Sunday, February 10, 2008

With friends like John, who needs Bob Dole

I am not amused by commentators urging those of us with strong small government principles to “grow up,” and stop opposing John McCain for President because he would be better than Hillary. So would my son's dog (my own dog is too old). Is that enough reason to vote for John McCain?

The mistake here, it seems, is the assumption that some people are invested in GOP success regardless of GOP policies and actions. The Democrats are the greater evil, so if you don't vote for a flip-flopping, backstabbing, self-obsessed, economically ignorant Constitution trasher, you're being childish.

Let the people on whose behalf he advocates, maybe the 26 lobbyists on his campaign team, vote for him. It's not my job. I'd like to either effect GOP policies or see the party replaced. Not voting for John McCain seems most congruent with those objectives.

I am fed up with the idea that McCain's statist policies are somehow my fault. I'm not the one writing a GOP platform with headings like: In Support of Trial Lawyers; Amnesty for Illegal Aliens; Implementing Global Warming Hysteria; and Suppression of Free Speech - Round II. To quote Mark Levin, "If John McCain is nominated and loses, it is because he doesn’t appeal to enough Americans, including the base that he has repeatedly betrayed."

If he isn't nominated I won't have to not vote for him. The prospect for his non-nomination isn't looking good, however. So, by not voting for John McCain in the general election I may (through some miracle, since I live in Michigan), actually increase the possibility of a Clinton or Obama Presidency. The central question being posed by those advising me to "grow up'" is - "How is it possible to prefer Clinton or Obama over McCain?"

The answer is that that's the wrong question. Politics is a multi-year game, and I prefer classical liberalism over statism in the long run.

For example, Goldwater's failed run arguably begat Reagan's presidency. Few today, though John McCain should be among them, remember this watershed. Hillary probably does. She was a Goldwater Girl.

The Democracy Project has a nice bit here on the AuH2O legacy - Conscience of a conservative, and you should RTWT.
There aren’t many of us who remember the Barry Goldwater of the 1950’s who challenged many of the safe, consensual policies of the Eisenhower administration as prudent to the point of ineffectual, just tightening a bit the liberal orthodoxy, and excessively reticent to confront the Soviet threat. There aren’t many of us who remember Barry Goldwater’s challenge to the excessively liberal common wisdom of the 1960’s, his conscience of a conservative trumpeting the creed that put the individual first and launched the modern conservative movement said to dominate the Republican Party, which in turn is said to dominate American politics.

But, that creed has morphed into a political machine in which the purism of Goldwater’s beliefs are peripheral to obtaining, keeping, and using power, as often for self-enrichment and glorification as any statist. There aren’t many of us who remember Barry Goldwater’s libertarian core in the 1970’s running contrary to some of the social conservatism that much of the Republican alliance rested upon. Most Republican leaders paid him as much false homage as to Lincoln, but treated him mostly like a loved but aged and quirky uncle. Today, I can’t even remember the last time I heard his name, not to mention his views, mentioned by a Republican.

There are faint echoes today of the debates over the fundamental meaning of conservatism and of liberalism that dominated discourse in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But, that’s all they are, faint echoes heard in the halls and media of power, largely treated as trivial to the business at hand. And, that’s what is at hand, the business of power, not the power of ideas, including the powerful idea of individual responsibility and morality.

...Out of their loss of power, like conservatives in the 1950’s, liberals are at last realizing they need new thinking. It may be comfortable to see their state of thinking epitomized by their equivalent of conspiratorial Birchers whose insanities we highlight, but below that surface there are some saner thinkers stumbling toward a newer more attractive vision that may resonate over the coming decades. Meanwhile, the primary contrary thinking from the right is more concerned with cutting spending, but of the other guy’s programs, or the same programs but at a state instead of federal level, but not much new that recognizes the fallibility of relying on government programs to the relative exclusion of individual initiative and acceptance of the limitations of group programs.

