Thursday, June 02, 2005

The McCain Bakery

There's a new poll up at Decision '08. Go take it, it's on the top of the page. In the spirit of full disclosure, I selected "hold my nose and vote for [Arizona Republican John S. McCain, III]". In the comments section to the post announcing the poll, I wrote the following: I'd vote for him, holding my nose, complaining, and griping all the while. I believe that some measure of conservative influence could be exerted on him, certainly more than if some nationally-prominent Democrat were in the office. It's the bread and butter of politics; half a loaf is more preferable than no loaf, regardless of what Robert M. LaFollette might have said about the subject. It's an academic discussion, anyways; everyone knows that George Allen's going to be the nominee and President. No, I'm not biased, ha ha. I wrote that and I stand by it, even the part that says George Allen's going to be the next President. (He's a Virginian, I'm a Virginian, do the math...) Now, I suppose some may ask why it is that I'd go holding my nose, complaining, griping, and yet still vote for McCain. My reasoning is simple: There are structural advantages inherent in our political system that reward the party holding office, without regards to the details of the office holder's expression of the party's ideology. You can't take the Republican out of a President McCain, which is what I'm relying upon. A theoretical President John S. McCain would not be able to install intellectual clones of his in every single Presidential appointment. Similarly, he could not nominate too many Democrats to prominent posts while leaving qualified Republicans waiting in the wings simply in the name of bipartisanship.1 The theoretical President McCain would, sooner or later, have to dip into the well of Republicans to fill posts, if he sought to have his nominees confirmed.2 Set aside for a minute the fact that John McCain would probably go on the media offensive with his particular brand of passive-aggressive warfare the instant a Republican Senate did anything that he determined to be feet-dragging.3 Regardless of what he or his supporters might think, John McCain can not operate "in the center" by continuous formation of triangulated coalitions. Bill Clinton managed it for a while, but he was blessed with advantages that McCain does not have.4 A legislative strategy that relies upon the breaking of ranks in both parties is terribly unsound, in my opinion. I don't believe our system is set up to permit such a thing: Sooner or later, party discipline would be reasserted and the defectors on either side would be punished. When this happens, McCain's operational center would evaporate, and he would have to come home to the Republican Party to continue his agenda. Therein lies our half loaf. If Republicans are in the majority, then he'd have to consult with the party because he could just about count on unified Democratic opposition. "John McCain supports free food for the poor and universal health care? Well, we don't." In such a circumstance, he would have no choice but to come back to the GOP for support. If Republicans are in the minority---horrors!---then the same would be true. He would have to, at some level, give the Republicans a seat at the bargaining table in order to hold any semblance of party discipline. After all, there's no reason to march in lockstep if total defeat is inevitable; better to present a unified front in the hopes of getting at least a few of your concerns addressed. From a movement conservative's viewpoint, this kind of calculation is probably intolerable. A McCain presidency would probably not be marked by wholesale enactments of legislation hot off the presses from the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, or the Family Research Council. However, the possibility of enacting some of the legislation exists, and that possibility is larger under a Republican President than a Democratic President. There might not be any grand slams for four runs hit during a McCain Administration, but we'd be on the field putting guys on base and playing what George F. Will might recognize as the steady production of runs through the methodical advancement of runners. That's half a loaf, and I'll take it. Robert M. LaFollette reportedly criticized "half a loaf" because it dulled the appetitite for the whole loaf. He said this to justify his unyielding positions and refusal to compromise. By his theory, Republicans should settle for "no loaf" and refuse to vote McCain in 2008 if it comes to that. (I hope it doesn't.) Call me a party hack---a friend of mine does---but I think I'd much rather have half a loaf on a daily basis than a whole loaf every so often. It is better, I think, that our people are in power. With the McCain Bakery, we have the hope of half a loaf. With the Clinton Bakery, there is no hope of any loaf. We won't even get asked if we want crumbs. ---- 1 I have no inherent opposition to this practice other than to say that it should be carefully and considerately done, with the potential for concrete rewards being more than just a spirit of good feeling and/or praise from the New York Times or Washington Post editorial boards. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's term during the Nixon Administration is my ideal of the way to go about this; William Cohen's term as Clinton Adminstration Secretary of Defense is the polar opposite of it. I'm still not sure why Cohen was nominated, although I can understand---in the model of say Lloyd Cutler and Charles F.C. Ruff that when the President calls, you say "Yes, sir" and do your duty. 2 This is of course contingent on a Republican majority in the Senate. A Senate helmed by Harry Reid would of course change the math. I don't have sufficient information to project how a President McCain would handle a Democratic Senate. Like Han Solo, I'm tryin' not to think about it. 3 This is my primary complaint against John McCain, that he doesn't seem to deal well with reasonable disagreement. Suppose for a minute that I, John McCain, and some other friends were in New York City in the 1950s, trying to figure out how to go to Chicago, and were going to take a train to do so. McCain suggests taking the New York Central's 20th Century Limited. I, preferring the service provided on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited, suggest taking it to Chicago. Now it's up to the group to decide which train to take. McCain's reaction isn't going to suggest that reasonable people have differences of opinion and that while there's a perfectly reasonable case for the Broadway Limited, the Century is preferable. Oh no, not John McCain. He's going to come out and say something on the order of, "My friends, my friends. I believe we should take the Century because it is the best available means of transportation. And oh by the way, Country Pundit over here only suggests the Broadway because he's a dishonest moral reprobate who is in thrall to the Philadelphia interests which hold seats on the Pennsylvania's board of directors." He pulled that little stunt far too many times during the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform debate. I opposed campaign finance reform and took the line of the National Review (as best I remember) because I was worried about serious inequalities in the grants of power given to the established media outlets. I was not, as it were, on anyone's payroll, and I wasn't some corrupt thing oozing my way through K Street and the halls of power. It was an honest difference of opinion, but McCain didn't see it that way. I don't exactly enjoy being fired upon by fellow Republicans, but John McCain seems to have an interest in lining the walls of his office with the heads of other Republicans. I don't have time for that mentality. 4 Among them, a largely compliant media landscape that is dead and gone at this point and an apparent lack of inflexible principles. Whether Clinton simply could put a good face on defeat or was an unprincipled man---both are possible---I don't see McCain being the kind of man who could swing triangulation for long. It takes a wheeling, dealing, not afraid to trade anything mindset. McCain's style seems to be more on the order of "Let me tell you what you'll be giving up to get my support".

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