Dear Sen. McCain:
Eight years ago I supported you for president. I thought you would have an easier time winning the general election than George W. Bush did. I thought you would be better against wasteful spending. I thought you would be more able to rally Americans to the cause of their country. And, while I think President Bush has done an admirable job protecting us against terrorism since 9/11 and in staying tough in Iraq, I still think that I was correct about all three of my grounds for supporting you.
I also thought, of course, that you were a solid conservative, a big enough man not to unduly hold grudges and not to tack and shift with your sense of where your greatest path to power might lie. I was wrong in those assumptions.
Shortly after Bush took office, you showed your bitterness by actively negotiating with the Democratic leadership in the Senate to see if you might abandon your party. If you had done so (not knowing that James Jeffords would beat you to it), the result would have been what it was with Jeffords — namely, that, among other disasters, the leftist Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee would hijack the judicial nomination process. It would have been, as it was when Jeffords did it, a disaster for conservatives.
In 2001 and, even worse, in 2003, you opposed the Bush tax cuts, NOT because they were not accompanied by spending cuts, but by using class warfare rhetoric straight out of the Ted Kennedy playbook.
You consistently have voted against drilling in ANWR, thus helping to bring on the astronomical energy prices that have contributed to this nation’s apparent slide into recession. You have consistently voted for heavier government regulation in too many areas of American life to keep track of. You have moved stunningly leftward across a whole gamut of issues, running up American Conservative Union scores some 20 points lower than the ones of which you could boast before George Bush embittered you by defeating you. How could such a sudden tack, without any explanation from you, be attrbuted to principle or to straight talk, rather than from a will to personal power, a bid to maintain prominence in the establishment media?
Then again, you showed even during the campaign in 2000 that you were a sore loser and an ungracious winner. Coming out of your win in New Hampshire that year, you had the gall to say the Bush “twists the truth like Clinton.” In a GOP race, that is a low blow — and you never backed it up. Then, you extravagantly attacked the entire Christian rRght as “agents of intolerance.” Sure, the original campaign plan seemed to be to try to fight back against Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson by criticizing their excesses and to SEPARATE them from the mass of the Evangelical voters — to reach out to those voters, in other words, by saying that your disagreements were NOT with them but only with those two particular leaders. But you didn’t have the tact or the modulation to do that. Instead, your language was so extravagant that the attack effectively came off as an attack against the entire Christian Right. That not only was politically suicidal, but it wasn’t fair to those tens of millions of voters who you effectively insulted.
Many of your other differences with the conservative movement, in terms of issues, have been well publicized. But honest differences are acceptable. What is not acceptable is your habit of lashing out at the right, questioning the motives of conservatives who disagree with you, accusing them of corruption or of other nefarious intent. With the left, you disagree without being disagreeable — indeed, every time you actually do disagree with them, you seem to hustle to sing Kumbaya. But with the folks on this side of the philosophical divide, you yell and scream and curse and try to bully people. You make it sound like a light joke that you will win no awards as “Miss Congeniality,” but there’s a difference between being a little prickly and even endearingly irascible, like Barry Goldwater, and being so nasty and out of control that gentlemanly colleagues like Thad Cochran are moved to say ” “The thought of him [McCain] being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper, and he worries me.”
Then again, you seem not to mind even the vilest slanders against those on the right who disagree with you. Your virtual shadow in the Senate, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, said of those who oppose illegal immigration that “we’re gonna make the bigots shut up.” Do you know how much it hurts to have a member of your own party slander you this way? BIGOTS! Not that the opponents make any arguments from logic or principle, but that they are “bigots.” That is an outrage. And yet you call Graham “my beloved” fellow senator. Sen. McCain, did you ever ask your friend not to use such insults? Did you ever advise him to apologize? Or, more likely, do you secretly agree, still, with the idea that nobody of good intentions about immigration could ever oppose your amnesty schemes?
Senator, you also played wingman in strong support of Sen. Graham when he smeared, and blocked the nomination of, Pentagon chief counsel Jim Haynes for a key spot on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. You of all people had the moral authority to come to Haynes’ defense and see him through to confirmation, but instead you supported the smear that he had promoted torture. Of course, as I showed in two lengthy columns to which I have linked numerous times at this blog, Haynes not only did not promote torture, but he took great pains to implement a process that ended up LIMITING the number and scope of interrogation methods used at Guantanamo Bay. You owe him an apology, and you also owe an apology to all of those who live in the state covered by the Fourth Circuit, because blocking Haynes only added to the derelection of duty by your friends Graham and John Warner that has allowed the once solidly conservative Fourth Circuit to become a circuit split equally between conservative and leftist judges, with at least four (or is it five?) unfilled seats on the bench.
Yet, as a supporter of yours in 2000, I had finally convinced myself that you merited the benefit of the doubt in this campaign season. You were not my first choice, by any means, but I consistently blogged mostly good things about you for much of last year. But your conduct of the campaign in the past few months has been execrable. I have at this blog described several examples of your bullying and dishonest tactics in debates — especially your twisting the truth like Clinton (sorry, I couldn’t resist) about Rudy Giuliani’s record on the line-item veto and your deliberate false description of Mitt Romney’s position on waterboarding. And that was before, of course, your now infamous attack on Romney’s perfectly reasonable statement on “timetables” in Iraq, an attack so untruthful that even admirers of yours like the estimable, utterly fair-minded Fred Barnes were moved to say you were off base. (Others, from right to center to left, put it more bluntly: You lied.) And you continued to repeat and expand the falsehood, going so far as to say that Romney owed an apology to the troops. Your behavior on this matter has been reprehensible.
For all those reasons, it appears to me as if you have grown smaller, less dignified, less statesmanlike, in the past eight years, rather than more so. And you have gone out of your way to make yourself obnoxious to the conservative movement — the movement through which some of us have dedicated our lives as our best way to serve the country we love. Yet tomorrow, you make a big speech at CPAC — a gathering you shunned last year, snubbed your nose at, and then insulted by trying to hold a reception at the same hotel at the same time — and you hope to convince conservatives that you are one of us and that we ought to support you.
Well, I’m hear to tell you, that will need to be a mighty good piece of prestidigatation. A mighty neat trick. Stomp all over conservatives for eight years, and in ways that sometimes cross over into viciousness (and, in the case of Jim Haynes,smears of a superbly well qualified, judicious, and good and decent man), and then turn around and expect one speech to bring us together: Not exactly. As GHW Bush would say, “not gonna happen.” For conservatives, it just wouldn’t be prudent. You have given us no reason to trust, much less to verify.
I supported you eight years ago. It will require far, far more than one good speech, though, for me to applaud you again.