If you're a conservative considering voting for Sen. John McCain, you're a fool.
At least that's what McCain and his political hit squad think. Bill Clinton conducted perhaps the greatest smokescreen presidential campaign in recent history in '92. It seems McCain has obviously studied it well; in both word and tone he is running just as disingenuous an effort. Perception being the reality of politics, like Clinton before him McCain is having a dandy time fooling a whole lot of people into believing a whole lot of things about him that simply are not true.
Clinton understood that the Beast in modern day American politics is Washington. Its personification is, of course, the incumbent president, so Clinton broadsided George Bush at will. But what to do about the fact that the legislative arm of the government was controlled by his like-minded liberal Democratic colleagues? Bingo: Enter the New Democrat, the Man Who Would Be Different.
If anything, the hostility toward the federal government is increased today, so every Republican candidate has laid claim to the "outsider" or "reformer" moniker. For some (Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes primarily) it is/was an appropriate title. For others (George W., Quayle, Alexander) it is/was a debatable point. But for McCain (and Orrin Hatch) to claim that title is simply ludicrous. "Reformer" McCain has spent almost two decades in Congress and as head of the Senate Commerce Committee controls one of the most powerful arms of the legislative body. If ever there was the idea of the Consummate Insider, John McCain is it.
Of course, you can't just call yourself a "reformer." You have to show the public how things will be very different with you at the helm in the Oval Office. "New Democrat" Clinton was at his amoral best promising all things to all people; "Reformer" McCain is proving to be a fine student of that art.
On abortion, "New Democrat" Clinton championed the idea of making it "safe, legal and rare," thus aligning himself with the pro-choice rank and file of the Democratic party while simultaneously signaling the pro-lifers that he wouldn't hold to a pro-abortion stridency. "Reformer" McCain neatly reverses the argument, claiming to rank and file pro-life Republican activists that he is unabashedly in their camp, then finds the opportunity to make clear he won't have "litmus tests" (once known as principles) where Supreme Court justices are concerned; would overhaul the GOP platform on the subject; would not interfere with his daughter's desire to abort her child, etc. - all carefully designed to woo the pro-choice crowd.
On fiscal policy, "New Democrat" Clinton paid homage to just about every Democratic spending initiative possible and played the class warfare game to perfection with relentless attacks on the "greedy rich," while simultaneously proposing tax cuts and denouncing deficit spending. "Reformer" McCain wraps himself in the Reagan mantle, proclaims himself a fiscal conservative, but offers no program to reduce the size of the bloated federal government. He (eventually) offers a paltry tax cut, and then denounces his opponent's (somewhat less paltry tax cut) as a giveaway for "the greedy rich." And he proposes massive new taxes on the tobacco industry.
"New Democrat" Clinton publicly trashed "special interests," bashed Bush for "coddling to communist dictators" in China, and then made it a point to have this very special interest illegally fund his re-election effort. "Reformer" McCain thunders against the very same campaign finance practices Mr. Keating Five has used to his advantage his entire career while regularly denouncing Washington lobbyists' money bankrolling the Bush campaign, except now they're pouring money into his coffers, and he's cashing their checks in seconds.
If double-talk on policy is the norm, so too is it in political tactics. Clinton regularly bemoans the "politics of personal destruction" while his operatives proceed to destroy the lives of any and all critics. McCain continues to promise a positive campaign while his goon squad slanders Bush with all manner of personal attacks, including the wretchedly dishonest accusation of anti-Catholicism.
And yet some conservatives are willing to ignore all this as they jump on the McCain bandwagon because suddenly the conventional wisdom is that he's more "electable" against Gore. In a recent piece promoting McCain's candidacy Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote that while "Bush is the more reliably conservative candidate...the political objective for conservatism is to put an end to Clintonism. That can only be done with victory," which victory would be achieved with McCain heading the ticket.
Wrong. The political objective for conservatism is to elect conservatives who will advance the cause. Maybe Bush will, maybe he won't. But McCain has made it abundantly clear there is only one cause that motivates him: McCain. That he will say and promise and do anything to get elected tells me he's no conservative. He's a fraud.