Another Perspective

What a Disappointment

Is the Republican moment over? It's looking that way.

By 2.21.08

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Ever since the Super Tuesday Republican primaries made it obvious and inevitable that the nominee would be Sen. John McCain, I have been struck dumb, so far as political commentary goes. What a disappointment. What a letdown. Yes, the GOP has as many unprincipled mediocrities as the Democrats. Arlen Specter and Trent Lott come immediately to mind. Now and then, the party actually nominates one of them to run for President, most recently Bob Dole.

Regular readers know that, as recently as a month ago, I thought the Republicans were engaged in a process I called "creative destruction." The still-wide-open field included at least two men I thought could win, and would be good candidates and good Presidents if they did: Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

Now what? It appears that the long Republican moment which has dominated American politics since Reagan's first term may be over. The Democrats couldn't bring it to an end. But the Republicans themselves could.

THE BEST ANALYSIS I've seen so far of Sen. McCain's faults comes from Jonathan Chait in the New Republic. Chait wrote:

The prevalent view of McCain is that he is a generally conservative figure with a few maverick stances and an unwavering authenticity...This is the consensus: McCain's basically a right-winger, but at least you know where he stands.

Actually, this assessment gets McCain almost totally backward. He has diverged wildly and repeatedly from conservative orthodoxy, but he has also reinvented himself so completely that it has become nearly impossible to figure out what he really believes...

Even though it is in the public record, McCain's voting behavior during Bush's first term is almost never mentioned in the press anymore. Yet McCain's secret history is simply astonishing. It is no exaggeration to say that, during this crucial period, McCain was the most effective advocate of the Democratic agenda in Washington.

Chait calls the roll of these betrayals: McCain collaborates with John Edwards and Ted Kennedy on a patients' bill of rights. McCain works with Chuck Schumer on legislation allowing the reimportation of prescription drugs. McCain and John Kerry advocate a rise in CAFE standards. McCain and Joe Liebermann devise a cap and trade carbon emissions protocol. McCain voted against drilling in ANWR.

Chait is a liberal. He does not give the weight to Sen. McCain's other betrayals that conservatives do: McCain-Feingold limiting political speech and the McCain-Kennedy attempt to ram through blanket amnesty for illegals. He does not consider McCain's rounding up of the Gang of Fourteen to block the imminent nuclear option that would have given judicial nominees approval on a straight majority vote.

Of late, McCain has tried to woo conservatives by insisting that he will support making permanent the Bush tax cuts. "This is a tricky dance for a straight-talker," Chait notes wryly, "since he voted against those tax cuts in the first place." McCain also maintains that he has never voted for a tax increase.

In these and other issues, as has become plain in the late-stage campaign, McCain will just plain lie. We should not be surprised at this, nor at the results of his lies. Just remember the last eight years, when, at every point when the Republican Party looked like it was going to engineer some kind of win, McCain stepped in and screwed the pooch.

I DON'T THINK I'm alone down here in the dumps. On February 10, the Tacoma News-Tribune published an unusually dispassionate and objective account of the Purdy County Republican caucuses.

A voter named Jim Cave, 42, said McCain wasn't his first, second, or third choice, but that he would vote for him in the general election. However:

"I'd like to remind him where the Republican Party is -- and that's to the right of him," Cave said.

His statement was quickly followed by an "amen to that" from across the table...

Lee Johnson, 53, of Purdy, came for (Ron) Paul and left for Paul.

"I haven't even considered other candidates. I can tell you I wouldn't vote for McCain," she told her fellow participants.

The room then wanted to know if she'd vote for Clinton should McCain run against her in November.

"To tell you the truth, that's the worst ticket I can imagine," Johnson, 53, said.

And that's where I stand. I'm trying to think back in my experience to a worse election choice. Humphrey and Nixon? You'd have to go back a long, long way.

It has certainly been a long time since I've thanked heaven and the founding fathers that America has a stodgy, balky system of government, hard to move, hard to change. A party may get seduced by an emotional champion, but chances are, the government won't.

That's just about all we have to fall back on now.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.