Monday, February 11, 2008

Is McCain A Conservative?

Everyone should understand that conservatives are a subset – though a very large one – of the Republican Party. There is no question that John McCain is a Republican, as are Mitt Romney, who recently withdrew from the race, and Mike Huckabee, who has yet to withdraw.

Conservatives have doubts, some supportable, some not, that McCain is a real rather than a virtual conservative.

As part of their laundry list of anti-McCain points, conservatives recall that McCain once said he might consider a spot on a national ticket with Sen. John Kerry, then running for president as a Democrat. At the time, this rightly enraged the thinking wing of the Republican Party.

Ann Coulter, may the blessings of Joe McCarthy be upon her, still has not gotten over it. In a recent column she said that she would stump for Sen. Hillary Clinton, now running for president on the Democrat ticket, should Republicans choose McCain as their nominee. Though Coulter has threatened to support a liberal Democrat for president, no one has yet suggested that she is insufficiently conservative.

People sometimes say dumb things because people sometimes say dumb things. McCain is not leaving the Republican Party, Joe Lieberman, who has leant his support to McCain, is not leaving the Democrat Party, and all’s right with the world. Lieberman is a liberal. McCain certainly would be considered by Coulter’s choice for president as a prickly Republican with dangerous conservative tendencies.

In a well received speech before Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), McCain took a swing at most of the hardballs conservatives have been pitching at him.

The center piece of the address is this line: “All I ask of any American, conservative, moderate, independent, or enlightened Democrat, is to judge my record as a whole, and accept that I am not in the habit of making promises to my country that I do not intend to keep.”

That line aroused a smattering of applause because the bulk of McCain’s address to an audience that had sometimes been fiercely critical of him was a series of promises, explicit and implicit. Should conservatives find themselves in need of a short and powerful summary of their beliefs – a brief doxology of the main points of conservativism – they could not do better than to search them out in this address, which sounds for all the world as if it had been written by an Edmund Burke, Ronald Reagan conservative.

Indeed, McCain manages to quote Burke in his address, once on the impossibility of sundering liberty and justice, and then again in this soaring passage:

“I began by assuring you that we share a conception of liberty that is the bedrock of our beliefs as conservatives. As you know, I was deprived of liberty for a time in my life, and while my love of liberty is no greater than yours, you can be confident that mine is the equal of any American's. It is a deep and unwavering love. My life experiences in service to our country inform my political judgments. They are at the core of my convictions. I am pro-life and an advocate for the Rights of Man everywhere in the world because of them, because I know that to be denied liberty is an offense to nature and nature's Creator. I will never waver in that conviction, I promise you. I know in this country our liberty will not be seized in a political revolution or by a totalitarian government. But, rather, as Burke warned, it can be ‘nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.’”

Barack Obama, sometimes given to flights of oratory, cannot mount on these sky scraping crags. Because he is no McCain, his profile in courage background is thin.

In such beliefs as these and in his voting record in the Senate, McCain passes the duck test: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims in ponds, it must be a duck.

There will always be doubters, and in the end they may be proven right. The muddled middle is a very safe harbor for men without chests.

McCain is not one of these.

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