Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Problem with McCain (original post)

Before long, posting something like this will just generate too much gnashing of teeth. As we get closer to November, the one thought that will dominate so many otherwise sensible people is, the Presidency is everything, "we" dare not lose it...reminding me, to be candid, of how--in the Lord of the Rings trilogy--so many otherwise level-headed and presumably moral people became seduced by The Ring.

So it is with the Presidency, which--by the way--gives so much force to the broad critique of Big Government that once upon a time had advocates in the Republican Party, but no longer: the one and only voice for that sentiment, Rep. Ron Paul, is denounced as a crank and a flake, some of which he conveniently brings on himself, but that doesn't change the fact that the other, "major" GOP candidates could only bring themselves to wear condescending, pained smiles when crazy Uncle Ron would rip into Big Government which the GOP has so vastly expanded in the past seven years, in every respect. While "respectable" Republicans ridicule Rep. Paul, they hope you don't notice that no one else in the GOP even thought the points about Big Government were worth making.

Meanwhile, we have now a presumptive GOP standard-bearer who is hostile to the First Amendment; Sen. John McCain's signature accomplishment is his McCain-Feingold "Campaign Reform" law, which candidate Bush denounced as unconstitutional, but President Bush signed into law. Some say, that's just one issue--but of course, what's the Bill of Rights among friends?

The salient issue for many of us of course is the end of abortion-on-demand, and most think that the only practical way to get at that is the Supreme Court; so every four years, we are told how many justices the next president will name to the High Court. The predictions keep inflating--lately, we're told the next president will "likely" name "four or five." And overwrought activists fall for it.

Never mind that, since 1969, we've had seven presidents, over 38 years (not counting W. Bush's last year, still to come), and in that time, they've named how many justices? Nixon, 4; Ford, 1; Carter: 0; Reagan: 3; Bush (I): 2; Clinton: 2; Bush (II): 2; that yields an average of...1.4 justices named per four-year term; and that reaches back to the 1970s--since that time, people are living a lot longer. No one knows, but based on more recent history, two justices looks like a good estimate, not "four or five." (Of course, an asteroid could hit, and President Obama could name all nine!!!

Now, there's another thing about this argument that the scaremongers hope you will be too panicky to notice. They try to make you think that if Obama or Hilary wins, the Supreme Court will get worse...but then they acknowledge that the two most likely justices to be replaced are Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens! In case anyone hasn't noticed, these are the two most liberal justices. So if they are replaced with newer liberals, yes it will be a missed opportunity--but no, it won't change much of anything, at least on the issue of Roe v. Wade, which is what this all about. So the merits of the, "it's all about the Supreme Court" argument all hinges on how confident you can be that the GOP candidate will name really good justices; because I point out that it was Republican named justices who gave us Roe and upheld it in the 1992 Casey decision.

So we come back to Senator McCain. And last week, Andrew McCarthy had an outstanding column at National Review Online that dealt with this. The right-leaning folks at National Review have been put through the ringer this year, as they've had a terrible time justifying supporting any of the major GOP candidates, they finally came down for Romney, only to have him go down in flames, and now they have to learn to love someone they've had no use for up until a few weeks ago.

Here's McCarthy's brilliant rebuttal to the assurance McCain will name the right justices:

In fact, as between the two of us, it’s McCain’s supporters who are deluding themselves. I take them at their word, for example, that a hallmark of the senator’s politics is his tenacity on matters of principle. Consequently, I am skeptical of his assurances that he would appoint conservative judges who will apply rather than create law. Why? Because he has a recent, determined history of beseeching federal courts to disregard the First Amendment in furtherance of a dubious campaign-finance scheme in which he believes passionately. Conservative judges would (and have) rejected this scheme, just as they would (and have) rejected another signature McCain position: the extension of Geneva Convention protections for jihadists.

Now, the appointment of conservative judges is a crucial issue — one McCain posits as central to why we should prefer him to Obama and Clinton. Thus supporters breezily wave off such concerns, maintaining that McCain both promises there will be no issue-based litmus tests for judicial nominees and has conservatives of impeccable legal credentials advising him.

But for me to conclude McCain would surely appoint conservative judges, I also have to believe campaign-finance and the Geneva Convention weren’t all that big a deal to him after all — a possibility that runs counter to everything McCain’s fans tell us about his fidelity to principle. He’s fought tirelessly for years, in the teeth of blistering criticism, to establish campaign-finance regulations, and I’m now supposed to believe he’ll just shrug his shoulders and meekly name judges who’ll torpedo the whole enterprise — all in the name of upholding a judicial philosophy I’m not even sure he grasps? How exactly is it deranged to have my doubts?

The rest of the column makes clear a broader case against McCain, but here's another salient point:

There remains a rational case to continue rejecting McCain. We are, after all, electing a government, not just a president. I strongly suspect the conservative movement and Republicans in Congress would perform better if set against a Democrat president than in an uneasy alliance with McCain. Thus it’s not a simple matter of determining whether McCain is superior to Obama or Clinton; the question is whether he is so much better that we should tolerate the heavy cost of a movement and a party less disposed to fight a President McCain on the several flawed policy preferences he shares with Democrats. (Emphasis added.)

In fairness, McCarthy tips his decision in favor of McCain--"because of the war"--not for anything else.

