Feature

McCain: The stealth conservative?

What a dirty political trick, said Michael Kinsley in Time.

What a dirty political trick, said Michael Kinsley in Time. “In its desperate hunger for victory at any cost,” the chronically underhanded Republican Party—which has given us Swift Boating and Watergate—is , Johabout to nominate as its presidential candidate John McCain, who is so authentic, courageous, and basically likable that even Democrats respect him. This is “cheating,” because the whole point of modern politics is to select the candidate the other party most detests. Granted, McCain is no Democrat. He’s a hawk on Iraq, solidly pro-life, and holds many other positions that make the Left squirm. Still, he has a “mystical ability to make liberals believe he secretly agrees with them,” despite what he actually says. As a Democrat, “I am surely going to vote against McCain, but it is going to take work.”

It’s lovely that Democrats and independents are so fond of McCain, said Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard. Too bad his own party isn’t. Fiscal conservatives don’t trust him to deliver smaller government and lower taxes. Nativists think he’s insufficiently tough on illegal immigration. Social conservatives hate his support of stem-cell research. And, of course, no one in the GOP has forgiven McCain for promulgating campaign finance reform, which suppresses free speech at the same time that it gives the Democrats a fund-raising advantage. Despite the threats of more vocal conservatives, very few of them will vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as a form of protest. But if enough unhappy Republicans sit this election out, “John McCain will lose on Nov. 4.”

Now let me get this straight, said Christopher Buckley in The New York Times. Conservative purists are so irritated with McCain’s lack of orthodoxy that they plan to “tank” this election, hoping that Democrats screw things up so royally that conservatism becomes popular again? “This is an odd and sour banner to unfurl.” McCain may have failed to vote for the Bush tax cuts, but his objection—that they weren’t accompanied by spending cuts—was wholly conservative. As for his “girlie-man” position on waterboarding, torture is a tricky question, “even for macho red-meat conservative chest-thumpers,” and McCain’s five years of being tortured as a POW in Vietnam surely should count for something. “Conservatism is—among other things—a question of character,” and McCain has character in spades. Admittedly, he sometimes enjoys poking his finger in the eye of the chest-thumpers, but “defiance of the gleeful kind is a quality I’ve always associated with conservatism.” Yes, McCain is a conservative—and yes, he deserves conservatives’ votes.

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