I don’t know about you guys, but I think this is fun. Actually, I do know about some of you guys, because you’re the ones sending me angry and hysterical e-mails calling McCain a baby-killer, a “sicko,” a Communist, etc. Which gets to the real point here. If John McCain is a Communist — or even a liberal — what on God’s green Earth is Al Gore? What vocabulary is left? Just this week Gore and/or Bradley endorsed reparations to blacks, a new entitlement for computers, and income insurance for people who “lost” their jobs “because” of trade deals. If McCain is a Communist, we have no words for what Gore and Bradley are.
This lack of ideological depth perception in some quarters is stunning and very embarrassing. If there is a political chasm between Bush and McCain, then even Robby Knievel — with a rocket strapped to his back — couldn’t cross the distance between McCain and Gore, let alone Bradley.
Still, the most interesting rational criticism (as opposed to the hysterical people who say McCain is for abortion on demand or that he is receiving radio signals from Jane Fonda) is that McCain is really a McClinton. While unfair, this is not outlandish in some cases, as when the Arizona Senator irresponsibly lambastes across-the-board tax cuts as gifts to the rich.
But what about McCain’s perhaps brilliant, perhaps accidental, strategy of winning the center first and the Right second? This, after all, is what seems to be bothering a lot of conservatives — that McCain is running as a moderate supposedly “just like Clinton did.”
Well, let’s think about that. First of all, let no one forget that that is precisely what George W. Bush did for most of the last two years. His compassionate conservatism; his shot at Robert Bork’s Slouching Toward Gomorrah; his carefully crafted disagreements with the Republican Congress, and his more conservative primary opponents; and his endless talk about single mothers — it was all a calculated strategy to distance himself from the overly demonized Right. In essence, Bush got beaten at his own game, which is why he is now lurching unartfully back to the Right, and why he’s sweating like Jerry Nadler in a Mexican jail.
Second, we need to remember that at the beginning of the decade it was not obvious that Bill Clinton was the venal, self-indulgent, corrupt, and awful man he is today. In 1991 and 1992, numerous conservatives — especially, conservative Democrats — embarrassed themselves voting for Bill Clinton. William Safire and Ben Wattenberg weren’t fools for endorsing Clinton; they were simply fooled by the Arkansas governor’s brilliant strategy of running against the base of his own party. Clinton deliberately flouted the sacred cows of the Left in that campaign. He criticized gangsta rap, he snubbed Jesse Jackson, he ordered the execution of a mentally disabled black man, he spoke of tax cuts, and wanted to “end welfare as we know it.”
Once elected, it should be noted, Clinton did continue to hammer nails into the coffin of the Old Left, though he had plenty of carpentry tools left to build a prettier and less manly new Left — but that’s a different column. The point is that just because McCain is infuriating the conservative base does not necessarily mean he is not a conservative, just as Clinton’s insults to the Left did not mean that he wasn’t really a liberal in 1992.
As NR Maximum Leader Rich Lowry points out [Link defunct] the McCain strategy of winning the middle first and the Right second could result in people throwing out the old Republican playbook. A majority of Michigan Republicans believed that Bush was the better candidate to beat Gore in the Fall. I don’t think so, but maybe. Still, that opinion is not reflected in the national polls, which now have McCain beating Gore by nearly 25 points and Bush barely beating him by five. You are allowed to dismiss these polls, to be sure. But watch your own hypocrisy. If you cited the Bush-Gore polls last summer, you need to answer why you thought they were valid then, but not now. Moreover, if McCain beats Bush in California, who can argue that the Senator won’t be the better general-election candidate? Don’t get me wrong, on substance I think Bush is fine, but we’re talking winnability here.
There’s another thing to keep in mind: the so-called media indictment. Like many other conservatives, I find McCain’s popularity with the liberal press troubling. After all, any butt that Jonathan Alter thinks is kissable is — as a rule of thumb — attached to a politician conservatives should not support. On the other hand, who ever said the press always gets things right? Critics assume that McCain is a liberal because liberals like him. That is not a necessary conclusion, considering what we know about liberals. Liberals are very often fools.
After all, in 1992 these were the people who believed everything Bill Clinton said, including the things that contradicted each other. We all now know the press was betrayed by Bill Clinton. Why assume they won’t be betrayed by John McCain?
Lastly, there’s this supposed tactical Democratic vote that Rush Limbaugh and so many conservatives get vexed about. This could not bother me less. First, I don’t believe it really exists, and please stop sending me these anecdotes. It is so hard to get out voters who want to vote for somebody that the idea that there are significant numbers of Democrats who want to vote against George Bush is doubtful. Moreover, most Democrats believe it is John McCain, not Governor Bush, who would beat Al Gore. Why would they vote for the candidate that will do better in the fall?
While I loathe the voting-makes-you-a-better person school of the Left, I do believe that voters become invested in their candidates. It seems far more likely to me that the Democrats pulling levers for McCain now, will do it again in November. Indeed, the fact that McCain is winning anti-Clinton Democrats is something for which he deserves credit.
As for the anti-Engler vote, well, unlike the gang over at the Washington Bulletin, I don’t find that troubling at all. Nobody said that the endorsement of the establishment (which has picked the last three losing GOP contenders) was an unfair advantage in South Carolina, why should it be an unfair disadvantage now? Bush, idiotically and in defiance of his original game plan, allowed himself to be the candidate of the national GOP. If that hurts him now, well, that’s the way the primary crumbles.
ON SUPPORTING W.
On a separate note, I’d like to respond very briefly to the hordes of people accusing me of treachery, opportunism or — egads! — liberalism. These people think I am wildly pro-McCain. One interlocutor thinks I should be writing for Salon. Several think I secretly want a job in the Gore administration. I don’t really mind the criticism; as I say, this is all fun to me. But rather than type out responses to every correspondent I thought I would just cover my bases here.
As pretty much the only NR writer not supporting Bush, I’d like to say you people need to take a couple of deep breaths. Is Pat Buchanan a Leftist for not supporting Bush? Is Alan Keyes? What about Steve Forbes or Gary Bauer? Do you think they’re all bucking for jobs in the Gore administration?
I am not an employee of the GOP — let alone the slice of the pie called the establishment. I have criticized McCain numerous times here and in other publications (especially at intellectualcapital.com). I write what I think — if you haven’t figured that out by now, I’m very curious to know what you thought I was doing here for the last year and a half. Do you think I secretly think the French are incredibly brave too?
I welcome all criticism — and even reprint it. But, just so you know, when you people write me and say I am a Leftwing zealot because I don’t support George Bush — whom I would gladly support if he got the nomination — you make Bush supporters look really silly. If you’ve got arguments, make them. But don’t embarrass yourselves.
Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. That’s why our new poll [Link defunct] asks whether you — as a conservative — would be willing to vote for John McCain in the general election.