I just read John McCain's remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference and I'm conflicted. I had written off John McCain nearly my entire political life: he's my state's senior senator and I've watched him side with Congressional Democrats over and over again. Maybe it was his formative years with Dennis Deconcini but I always assumed it was due to an inner contradiction that he had embraced.
That contradiction is altruism. While many of his most disagreeable actions seem to be motivated for the greater glory of John McCain, I've come to realize that he is sincere in his support for self-sacrifice—to others, to the nation, to whomever so long as it's not self-interested. I saw his willingness to commit troops for incessant intervention and his insistence on mandatory service as indicative of a core ethic of altruism. It didn't hurt that he says stuff like "[t]o sacrifice for a cause greater than yourself, and to sacrifice your life to the eminence of that cause, is the noblest activity of all."
So his advocacy of limited government, reduced taxation, and welfare reform rests alongside restricting free speech, criminalizing abortion, and demonizing the rich. He has taken my side on a number of positions, but his support is practically coincidental. If you believe that Americans should sacrifice themselves for the good of everyone—which in practice means sacrifice for whatever the state decides is good—then how can you make a compelling case for capitalism, for freedom?
Most of my disdain for McCain stemmed from this tenuous agreement. My position derives from a thorough defense of the morality of capitalism; his, as best as I can tell, from the notion that capitalism is the most practical means of serving others. Time and again, McCain has sided with the liberals whenever their bill or idea proved more sacrificial or utilitarian. I don't need that in a president or, frankly, a legislator.
But McCain's remarks have me questioning opposition to his candidacy. He's said some really great things:
I am proud to be a conservative, and I make that claim because I share with you that most basic of conservative principles: that liberty is a right conferred by our Creator, not by governments, and that the proper object of justice and the rule of law in our country is not to aggregate power to the state but to protect the liberty and property of its citizens.
This is something the Founding Fathers could have said. It indicates an understanding that the Constitution is not so much a governing document as a limiting document. The founders believed that the Constitution defined what the federal government can do and anything it doesn't enumerate is beyond its purview. It's a great statement; I sincerely wish that he (or his speechwriter) actually grokked the underlying theory.
While I have long worked to help grow a public majority of support for Republican candidates and principles, I have also always believed, like you, in the wisdom of Ronald Reagan, who warned in an address to this conference in 1975, that "a political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency or simply to swell its numbers."
I couldn't agree more. Further, his actions—the ones that earned him the brand of the maverick—underscore his words. I believe that he is a man of integrity and sincerity, even though I don't agree with him a lot.
Those are my beliefs, and you need not examine only my past votes and speeches to assure yourselves that they are my genuine convictions. You can take added confidence from the positions I have defended during this campaign. I campaigned in Iowa in opposition to agriculture subsidies. I campaigned in New Hampshire against big government mandated health care and for a free market solution to the problem of unavailable and unaffordable health care. I campaigned in Michigan for the tax incentives and trade policies that will create new and better jobs in that economically troubled state. I campaigned in Florida against the national catastrophic insurance fund bill that passed the House of Representatives and defended my opposition to the prescription drug benefit bill that saddled Americans with yet another hugely expensive entitlement program.
I do take added confidence in his contrarian views. I have not seen McCain pander at all—and his campaign has lacked the religious overtones that nearly every other one has featured. He has had plenty of opportunities to kowtow to the religious right and he has largely avoided it—earning the considerable enmity of evangelicals everywhere. I can appreciate that.
I intend to reduce [the size of the federal government]. I will not sign a bill with earmarks in it, any earmarks in it. I will fight for the line item veto, and I will not permit any expansion whatsoever of the entitlement programs that are bankrupting us. On the contrary, I intend to reform those programs so that government is no longer in that habit of making promises to Americans it does not have the means to keep.
Oh hell yeah! Given that I believe his sincerity and earnestness, I ascribe tremendous value to his pledge to veto any bill with pork in it. I guess it means that a pork-free socialized medicine bill could conceivably be tendered and signed, but I'm confident that the other people's money flaunters in Congress couldn't put forth a pork-free bill.
They will offer a big government solution to health care insurance coverage.
I intend to address the problem with free market solutions and with respect for the freedom of individuals to make important choices for themselves.
This is heartening even though it's not wholly in his control to effect. He's got some decent ideas on this subject. At the least, they're head and shoulders above those of his opponents, whose main premise appears to be enslavement of doctors and medical personnel and an insistence on Canadian-style waiting lists. Oh, if only they were that explicit in their intentions! Instead, they focus on the consumer side of socialized medicine: everything is cheap and the same. They just don't talk about the fact that it's cheap if it's available at all and everyone gets the same dismal care.
The rest of the speech is of varying quality and generally reinforces his commitment to sacrifice by his listeners and the American public. While that is damning, it's altogether too common. Every candidate would agree with his statements, as would most every candidate in the last hundred years. So it's not enough to torpedo him in my eyes.
In conclusion, I'm re-evaluating my assessment of John McCain as president. I thought it would be damaging in the short-term and disastrous in the long-term but now I think it might only be damaging in the long-term and positive in the short. I'm working on an entry about how I evaluate candidates and I'll cover the internal debates regarding McCain there.