Remember the Clinton years? We should — we may be on the verge of reliving them. But I recall being most frustrated when some anti-Clinton zealot would claim the president had ordered an assassination or run cocaine through Mena Airport. Naturally, the Clinton people would very effectively conflate those inane accusations with the highly colorable allegations that the president had obstructed justice and committed perjury. Commentators would duly brand all the president’s critics as deranged Clinton haters.
It really bothers me, then, to find Victor Davis Hanson summing up the opposition to Senator McCain as that he “was not a real war hero, questioning his conduct during capture, commenting on his marital situation, and suggesting he was unhinged and identical to Ted Kennedy, Hillary (fill in the blanks).” All reasonable criticism of McCain should apparently cease since McCain’s opposition includes an idiot fringe.
Are you kidding? Like Dr. Hanson, I’ve been subjected to what I’d consider a “level of vituperation” that I thought was “astounding and completely unforeseen.” Unlike Dr. Hanson though, I was not being subjected to vituperation about Sen. McCain; I, among others, was being subjected to vituperation from Sen. McCain.
Moreover, the vituperation was directed at us; we were not, like Dr. Hanson, observing as a stunned third party. We had dared suggest that our law’s categorical ban on torture ought to be rethought. Sen. McCain’s approach was not reasoned dialogue. He labeled us torture mongers. I found this vituperation particularly dismaying because (a) my proposal was intended to reduce incidents of torture and other prisoner abuse; (b) though I disagreed with Sen. McCain’s insistence on a categorical ban, I acknowledged both his logic and good faith; and (c) I consistently made a point of noting the awe with which I regard Sen. McCain’s courage and patriotism.
But we were merely the latest in lines of people who find themselves smeared by Sen. McCain over policy disagreements. It’s a hallmark of the senator’s politics to scald his opponents in the most ad hominem fashion. Yes, I wish imbeciles wouldn’t slander such an authentic American hero as John McCain. Still, his supporters’ sudden angst about overheated charges is a bit precious.
Sen. McCain’s ACU ratings are good; his ratings from other right-of-center groups are not as good. But Dr. Hanson, your point about the ACLU is preposterous. The ACLU’s signal issue since 9/11 has been the extension of Geneva Convention Rights to alien unlawful enemy combatants who are in gross violation of the laws of war and who thus used to be deemed outside anything but the minimal due process protections of American and international law. Used to be, that is, until Sen. McCain and his allies succeeded in drastically altering both statutory law and the Supreme Court’s construction of the Geneva Conventions. The ACLU was delighted by the McCain Amendment. It was equally thrilled by the senator’s demagoguery over waterboarding, which facilitated the ACLU’s libelous claim that the United States was systematically engaged in torture.
McCain has not “admitted his mistakes on immigration.” He has not abandoned the goal of legalizing the status of illegal aliens (his biggest mistake since it incentivizes them to wait it out in the U.S. rather than go home and try to immigrate legally); and he refuses to say he would not sign his disastrous comprehensive reform if it crossed his desk as president.
Sen. McCain says he won’t raise taxes, but he also says he opposed the Bush tax cuts because they were not matched by spending cuts — a claim that is demonstrably false (he opposed them on class-warfare grounds — because they benefited “the rich”).
Finally, Dr. Hanson’s point about judges may be the least persuasive of all.
Sen. McCain’s two major legal issues over the past decade have been the suppression of political speech (aka campaign finance reform) and the aforementioned extension of Geneva Convention and other legal protections to alien terrorists. Since 2002, these issues have been the subject of several Supreme Court decisions, most notably McConnell and Wisconsin Right to Life on campaign finance and Rasul and Hamdan on rights for enemy combatants. In each of those cases, McCain’s ardent position was the polar opposite of what he refers to as “strict construction” of the law. In each of those cases, McCain’s positions were adopted by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer — the liberal wing of the court (Justice Souter, by the way, is the gift that keeps on giving whose nomination was championed by Warren Rudman —a top McCain adviser previously floated by the senator as a potential Attorney General in a McCain administration.) The conservative justices the senator claims to regard as models roundly rejected McCain’s legal theories.
Now, Dr. Hanson may think that, as president, McCain would be utterly unconcerned about the fate of the signature initiatives for which he fought tooth and nail as a senator. He may sincerely believe that, merely for the sake of promoting “strict constructionism” (a concept I doubt Sen. McCain fully grasps, let alone cares much about), McCain would appoint originalist judges and justices who would surely invalidate his most dearly held legislative achievements. Nevertheless, I hardly think it’s unreasonable — much less vituperative — to worry that what Sen. McCain has done over the past ten years is a better barometer of his future actions than what he has said over the past ten minutes, in the heat of a campaign he badly wants to win.
I admire Sen. McCain. As I wrote yesterday, there is no one running for president (including Mitt Romney, the candidate I support) who can boast an achievement that comes close to the senator’s championing of the troop increase that prevented a humiliating defeat for the United States in Iraq. I have major disagreements with him, but I haven’t decided I won’t vote for him if he’s the Republican nominee.
I’m sure tired, though, of the intimation that people who have deep misgivings about him must be deranged.