As I understand Victor Davis Hanson’s position, those of us who believe John McCain will cause severe damage to the conservative movement and the Republican party should hush up, or at least calm down, for this electoral juggernaut, who has managed to get 33 percent of the vote in South Carolina (despite backing by most of the establishment there) and is strong on the war in Iraq. And if we continue to bring attention to those issues that concern us — which are not insignificant to anyone who has worked in conservative circles for nearly 40 years — then we will destroy the party and Hillary Clinton will win, thereby losing the war on terror. VDH is neither the first nor will he be the last to make this case.
With all due respect, this is absurd on many levels. 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 (as Thomas Sowell puts it) over a long period of time. The suggestion that McCain and McCain alone is capable of fighting this war, given his experience, seems to be the core of the concern. Let me suggest that VDH and others who make this claim are wrong.
McCain never treated Bill Cohen, Clinton’s defense secretary, with the kind of personal animus he showed Donald Rumsfeld. McCain often confuses policy with personality affronts. He was social friends with Cohen so he didn’t admonish him about his hollowing out of the military. His attacks on Rumsfeld started before his disagreement over the surge. Their personalities clashed. And as before, McCain wanted to get even. The fact that he was right on the surge, which has now evolved into mythical proportions with the help of his campaign and supporters, goes high on the credit side of the ledger.
You ask, in essence, that we ignore McCain’s leadership in the amnesty debate and his course reversal of recent months as he seeks votes. What does this tell us about the man? The bill he co-authored with Ted Kennedy (and which was foolishly supported by the current president) would have caused enormous economic and cultural dislocations. (VDH doesn’t need lectures from me on the subject, since he’s written eloquently on it.) As the Heritage Foundation and many others pointed out at the time, the McCain-led effort would have resulted in tens of millions of new illegal aliens coming to the country with the likelihood of eventually receiving citizenship; the expedited bankruptcy of major entitlement programs, including Social Security; and the imposition of massive new costs on state and private enterprises, from schools and hospitals to law enforcement. McCain’s bill would have made it impossible for the already hapless federal government to properly conduct criminal background checks before issuing “probationary” Z-visas to 12-20 million illegal aliens already in the country. And every effort to amend his bill to prevent gang members, terrorists, and others from receiving these visas was opposed by McCain. He also voted for the Specter amendment, which provided that the government of Mexico, among others, would have to be consulted before building physical barriers along the southern border. Six months later, McCain says he was wrong. He gets it now. Secure the border first. I don’t believe him. And as others have pointed out here and elsewhere, he still supports amnesty despite claiming otherwise. The American people said “hell no!” It wasn’t that long ago that he suggested they were motivated by racial animus rather than good thinking. No, VDH, if McCain loses it’s because of his own failings.
It bothers me to no end that those who write so eloquently about national security ask that we downplay McCain’s record on border security, given that 9/11 hijackers used our still-broken immigration policies and unsecured borders to attack us. But they would also have us all but ignore McCain’s zealous attack against our homeland-security measures. Joining with the most irresponsible voices in and out of government, McCain spent weeks, if not months, condemning the detention of alien unlawful combatants (a.k.a. terrorists) at Guantanamo Bay. Of course, the reason they are detained overseas and not within the United States goes back to the 1950 Supreme Court decision — Johnson v. Eisentrager. Justice Robert Jackson, writing for the Court, wrote, in part:
We are cited to no instance where a court in this or any other country where the writ [of habeas corpus] is known, has issued it on behalf of an alien enemy who, at no relevant time and in no stage of his capacity, has been within its territorial jurisdiction.
Since 2004, the Supreme Court has been irresponsibly chipping away at Eisentrager, but it still has some teeth. If a president were to bring the detainees to the United States our ability to interrogate them would be severely hampered as they would like be afforded the full array of due process rights that were never intended to apply to terrorists at a time of war. This is stunningly irresponsible.
Moreover, failing in his campaign to close Guantanamo Bay, McCain has led the effort to confer constitutional and international rights on the enemy where they now sit. And his muddled thinking as applies to interrogations — comparing water-boarding to torture (a rarely used technique that has, in fact, saved American lives according to our nation’s top intelligence official) makes it difficult for any interrogator to do his job without concern for his career and financial well-being, given the litigation and congressional hearings that are the favorite tactics of the antiwar Left.
How can it be said, therefore, that John McCain is the best of the lot to lead this war against terrorism when he appears to have no clue how to fight this enemy on home territory? And yet, that is precisely one of the reasons this enemy is different from past enemies.
