The Corner

“A Desperate Attempt to Save McCain”???

The strangest thing about this long Mickey Kaus post is his assumption that if we give advice to one of the candidates it is a sign of our support. By this standard, if we give advice to Rudy on social issues, as we did here, we must be “desperate to boost Rudy.” If we advise Romney, as we did here, we’re “desperate to salvage Romney.” McCain is not “our guy,” as Kaus says. In fact, we have only one writer supporting McCain, and that’s Ramesh. We don’t have a candidate yet, but we are going to comment from time to time on the candidates and provide what we think is constructive advice.

Kaus asks why we didn’t just tell McCain to agree with us. We certainly would prefer that. But it’s not very realistic. By the same token, I suppose, we just should have told Giuliani to become pro-life, and saved our breath about all the incremental things he can do to improve his position. But there are better and worse ways for someone to be wrong on abortion, and the same goes for immigration.

Kaus in this instance seems to have a naïve, totalist view of how political change happens. Everyone doesn’t agree with you all at once. For a major figure associated with “comprehensive” reform to go with Isakson would obviously be a welcome development. It would help, as I’ve said before, shift the debate to the right. Would it be better if McCain stayed where he has been? Or if he moved left? If it’s a bad thing for a key player like McCain to move right on immigration, would it be even worse for an even more important player, President Bush, to do so?

This is perverse. Conservative reformers should want everyone to move right, even if slightly, pocket those changes, then demand more until we have a reasonable policy.

Kaus mentions welfare reform. In 1992, Clinton moved the Democrats to the right on welfare by pledging to “end welfare as we know it.” His policy didn’t back up that pledge, nor did he really mean it. But having him committed to that notion and using that rhetoric was, in the end, profoundly helpful to the cause of reform. If McCain starts emphasizing ”enforcement first,” it will be similarly helpful. Just as, after 1992, we could have a debate about what constitued “ending welfare,” we could then begin to have a debate about what “enforcing first” really means.

In that regard, Mark raises some good substantive objections to Isakson. But I would warn against making enforcement an impossible ideal. In any case, let the debate continue, and let’s hope it’s one that’s moving rightward.

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