McCain: Getting the Candidate We Deserve

While driving on the Beltway the other day, I got behind a SUV with a rather fascinating collection of bumper stickers: “€œ9/11″‰ Iraq”€ and “€œWar is Not the Answer!”€ were joined by “€œMcCain 2008.”€ Add “€œNo Amnesty for Illegals”€ and “€œI “™¥ the Bridge to Nowhere”€ and the contradictions would begin to multiply.  

But then this rather confused soul behind the wheel was not alone. CNN reported that in New Hampshire, McCain actually won the majority of voters in the GOP primary who opposed the war in the Iraq”€”this from a man who claimed that it wouldn”€™t much bother him if the U.S. remain in Babylon for another 100 years. Such strange voter rationale marked the triumph of that “€œmaverick”€ moniker forged by a swooning media establishment in a Republican primary of yore. NH independents and independent Republicans turned reflexively to McCain when they disagreed with the policies of the GOP”€”even if McCain enthusiastically supported these policies.     

Memories of clueless bumper-sticker arrangement and antiwar McCainites have come to mind recently as much of the base of the conservative movement”€”or at least Rush Limbaugh, Michele Malkin, most of the NR crowd, and many associated with them”€”have mercilessly attacked McCain as representing, in Rush words, the “€œdeath of the Republican Party”€”€”or worse.

Mark Levin has called McCain’s domestic record a “€œdisaster”€ for his strangling of free speech in McCain-Finegold, his compromising on judges, and congeniality with liberal colleagues in the regulating of American industry. In a syndicated column run on NRO, Michele Malkin amusingly labeled McCain the “€œGeraldo Rivera Republican”€ for his “€œdemagoguery”€ in supporting illegal-immigrant amnesty. The New York Times‘s endorsement fulfilled expectations. Malkin’s recent discovery that McCain’s “€œoutreach director”€ was the former head of Vincete Fox’s “€œPresidential Office for Mexicans Abroad”€ was a cherry on top.          

I generally agree with most of these critiques, and, I confess, I read these attacks with a certain sense of glee. I don”€™t think I can imagine a worse GOP candidate than John McCain (but then, not only for the reasons cited by Levin, Malkin, & Co.). I also confess that I might have to suppress a fugitive desire to root for Romney this evening as an infinitely better choice than Mac. I agree with Rush that the conservative movement (in the electoral sense of the Reagan coalition) is being destroyed and that a McCain nomination would hasten its end, but then I”€™m not at all convinced that McCain is singularly responsible this.

Even if I agree with the attacks of Limbaugh & Co., I”€™d be far more likely to believe that they”€™re the ones to rescue conservatism from the danger of McCainism if they were not so blind to the fact they are just much to blame as anyone for perpetuating the whole McCain-as-straight-talker myth”€”that which was so attractive to antiwar New Hampshirites and to him of the confused bumper-stickers. Rush was much more likely to overlook McCain’s liberal misdeeds and call him a “€œmaverick”€ when the senator was bravely speaking out against critics of the Iraq war. Even if McCain is keen to remind voters that he disapproved of Rumsfeld’s “€œgo with the army you have”€ tactics and demanded more troops before Petraeus took charge, the fact is that both McCain and NR were unified in claiming that “€œWe Are Winning“€ well before the onset of the surge.  

Limbaugh & Co shouldn”€™t be so surprised that, despite his liberal leanings and alacrity toward comprise, McCain’s has remained at or near the top of the GOP heap, and is thus in a position to get the nomination, when these writers have ranked the support for the Iraq war über alles in certifying who’s really a conservative. In this line, Joe Lieberman is a perfect McCainian campaign partner: the abortion and affirmative action enthusiast and general welfare statist is, after all, Sean Hannity’s “€œfavorite Democrat.”€    

I”€™m glad that mainstream conservatives have been willing to attack McCain; indeed, this fact gives me a bit hope (most likely false) for the movement’s future. But I can”€™t get over my gut sense that a McCain nomination is exactly the kind of disaster mainstream conservatives deserve. 



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