It doesn’t take much to sunder a debate about the Republican Party’s inconsequential core. The Rush Limbaugh-led insurrection against John McCain gave the fleeting impression that the movement was on the cusp of such a reckoning. No longer.
In close succession, Romney resigned, and McCain wowed the Conservative Political Action Conference. Behind the scenes, Bill Kristol practiced his curtain calls. Kristol is the uncrowned come-back kid—the attractive, affable neoconservative mastermind has backed McCain’s campaign for some time now. Philosophically, Kristol is the king of consistency. Neoconservative all the way. Like McCain. Just as it appeared the neocons were slowly being inched out, they’re back.
It’s proving well nigh impossible to Kill Bill.
Kristol has been doing the rounds in the media, anointing McCain as the “leader of the conservative movement”—his words. Peggy Noonan, another court courtesan, has been quaking and quivering about McCain on the networks. (Will she pen an ode for McCain’s nether reaches as she did for Bush’s in “He’s Got Two of ‘Em“?) It all sounds terribly familiar.
I’ll grant McCain this: His speech before the CPAC was a vast improvement on the pathological, unremitting lies of Bush and his spokesmen. “Yes, there were WMD in Iraq; yes, Saddam planned 9/11; yes, he shopped for yellow cake in Niger; yes, democracy is on the march in Iraq; yes, the economy at home is humming; yes, Iranian speedboats attacked US warships”—Bush babble, I believe, is less a consequence of congenital stupidity than it is of the confusion caused by incessant, habitual lying.
McCain came clean. But he chose the objects of his confession carefully, lingering on his opposition to the small-potatoes of agricultural subsidies, rather than on his proposal, as part of the unholy McCain-Kennedy-Specter trinity, to legalize 20 million deadwood illegal immigrants. “God’s children,” in his words. Be mindful that McCain is not done with amnesty. Following the victory in South Carolina, McCain denied, to Sean Hannity’s face, that he had been wrong in his support for amnesty. Now he promises to “address other aspects of the problem,” after “securing our borders first.” What does that mean? You be the judge.
McCain spoke about beating government back, having just the other day blessed the latest deficit spending, that obscene stimulus package. Moreover, opposing tax cuts once over a long political career could be put down to the ravages of age and an unsupple mind. But, by National Review’s count, McCain voted for higher taxes 50 times, often on the grounds that such cuts benefit those who pay the lion’s share of the tax burden. McCain’s sense of justice matches his understanding of the economy.
McCain’s new found fealty to the free market is suspect. Profits are the street signs of the free market—without profits there’d be no products. But in the course of disparaging Mitt Romney for making it in the private sector—politics, remember, is a form of sheltered employment—McCain badmouthed the thing that makes the free market go around: “I didn’t manage for profit, I led for patriotism.”
So said the beneficiary of life-long sheltered employment, who couldn’t “manage for profit” if he tried. Indeed, his CPAC mention of Edmund Burke notwithstanding, McCain is not very bright. He finished 894th out of 899 at the Naval Academy. He also lost five jets. IQ ace Steve Sailer has suggested that if you’re looking for competence in the White House, McCain may not be your man: “to lose one plane over Vietnam may be regarded as a heroic tragedy; to lose five planes here and there looks like carelessness.”
“Reaching across the aisle to get things done”—now that’s staple McCain Speak; it has been throughout his campaign. It’s also a euphemism for relinquishing principles in favor of political expediency. The political animal known as McCain has too often moved in packs dominated by Democrats and other left-liberals. As part of the duo McCain-Feingold, he instated “a federal speech code, enforced with jail terms of up to five years,” as Jonathan Rauch noted. As a member of the “Gang of 14,” and against constitutionalism, McCain and his homie, Senator Lindsay Graham, colluded with Democrats in an attempt to sabotage Bush’s conservative judicial nominees. Had McCain’s minders in the media dug for dirt as diligently as they did on Ron Paul, they’d discover that he voted for hard-core lefties Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer for the Supreme Court. In 2004, McCain considered running on the John Kerry ticket.
