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The Meaning of McCain

March 7, 2000

Oh, how I hoped John McCain would be the Republican nominee! Not that I share the widespread enthusiasm for him, especially among the press. On the contrary, I hold him in contempt. And the Republicans deserve to be stuck with him.

McCain is a hypocrite, and a more successful one than Bill Clinton, who no longer fools anyone. Posing as a conservative, McCain favors further centralization of power in the federal government. Posing as a patriot, he panders to the Israel lobby (which is a large reason why so much of the press adores him). Posing as an opponent of abortion, he sends out winking signals that he won’t try to reverse Roe v. Wade. Posing as a reformer who deplores “negative campaigning,” he conducts scurrilous personal attacks on his opponent — then falsely denies having done so. And he has the effrontery to advertise himself as the candidate of “straight talk.”

Above all, he claims the merit of having “character.” He was a prisoner of war who endured torture in North Vietnam at the hands of “gooks” — a word that insults countless people who did him no harm while it carries no sting whatsoever for his tormentors. His unapologetic use of the slur is just one of the many ways by which McCain manages to steer attention to the wartime ordeal he says he doesn’t want to talk about.

Since McCain himself has made “character” his selling point, it’s fair to note what even the briefest biographical sketch makes clear: that after returning from Vietnam he dumped his first wife to marry a young girlfriend he’d acquired, whose wealthy father was willing to finance the political career he was planning. His second marriage took place a month after the first ended.

[Breaker quote: 
Republican Folly Update]McCain is cordially hated by his Republican colleagues in the Senate, the great majority of whom favor George W. Bush as their party’s nominee. His ugly temper impedes his highly calculating ambition. It’s hard to say whether it was petulance or calculation that led him to his recent self-defeating attack on Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, but he managed to enrage many of the Reagan conservatives he claims to belong amongst. After that, he went berserk in an interview with talk radio host Michael Reagan when Reagan tried to get a straight answer from Mr. Straight Talk about his sinister friend and advisor Warren Rudman. “You just lost my vote,” said Reagan, hanging up on the shouting McCain.

By now nearly everyone understands that McCain isn’t particularly conservative. That’s why so many liberals and neoconservatives love him. And the worst of it is that he has made George W. Bush appear to be the conservative hope in the Republican contest.

Which brings me to why I hoped McCain would beat Bush. If McCain had won the nomination, he would have driven countless conservatives out of the Republican Party. And a large number of them might have fled to the only truly conservative party, my own party: the Constitution Party. But alas, McCain showed his true colors too soon.

So now we are in for the usual presidential race between a liberal and a pseudo-conservative. At least the combative McCain might have bruised Al Gore in debate. But we can expect George W. Bush to be put on the defensive, protesting desperately that he doesn’t hate poor people, or children, or minorities, or homosexuals, or welfare mothers who have been raped and need abortions.

Like most Republicans, Bush will concede the moral high ground to liberalism. Then he’ll spend half his time apologizing as abjectly as he has apologized for visiting Bob Jones University.

Gore and the media will portray Bush as a “captive of the Far Right” even as he keeps yielding ground to the Left to prove he isn’t. But this won’t stop conservatives from supporting Bush, since they passionately prefer, for reasons I can’t fathom, a surrendering conservative to a conquering liberal.

If Bush loses to Gore, the media will draw the “lesson” they are already touting: that the Republicans should have nominated John McCain. And why not? If you have to choose between two phony conservatives, you may as well pick the one who can win in November.

Joseph Sobran

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