Both liberals and conservatives have reached virtual bankruptcy of ideas. Both are rummaging around their vaults of oldie goldie slogans, and polls show most Americans except the few most partisan see through both’s emperorial clothes. Both need to really rethink their core assumptions, and take on their vested interests. If conservatives don’t get a new Barry Goldwater soon, the liberals may find theirs first.
Peggy Noonan picks up the theme in a link at the end of that post. Another Bridge to Nowhere
But saying The Bush administration is a lot better than having Democrats in there is not an answer to criticism, it's a way to squelch it. Which is another Bridge to Nowhere.
In another political environment, Christopher Hitchens makes the same argument I make here. RTWT The Tories are still useless, and if you really want to get Labour out, you should not vote Tory:
I think we now have a unique opportunity to remake British politics and recapture Britain from the people who have messed it up and trashed it for so long. The next election cannot change the government. But it can change the opposition - from an ineffectual, useless, compromised one, into an effective one genuinely opposed to what New Labour is doing.

And such an opposition, no longer weighed down by the awful record of the Tories and their miserable reputation, could throw New Labour into the sea, perhaps within five years of coming into being.

The destruction of the Tory Party, which is now both possible and desirable, is the essential first step to this. In our two-party system, new parties arise out of the collapse and splitting of those they seek to replace. They cannot be created until that collapse, and that split, have begun. A serious, undoubted and decisive defeat for the Tory Party at the next election would make this possible and likely. Such a defeat is possible, despite the events of the past few weeks, and can be aided by voters simply refusing to waste their votes on a party that is both likely to lose, and certain to betray them if it wins.
In the United States, what would a McCain single term presidency (he'd be 80 midway through a second term, so I discount it) beget? Somewhat more feisty foreign policy and somewhat more statist domestic policy seems probable.

But, one need not feel the least bit compelled to seek fleeting marginal political advantage by supporting a candidate willing to betray the Constitution. What's that you say? Clinton and Obama support McCain-Feingold too? Yeah, but they're not claiming to be on my side, and their names weren't on the bill. It wasn't their crusade. Without a "conservative" like McCain it might never have happened. Clinton and Obama aren't in the vanguard of those trying to extend it.

It's not just that issue where a conservative mantle has enabled McCain to assist Big Brother, but that assault on the First Amendment in and of itself is always and forever a deal breaker.

As I'll demonstrate at length in a minute, I've been no fan of George Bush's domestic policies. I will, however, give him credit for steadfastness, calm in the face of opposition and adherence to a set of principles - like them all or not. The myth is that McCain is cut from similar honest cloth. I don't think so. A recent Reason Alert newsletter provides this insight:

In McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, Reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch, who was recently labeled "one of the world's foremost experts on all things McCain" by WashingtonPost.com, writes, “The McCain desperate to be president bends his positions for political considerations, spins furiously when caught out on his contradictions, and makes absurd declarations about how none of his policy positions have changed…McCain’s 34 years of voluminous on-the-record verbiage – the best-selling books, the hundreds of appearances on Sunday chat shows, the inspirational speeches – are positively cluttered with cautionary tales about what happens when he elevates his own self-interest over what’s good for the country.”

“…this book excoriates John McCain as a calculating flip-flopper and the media for mythologizing him as a straight shooter. Welch compares McCain's ‘ritual self-criticism’ to Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12-step program: First, he admits his flaws, then he sublimates them to a greater cause, and finally he takes that cause to the people. - The Washington Post
I voted third party in 2000 because George Bush's domestic agenda was statist. I held my nose and voted for him in 2004 solely because John Kerry promised to cut and run in Iraq. Preventing John Kerry from becoming president was my sole motivation. I explained this in a Lansing State Journal OpEd in October 2004:
In peacetime elections, the candidates' domestic policy positions matter most to me: particularly spending, trade, federalism and civil liberties. On these issues, George Bush has been disappointing. John Kerry promises me that he would be at least as disappointing.

