that Islamic extremism is more important than everything else — the rise of China and India as global powers, growing resistance to American influence in Europe, the weakening of America’s global economic position, the disorder and poverty in large parts of Africa, the alienation of significant parts of Latin America from the United States. Is it in our national interest for all these issues to take a back seat to terrorism?
McCain makes his claim even stronger when he uses the phrase “21st century.” Does he mean that in the year 2100, Americans will look back and say that everything else that happened in the century paled in comparison with the war against terrorism?
But such a debate won’t happen unless Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton challenge McCain’s assertion directly and offer an alternative vision. There is reason to suspect they might fear doing so. They shouldn’t. [complete article]