Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Big bad John McCain


Heaven knows, I'm trying. I'm trying to warm to John McCain.

It shouldn't be this hard. He's a true-blue American war hero who sacrificed years of his life and parts of his body in the Hanoi Hilton. He's solidly pro-life and has been for years. He has an 82 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union and is gangbusters against pork-barrel spending. He's been right and noble on the Iraq war. Finally, he's not only won two contested Republican presidential primaries—imagine!—but also polls well against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I'm in the media, which McCain understandably calls his "base."

So what's not to like?

Well, maybe it starts with his "base." You don't get the kind of fawning media treatment McCain has received if you're a rock-solid conservative. You receive scorn and sneers. How do you secure breathless dispatches from your campaign bus and editorial-page plugs for your candidacies? Three related ways. One, you buy a critical mass of the mainstream media's orthodoxy. Two, you let it be known with a few just-us-guys wisecracks that you don't take some of the other conservative stuff that seriously. Three, you attack other conservatives who dare oppose your policies.

Many conservatives who came to love George Bush for the enemies he made dislike McCain for the friends he's made. I'm not there. My McCain "base" problem is that I think it's greedy for the mainstream media to want to have two candidates in the fall election—a Democrat and a Republican "maverick."

Which brings us to my issues with McCain on the issues. Let's start with the Arizona senator's vote on the Bush tax cuts. He voted against both the 2001 and 2003 cuts. Today he insists he was right to oppose them, because Congress would not cut spending at the same time. In the past, however, his reasons for opposing these tax cuts had a far different emphasis.

"I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate at the expense of middle-class Americans," he said in May 2001.

"I want to see tax cuts, if they are necessary, go to working Americans, not the wealthiest," he said in April 2003.

"I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthiest Americans," he said a year later.

Never mind that his current reasons for opposing Bush's tax cuts don't square with his past reasons. Never mind that this hardly qualifies as straight talk. The real problem is this: We'll already have one (Democratic) candidate playing the class-envy card on the Bush tax cuts come fall. Do we really need a second (Republican) candidate saying, "Me, too"?

The same goes for waterboarding. McCain calls it "torture" and gets high and mighty when anyone says otherwise. Democrats and the media eat this up because who has greater authority on torture than McCain? Actually, I think it's his POW experience that calls his judgment on this issue—an issue so deeply personal for him—into question. Whatever the case, I'd like one candidate in the general election who believes waterboarding is legitimate when we've captured a terrorist who knows the location of a ticking nuclear bomb. I think the lives of Americans are worth more than the temporary psychological distress of a terrorist, but that's just me.

Then there's immigration. McCain has favored amnesty for illegals for years. ("I think we can set up a program where amnesty is extended to a certain number of people," McCain said in 2003. "Amnesty has to be an important part, because there are people who have lived in this country for 20, 30 or 40 years ... and are not citizens.") But he now says he's never done so. ("The fact is that I've never supported amnesty," he said last month.) Talk about getting taken for a ride on "The Straight Talk Express."

Then there's the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform's assault on First Amendment free speech and his over-the-edginess on man-made global warming and ...

Heaven, help me, I'm trying.

President Hillary Clinton! President Hillary Clinton! President Hillary Clinton! President Hillary Clinton! President Hillary Clinton ! ... .

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