Disappointment abounds: Kerry's ambivalence on the Second Amendment. Bush's cynical amendment defining marriage. Kerry's promise to add billions to health-care spending; Bush already having done it. Kerry supporting such economically devastating and ludicrously ineffective environmentalism as the Kyoto Treaty. Bush signing campaign finance "reform."

Domestically, John Bush and George W. Kerry lead mirror-image political parties whose entitlement-laden pandering promotes divisiveness and disinterest.
In peacetime, this undifferentiated statism should prompt everyone to boycott the election.

But this is not peacetime.

We are at war, fighting a global alliance of barbarian states and Islamofascist fanatics to whom classical liberalism is anathema.

We are not fighting a "war on terrorism" or "war in Iraq." We are fighting for civilization itself. And this war was declared on us decades ago.

The enemy includes Hamas suicide bombers, Hezbollah thugs, Baathist executioners, al-Qaida murderers and other Jihadists too numerous to mention. They receive aid and comfort from gangster countries for which mass graves, child murder and enforced female illiteracy are policy instruments. Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya are, or have been, culpable. And this is hardly an exhaustive list.

We also are culpable. We sleepwalked through 25 years of this war by failing to respond effectively to dozens of attacks, from the Iran hostage crisis to the first World Trade Center bombing.

After 9/11, we chose to stop waiting for the next attack. We seized the initiative in places like Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Iraq. Now we are wrecking Jihadist hatcheries worldwide.

Iraq, John Kerry says frequently, is "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time."

He has the wrong ideas.

Wrong war?

Those who have repeatedly murdered our countrymen and stated their goal to destroy us don't think so. What atrocity do they have to commit to get Kerry to consider a war "right"?

Wrong place?

Would the senator prefer to fight in New York? Iraq is but one front in this war and it is hardly the "wrong place."

While the 9/11 commission called ties between Saddam and al-Qaida "real, but shadowy," an al-Qaida connection has never been necessary to justify invading Iraq. Saddam's sheltering of Abu Nidal and Abu al-Zarqawi; a decade of shooting at our forces enforcing U.N. sanctions; and his financing of suicide bombers place him squarely in the Islamofascist alliance.

Wrong time?

Shall we accept further decades of casualties?

Kerry's words also imply that the "wrong country" is carrying the load. Of that I ask: If not us, who?

Sometimes Kerry says he would seek victory in Iraq, sometimes he says he would not. Sometimes he votes for funding our troops and sometimes against. He calls the war a bigger mistake than his own vacillation. Kerry's dual mistake, then, is that his ill-considered words accurately describe his deplorable actions.

Kerry's continuing mental stalemate always involves elaborate qualification; as if nuance matters to those who behead handcuffed aid workers and shoot children in the back, as if these cowards might desist could we just get the French to let the United Nations intervene.

Recognizing the Jihadist threat is prerequisite to mustering the will to defend, literally, civilization. Kerry can't even distinguish the threat between one "position" and the next.

Whatever his domestic failings, George Bush understands the nature of this war.
And he will get my vote.
You might think this thinking would imply a similar backhanded endorsement of John McCain in 2008 - but read on.

I offered more specific advice on domestic policy to the Republican National Committee about a year after the LSJ piece:
Thursday, Sep 16th, 2005

Robert M. Duncan
Treasurer
Republican National Committee

Mr. Duncan,

You have solicited my monetary support for Republicans in this year's elections. I do not blame you for not wanting "to believe [I've] abandoned the Republican Party". However, I think you have it backward. It is the Republican Party that has abandoned me.

If, as RNC Treasurer, you know that Republican Party success "depends on grassroots supporters like me", you may wish to pass along my comments to Karl Rove and President Bush.

If the President is counting on me to "help him with the tough challenges ahead", he might well have displayed more ability to cope with the tough challenges of the past (Rhetorically accepting the sophistry that acting according to principle is a tough challenge.)