A man for all seasons (not), McCain has opposed exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The McCain-Lieberman bill expresses his enthusiasm for the Malthusian environmental monomania—McCain shares the gaseous Al Gore’s belief that there is an inherent discord between our system of production and the environment. McCain’s contempt for development and consumer freedom “will cost the average U.S. household at least $600 per year by 2010, rising to at least $1,000 per year by 2020,” as well as 39,000 jobs in 2010, and at least 190,000 jobs by 2020, in the Heartland Institute’s estimation.
The McCain-Lieberman collaboration gave neocon David Brooks and crunchy con Andre
w Sullivan goose bumps. Both “fantasized” of launching a McCain-Lieberman Party. With war and global warming on the brain, Sen. Joe Lieberman, a neoconservative by any other name, is firmly behind McCain’s candidacy.
From the pollution he has left along his political path McCain can run but cannot hide. Republicans wisely rejected war in Kosovo. McCain, once again, jettisoned party loyalty to call for bombs from above and “more boots on the ground.” More recently, it’s been “bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb-Iran,” and the promise of a 100 year war in Iraq, bound to break that bank he now vows to make solvent. Under the loving gaze of the media, McCain’s jingoism is ever evolving.
Fred Barnes, a neoconservative, has dismissed anti-McCain conservatives as “talk-radio mafia.” Another McCainiac, Michael Medved, has framed McCain’s apparent opposition to the “Fairness Doctrine” as a sign of his man’s pure conservatism. A wicked, illiberal effort to control speech and property, the “Fairness Doctrine” is a litmus test not necessarily for a conservative, but for any decent individual, on the left or right. Like Bill Kristol’s dad, Medved’s ideological trajectory has taken him from the left to the neoconservative left. Unlike the clever Kristol, Medved’s shabby argument reveals a less impressive intellectual arc.
Neocon Kristol, over on the op-ed pages of his new editorial home, the New York Times (an appointment that speaks to how cozy the left-neocon cabal truly is), has, excitedly, been admonishing mutinous conservatives, while reciting gory poetry in honor of McCain. Limbaugh he has maligned as suffering from “McCain Derangement Syndrome.” (Kristol, however, correctly calls conservatives on their enthusiastic support for the equally problematic candidacy of “Benito” Giuliani.)
Cut to 2000, with Kristol and Brooks making mischief together—or magic, depending on whose side you’re on. The two collaborated on a piece, “The Politics of Creative Destruction,” in which they argued that McCain would revive, rather than repress, the State. I concur with Stephen Bainbridge when he contends that
If the Bush era has taught us nothing else, it is that we must be skeptical of interventionist foreign policies whether grounded in the national greatness ‘conservatism’ of a Teddy Roosevelt or the neo-‘conservatism’ of a Bill Kristol. It produced a foreign policy quagmire that eviscerated any opportunity to advance the conservative agenda at home. … Importantly when it comes to McCain, his interventionism is fundamentally contrary to the traditions of mainstream conservatism.
Back in 2000, McCain’s two neocon loyalists lauded him for his unshakable belief in great government, and for resurrecting the promise of “national-greatness conservatism.” Given the neocons’ “creative destruction” in the interim, the two have been a little less vocal about their aching desires. Their strategic silence makes it easier for McCain to lay claim to the Reagan mantle. He has no business so doing. Contra McCain, Reagan believed the state ought to get out of the way.
Indeed, most illuminating in the McCain CPAC speech was his vow to be “an advocate for the Rights of Man everywhere in the world.” “We can complain about various McCain positions, like McCain-Feingold,” Bainbridge observes, “but in a sense those are tactical issues.” Agreed: The greater philosophical significance of McCain lies in his violence-for-values verbiage; in how he deceptively frames the bloodletting in Iraq and elsewhere around the world as the heroic upholding of individual rights.
Thanks to the malign McCain, it looked as though the neoconservative whey was finally separating from the conservative curd. What was to remain was not the best concoction, but it promised to be a far cry from the previous accursed ideological amalgam.
I had hoped that, in the dust-up between conservatives and neocon-dominated establishment Republicans, McCain would serve as the curdling bacteria. I was wrong.
©2008 By Ilana Mercer