For those who continue to make this all about the Supreme Court, let me offer two more thoughts.

First, it seems clear to me that McCain will continue the job President Bush has done of wrecking the GOP as a conservative party. I see little reason to hope McCain's election will foster the GOP retaking Congress. People tend to like divided government, and McCain tends to get along better with Democrats in Congress; and Presidents generally tend to work with what they have; thus Clinton happily "triangulated" with the GOP majority, too bad for his fellow Democrats in Congress. And the excuse, then, for McCain to name the wrong sort of justices--more David Souters--will be..."that's the best we can get confirmed."

Second, despite the claim that justices are "above politics," they do tend to prefer to be replaced by presidents of the same party that named them: Thurgood Marshall tried valiantly to outlast Reagan, White stepped down during Clinton's term, despite being anti-Roe; it's not an iron law, but it often happens. All things considered, if Scalia (the third justice folks guess might depart, based on age) were to contemplate retiring (I rather suspect he is there till the end, but who knows?), isn't it somewhat more likely he'd do so under McCain than Obama?

So, while I don't agree it's all about the courts, even on that one issue, the most probably outcome is McCain naming more Kennedy or Souter types, and if he replaces Scalia, then guess what? The Court gets worse!

Yes, I hear you saying, "but wouldn't that happen with Obama or Clinton?" Yes it would. "So what's the difference?" The difference, dear reader, is that prolifers and other concerned folks could, at least with Obama, make good come of it. It would be very hard to get GOP Senators to vote against a McCain-named justice; but far easier against an Obama appointee; indeed, the McCain appointee would come wrapped up to look like a "Roberts or Alito" and they might just pull it off until the key vote comes several years down the road. (I here note in passing that we still don't know that "Roberts or Alito" are actually all we hope to be, on Roe.) But all Obama's stirring rhetorical gifts will not convince a single prolifer that he's naming another Scalia. And a President Hilary would be a gift that would keep on giving: she would, almost single-handedly, revive and rebuild the conservative movement nationwide, state legislatures would go GOP from coast to coast, along with the Congress, and they'd actually start doing useful things--just as happened under Bill Clinton, if you recall.

Till now, we haven't even discussed McCain's stance on more direct prolife issues: that's because, here again, he represents a sad continuation of W. Bush's wrong direction. When W. ran for president, he was in favor of abortion in "rare" cases--a position that cannot be maintained in any principled or even rational way. If it's wrong to kill an unborn child, the parentage of the child makes no difference. That position at the time represented a significant departure from what had been prolife "orthodoxy"--the prolife movement had successfully gotten Reagan and yes, even Bush I, to take a 100% position (and Bush I, despite many other sellouts, never went south on his prolife promise). But Bush II was allowed to sell out partially, because..."he's the best we can get." Now that's no longer even recognized as a sellout; and the fact that he actually opened the door to embryonic baby-destroying research is overlooked, as is the fact that his vaunted prolife record is a record of nice words but doing the bare minimum--all while he had something no other supposedly prolife president did: a Congress under allied leadership. "Because it's all about the Supreme Court!"

McCain has repeatedly voted for tax-funded baby-destroying "research." Yes, Obama and Clinton will be "worse" on many other prolife issues, but with the exception of tax funding for abortions (which a GOP Congress can prevent, and did under Clinton), this is the issue that is most likely to come to the next president in the form of legislation. There's not a doubt in my mind that if McCain is president, he'll work to prevent any really good legislation from coming to a vote, because that's just what he always did as a Senator. And given where we stand with Roe, and given the dim hopes McCain will make any difference there, except for the worse, there's not much the pro-aborts can do, realistically, to make things worse. The main front will be "research"--where McCain is as bad as the Democrats.

Then there is McCain's habit of periodically lining up with Democrats, against Republicans, on issues that conservatives care about: he voted against Bush's tax cuts (now he loves them), backed an immigration bill that meant amnesty for millions of folks illegally in the country, and has been making disturbing noises about "climate change" that make one wonder: what will McCain's next apostasy be?

Meanwhile, as Ohio's primary approaches, I have to decide if I cast a "protest" vote for Huckabee or more likely, Ron Paul, or if I vote in the Democratic primary, which actually still is a race, and decide which of them is "less bad"? A dreary prospect.

All this and more may explain why the GOP primaries drew lackluster participation, even before the outcome became clear, while the Democrats are generating huge turnouts. It may be that President Bush has done his demolition work too effectively, and the GOP faces a rough November. If so, the GOP might want to think long and hard about what they stood for when they used to win.

1 comment:

A Simple Sinner said...

2 years into the Clinton administration's first term we got ourselves a clean sweep of GOP conservatives in the House & Senate...

I am to the point I would rather see a real conservative run and be elected in 2012 than risk 4-8 years of a RINO in office who doesn't seem to be anymore pro-life or pro-small government than the next one giving lipservice to these causes to placate us.

I can't vote for Obama or Clinton, and I don't want to vote for McCain. I can't sit elections out - I don't believe in that...

But I am getting pretty confident that in November I will be writing my father's name in! Pop is pro-life, pro-lower taxes, pro-small government, and would rather take all the money we have spent on the war in Iraq funding research into alternative fuels (and I think $50B could make something happen!) so we can "quit sending cash to people who really hate us!"

So far, my pop seems to be the only one talking any sense lately.