His leadership in the War will attract my vote and I will most likely support other Republicans on a local basis. I am happy he was able to get tax cuts. I applaud the administration’s position on the 2nd Amendment. I’m pretty sure I will prefer Judge Roberts to Justice Ginsberg. These are areas where Republicans offer a clear and principled difference.

I have not any interest, however, in contributing, indirectly or otherwise, to those individuals responsible for restrictions on free trade in steel, softwood lumber or textiles.

I will not hold my nose and contribute to those who threw my tax dollars into the egregious pork barrel of the 2002 Farm Bill, or the 2005 Energy or Highways Bills. The quid was much too high for the quo on CAFTA, and the new drug entitlement for Medicare recipients is an abomination.

I am unimpressed by the continuing attempts to dissuade Israel from its own defense.

Oh, and in counterpoint to your support of the 2nd amendment, the NRA also has needed money to pursue court challenges to the Campaign Finance Reform bill signed by this President. When I sent the NRA a contribution, I knew what they would do with it.

I was already not impressed by the compromise, should I say gutting, of the President's education reform policy prior to these other failures of principle.

Perhaps some of it is necessary. The education compromise, for example, could be viewed as a tiny, hopeful first step if you've been fitted with Big Government rose colored glasses. No Child Left Behind can also be viewed as Ted Kennedy’s unfunded mandate. Even the Liberals in Michigan see it as an opportunity to increase demands for Federal money.

The Farm Bill reversed a major Republican accomplishment, and the tariff impositions are the opposite of what this President had led us to expect are his principles. That is, there is no detectable difference here between Republicans and Democrats rushing to the trough in their feeding frenzy on my tax dollars, or pandering to special interests for votes. Well, there is one – I expect it from Democrats, since it aligns with their Statist principles.

From Republicans it is simple hypocrisy. Which is worse, not sending money to Democrats since I know what they'll do with it, or sending money to Republicans who act like Democrats?

I think I'll just keep it; it'll help me afford the increased price of steel, softwood lumber, clothing sugar, soybeans and various other CAFTA pork. I’ll preserve it against my taxes for the Alaska “bridge to nowhere” and the apparently unending funding required to rebuild New Orleans. It will help me continue to assist the NRA's defense of the 1st amendment, necessary because the President failed to veto Campaign Finance Reform.

While we’re on the subject of vetoes, can the president even spell the word? Bush signed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, calling it "[among] the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt." Odd praise, indeed, from a “conservative” president.

It is difficult to care about your contention that a Democratic victory in Congress will "cut the President's term in half" or “threaten his programs.” He appears to be doing that without their help.

Now we are asked to accept on spec, on the fact that Bush “knows her heart” a Supreme Court nominee who is at best a cipher and at worst a betrayal to his base. This “trust” argument comes from a President who said of Vladimir Putin: "the more I get to know President Putin, the more I get to see his heart and soul, and the more I know we can work together in a positive way."

So much for the President’s judgment. Worse, he’s been joined by his wife in the spin surrounding Harriet Meirs. Laura Bush says that “it is possible” that opposition to Meirs is motivated by sexism. Please! Spare me the culture wars of the last generation. It isn’t because she’s a woman that her nomination is questionable, it’s because she is clearly not the best choice that could have been made!

In closing, your records are correct. You have not received my 2004 RNC membership contribution. Neither have you previously received any membership contribution from me, nor will you in the near future.

If we stand together, as you say, we can win in November. But, if the point of holding power is to exercise it, I'd say we have a problem.

Get back to me when the party can do both.
This long preamble is intended to demonstrate that my disgust with Republicans is neither new, nor unique to John McCain. I can't "get over it" in general any more. Worse, John McCain has a long record of delight in sticking it to conservatives.