There are other reasons to speak out now, and loudly, against a McCain candidacy — before it is too late for the movement and the party. Do we conservatives believe in the Constitution or not? Do we believe in as much open political speech as possible or not? The McCain supporters rightly point out that free speech has never been a pure principle. But wild swings of change, aimed at empowering the federal government (or more particularly, incumbent politicians) against citizen activism prior to an election, is exceedingly imprudent. And prudence is a hallmark of conservative thought, or at least used to be. McCain-Feingold is without question the greatest assault on free political speech since Buckley v. Valeo, and is far more draconian. And, once again, McCain’s rhetoric as its leading advocate was dishonest. He repeatedly used the word “corruption” to describe those “forces” who aligned against his effort. As with Rumsfeld, he targeted a member of the Federal Election Commission, Bradley Smith, for disdain and worse. McCain filed a brief in the Supreme Court with several Democrats against the Wisconsin Right to Life organization challenging its right to run informative ads prior to an election. Wisconsin Right to Life won. Ironically, as best I can tell, this is the most aggressive action he has taken in all his years in Washington on the right-to-life issue, which probably explains why the vast majority of these groups have endorsed other candidates. The point is that McCain’s easy disregard of first principles, in this case political speech, runs deep with many conservatives and is not easily downplayed. (And the fact that President Bush signed the bill is no justification.)
Much has been written about the three legs of the conservative movement and how Mike Huckabee’s campaign has resonated with the family-values folks. Well, he doesn’t appear to have won over a majority of those voters. But I’ll leave that for another day. Much has been written about the national-security leg of the movement, including by VDH (albeit with its selective attention to aspects of the McCain record). But not enough attention is given to the economic leg, which has much to be concerned about in McCain. Some define McCain’s as a spending hawk for his efforts in ending earmarks and opposition to certain spending programs. But the McCain record is much more than that. As mentioned earlier, the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill was among the most irresponsible and reckless budgetary and economic legislative efforts of all time. Moreover, McCain has repeatedly demanded that federal power be used to tame perfectly legitimate private enterprises, from energy and pharmaceutical companies, to media companies and anything else he considers “corrupt” or “the enemy” or what have you. And as I first noted here, McCain’s claim during recent debates that he opposed the 2001/2003 Bush tax cuts because Congress refused to cut spending is highly misleading. Time and again McCain resorted to class warfare propaganda, asserting that he opposed the tax cuts because they “favored the rich.” He has embraced the same approach in the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill, a phony “patients’ bill of rights” that would essentially empower further the trial bar to sue insurance companies and other businesses involved in the provision of health care, including employers. And his “re-importation” of drugs position, which he claims will reduce the cost of prescriptions in our country, comes straight from Hillary Clinton’s heath-care task force. He would drive much needed research and development from those American companies that are inventing and producing most of the world’s life-saving and life-extending drugs.
McCain’s position on the environment is every bit as radical as any of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate. He would empower the federal government to regulate and tax the private sector in ways that it has never before. He is convinced that man is responsible for global warming, such as it is, and consequently the federal government must act to control man. McCain has proposed everything from a massive database of carbon emitters, capping carbon emissions, trading carbon emissions, taxing carbon emissions, and so forth. Of course, like most big-government politicians, little concern is paid to the Constitution or economic outcomes, including forcing more smoke-stack industries and their jobs offshore.
Respecting the all important issue of the federal judicial: For those who are interested Andy McCarthy and I wrote about McCain’s role in perpetrating the judicial filibusters at some length Friday.
John McCain fancies himself a modern Theodore Roosevelt. He’s more like a modern-day Franklin Roosevelt. He knows most of his record is unappealing to conservatives, so he goes from state to state, stressing that which he thinks will help him with a particular electorate. He emphasized global warming in New Hampshire, changed course on illegal immigration in New Hampshire, Michigan, and South Carolina, and, of course, spoke of his support for the war in all places, which is important to all Republicans.
No, now is not the time to be quiet. Now is the time to sort things out. Now is the time for fellow conservatives to speak out. And if John McCain loses, my good Professor Hanson, it will be precisely because of his record, not because his record is known.
One last thing: Why is it assumed that Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, or Fred Thompson would be inferior commanders-in-chief? McCain heroically led a squadron, but he was never in military leadership. That’s not to put him down in this regard, but to make clear the limits of McCain’s non-POW/non-fighter pilot experience. McCain’s activism for a surge has been underscored as evidence of his leadership and judgment on national-security matters. (I have pointed to other issues that provided, I believe, a broader view). But we’ve had great leaders who’ve had little military experience, the most obvious being Abraham Lincoln. While there have been some rhetorical missteps on the campaign trail, Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson have been quite clear about their intentions of taking a hard line in dealing with terrorism and prosecuting a global war. I’m not saying any are Lincoln. I am saying that even when criticizing certain aspects of the war (as McCain has), nothing suggests they’d be weak leaders. (Huckabee is another story.)
— Mark R. Levin served as chief of staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese in the Reagan administration. He is a nationally syndicated radio-talk-show host.