1/12/2008

John McCain's Conservative Conundrum

Common knowledge: John McCain is not a hardline conservative.

He's right-of-center, sure, but his positions on campaign finance reform, environmental warming, immigration, tax cuts, and institutionalized torture set him apart from many of his Republican colleagues. Perhaps more critically, the senator has long refused to play nice with the vulgar and vitriolic breed of culture warrior that has consumed the modern GOP -- thus rendering him a total black sheep.

He has a deeply-held but closely guarded sense of righteousness. It causes him to "act out" now and again, to chafe against the demands of Washington partisanship. Detractors and cheerleaders alike call McCain a "maverick", but I disagree with that characterization, which implies that an unnecessary degree of contrarianism. In reality, he's just an old timer, set in his ways, confident of the integrity of his moral compass.

Anyway, the senator's ideological unorthodoxy, abrasive temperament, and history of cross-aisle overtures have earned him knots of enemies among the right's media-political monolith. In certain corners, there was visible delight over the sight of his faltering campaign.

But now "The Mac is Back." Not only is the Mac back, the Mac is dominating. An easy win in New Hampshire established the senator as national frontrunner. This come back frustrates the National Review set, that loose fraternity of the canon conservatives which dominates right-wing airwaves and magazine pages and pulpits. It means Mitt Romney, their horse in the race, is in danger of losing. Their money's in serious jeopardy.

So they've switched into attack mode. Rush Limbaugh regularly beamons McCain's success, and the lesser dons of talk radio have followed suit. There's serious anxiety at The Corner. National Review, mouthpiece of D.C. conservatism, endorsed Romney (who, entirely coincidentally, once contributed to that exact publication!); they consider him the only thoroughbred conservative. By their estimation, he's bears a fine enough resemblance to Ronald Reagan to carry the party standard come November. He's the "most conservative", thus he deserves to be the nominee; so goes their logic.

But what does that imply? That Republicanism is now beholden to an agenda "solid right" in every way, shape, and form? There was a time when true red voters still gave equal ear-time to liberal and moderate candidates, a time when the GOP was a more balanced organization. Well into the 1970's, the Republican Party was freckled with "purple" conservatives -- Rockefeller, Ford, Eisenhower. Even the first Bush flirted with so-called RINOdom here and there.

The GOP will always be the more conservative party (the more American party...), but it need not become a party of, for, and by strict conservatives. There must be as much room for the Chamber of Commerce man as there is for the Club for Growth man. There must be room for Main Street, not just K Street. Maybe America is sick of the Republican right. Maybe, maybe, it craves the rejuvination of the GOP's middle -- of the GOP's heart.

John McCain is the only man with power to exorcise the far right from the inner sanctum of the Republican Party. His win in N.H. should excite anyone who doubts the potential and questions the intentions of GOP wingers. Down with the extremes, power to the center.

1 comment:

Douglas P. Case said...

I think the main problem with the primary process is that all the candidates try to force their public image toward either the far right or far left in the hopes of winning over their party - leaving those who lean more centrist to fend for themselves. This is a big reason why I like McCain, he doesn't try to 're-image' himself simply for the primary and remains perfectly centrist for the general election (assuming, hopefully, that he wins the nomination).