So the electorate again faces this question; “Does energetic pursuit of the long war with murderous external religious-statism trump the long creep of domestic nanny-statism?” It's a multi-year game. Do we accept measly scraps now, or hope for more fundamental reform after our putative leaders spend some time in the wilderness?

Since John McCain's domestic policies promise to be far, far worse than those of George Bush, there are only two possible reasons to vote for him over Clinton or Obama. One, he will more vigorously prosecute the War on Jihadis. Two, his opponent's domestic policies will be sufficiently worse.

He wins the first point handily against Obama, who has promised to cut and run. Obama, however, is the "great uniter" and insubstantive bullshit though that may be, McCain will have a hard time overcoming it. John is no longer a rock star.

Against Hillary, the practical difference is not so clear. Her vote for war in Iraq is less damaging with sane voters because of our recent success. McCain's appropriation of all things "surge" has become less relevant. Moreover, for conservatives, his National Security anti-credentials include opposition to water boarding, pushing to get Gitmo closed and leading the effort to confer constitutional and international rights on the enemy there incarcerated. In pushing his illegal alien amnesty plan, McCain opposed every amendment to prevent gang members, terrorists, and others from receiving 'Z' visas. He also voted for the Specter amendment, which provided that the Mexican government, among others, would have to be consulted before building physical barriers along our southern border.

National security is more than singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb. Bomb, bomb Iran,” on the Senate floor, or promising to keep troops in Iraq for a century “if needed.”

In domestic policy McCain would have an obvious edge in only two instances; appointment of judges and slowing the adoption of Universal Health Care. On the judges, his comments about Justice Alito are discouraging. As reported by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal:
...Mr. McCain has told conservatives he would be happy to appoint the likes of Chief Justice John Roberts to the Supreme Court. But he indicated he might draw the line on a Samuel Alito, because "he wore his conservatism on his sleeve."
Adding this to his record with the Gang of 14, I don't think the judge issue is a big winner for McCain. It matters to conservatives, but conservatives would be hard pressed, yet again, to believe they matter to John McCain.

On the general domestic policy front, one has to wonder whether McCain would actually derail, for example, another Hillarycare initiative. His instincts are remarkably and consistently to work with Democrats against small government.

It's one thing to overlook one or two issues, but in McCain's case, it's every important domestic issue: McCain-Feingold (restrictions on political speech), McCain-Kennedy (amnesty for illegal aliens), McCain-Kennedy-Edwards (trial lawyers' bill of rights), McCain-Lieberman (global warming legislation), Gang of 14 (McCain-Byrd, obstructing change to the filibuster rule for judicial nominations), saying he voted against the Bush tax cuts because they “favored the rich” and bashing pharmaceutical companies as if he were John Edwards.

Any liberal Democrat would be proud of this record.

In the end, we are faced with a candidate running as a conservative who demonstrably is not. His presidency would be another blow to the perception of what small government actually means. John McCain demeans the term conservative, and this is no small thing. Principles matter, as do the words that describe those principles.

How did the word “liberal” come to describe those who favor massive government intervention? By the actions of those who claimed the title. Even the liberals are running away from it now, in favor of "progressive."

On the heels of the Georges Bush, John McCain will do the same for “conservative.”

You may decide that the differences between John McCain and the Democrats are more important than they seem to me. You should ask yourself, though, what WOULD be too much for you? Unless something radically shakes up the GOP, you'll be getting whatever that would be in four to eight years. Your next decision will be even harder.

Then, it won't matter at all.

1 comment:

paladin said...

This is one of your finest posts. It deserves wide readership. Unfortunately its length will prevent that.

A summary: Hillary Rodham Clinton is an abominable choice for president; Barrack Hussein Obama is an abominable choice for president; John Sidney McCain is an abominable choice for president.

So the choice is clear. Do we bend over? Or do we stand up and say: In the words of Hollywood, "I am sick and tired of this and I am not gong to take it anymore". Or in the words of Adams, "Revolution".