October 16, 2008

Why isn't McCain a "proud conservative" anymore?

After the last week's debate, I noted that McCain had kicked his old habit of calling himself a conservative:
McCain never presented the conservative alternative to Obama. He never even called himself a conservative last night. He was wandering all over that red carpet, microphone in hand, and I have the feeling, in retrospect, that he was truly bewildered, mouthing old phrases, trying to slip by. But one old phrase that was missing was "I'm a proud conservative." Remember when he used to say that?... McCain has lost definition. He's stumbling along to the finish line, hoping to achieve his lifelong ambition, to seize the crown at last. But why? To show he can get along with Democrats? I worry about what awful innovations the new President will concoct in league with the Democratic Congress, but at this point, I'm more worried about McCain than Obama.
Now, I'm checking the transcript from last night. The word "conservative" appears exactly once.. It's said by McCain, but he's quoting Obama:
... I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test. Now, let me say that there was a time a few years ago when the United States Senate was about to blow up. Republicans wanted to have just a majority vote to confirm a judge and the Democrats were blocking in an unprecedented fashion.

We got together seven Republicans, seven Democrats. You were offered a chance to join. You chose not to because you were afraid of the appointment of, quote, "conservative judges."
That is, Obama, in McCain's view, was using a misnomer, denoting highly qualified jurists with a political term.

Why isn't McCain a "proud conservative" anymore? Last week, he mentioned Ronald Reagan 3 (but only to opposed him or liked the way he worked with the liberal Speaker of the House). This week, he never mentioned him once.

Is there some sort of idea that if you think McCain is too liberal, you still have to vote for him, because if he's too liberal, then Obama is really too liberal? I don't buy that. Better a principled, coherent liberal whose liberal choices will, if they don't go well, be blamed on liberals than an erratic, incoherent liberal whose liberal choices will be blamed on the party that ought to get its conservative act together.

31 comments:

Outis said...

Is there some sort of idea that if you think McCain is too liberal, you still have to vote for him, because if he's too liberal, then Obama is really too liberal?

People keep trying to talk me into voting for McCain for that very reason. I refuse to do so. I won't reward Republicans any longer for being slightly less awful (from my small government conservative perspective) than Democrats. Offer me a principled contrast, or don't bother to ask for my vote.

(I'll note that in the last two weeks or so both Obama and McCain have been trying to buy my vote with their proposals. We only need gladitorial contests to complete the Roman-like picture.)

Outis said...

McCain's behavior has become somewhat silly. He proposed a $300B mortgage bailout, and a few days later was complaining about the expense of one of Obama's proposals. As I recall, the proposal in question cost less than McCain's $300B.

Of course, Obama is also silly. He made a big point in his Nomination Acceptance speech of mocking Gramm's comments about the recession being mental. But in the last week or so he has been invoking FDR's "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" rhetoric. Well which is, smarty-pants? (Or is "smarty-pants" a racist term now?)

jdeeripper said...

Nobody remembers Reagan.

It's all about George Bush and his incompetent buddies.

They hijacked the word conservative and ruined it.

Nobody associates conservative with Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Clint Eastwood or Ronald Reagan.

Now it means war, Katrina, rich crooks, religious freaks and hypocrites, financial mismanagement, old people. To some it always did but now any positive connotation has been rung out of it.

Conservative is now the flood pants of politics. It's just embarrassing.

somefeller said...

jdeeripper, I actually agree with you. As a liberal who once was a libertarian conservative, if conservatism meant "Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Clint Eastwood or Ronald Reagan", while I still might not be down with it, I'd have a lot more respect for the conservative movement and the GOP and wouldn't feel as much hostility toward those things as I do now. I'd also include some names like William Weld, Jack Kemp and Milton Friedman on that list.

But that isn't the state of play today. Regardless of what one might think from reading the blogosphere, your penultimate paragraph summarizes where things are today, and doesn't even scratch the surface.

somefeller said...

And how could I have not mentioned Edmund Burke? He of course should be on that list too. But not Russell Kirk. He was a strange little man.

From Inwood said...

Prof A

Be careful of what you wish for, to coin a phrase.

AlphaLiberal said...

McCain is trying to shed a very unpopular movement. The right wing has been moving more and more extreme since Reagan. They left the mainstream of American society a long time ago.

Sometimes they lurch rightward in fits and starts like after 9/11 and when they took all 3 branches of government. Sometimes they just start demagoguing and get carried away.

But they're way out there and people know it. As former Republican Charles Barkley has said, the Repubs 'lost their minds.'

So, yeah, McCain wants some distance. He needs it to get elected, but they've branded the Maverick and he's toast.

1jpb said...

I think it's more interesting that he doesn't address the concerns of the "middle class."

Would that be class warfare?

He doesn't have any problem addressing the concerns of corporations and high income folks.

Can you have class warfare against regular folks? Or, can it only be waged against the rich, because we are to believe that progressive taxation is unfair to the rich.

Even by this standard it seems unfair to stick poor people with payroll taxes that are supposedly going to a "trust fund." But, this money is used to pay government expenses, that could have been paid by the pre-Bush tax cuts. (Tax cuts and economic policies that have resulted in stagnant wages for many folks, but great increases for rich folks.) And, yes there is the earned income tax credit and such. But, I don't care. I have no idea how these working folks live on their incomes.

I don't think it would be class warfare for McCain to aim more of his policies at the middle class. Ironically, rich folks need the middle class because non-rich folks buy stuff and services from the companies that rich people run.

And, it's getting harder for rich folks to invent money with paper shuffling (economic blowup and all), so they'll need more folks to buy stuff and services. In the end rich folks always get their cut. Don't worry about that.

Somewhat related; three days ago I saw my first "Republicans for BHO" sticker on a car other than mine. It was on a new Bentley. My car with the sticker is also fairly nice, though not a Bentley. I wonder if it looks bad to have these R for BHO stickers on pretty nice cars. Probably.

On the other side; today I saw a beat-up old truck with a "Texans for BHO" sticker when I was at the Home Depot. They had WA (my state) plates, but they did have a worn Texas flag sticker, they must be transplants.

And, yes it is literally impossible to go very far in my city (especially around my hood) without seeing BHO stickers and yard signs.

Chip Ahoy said...

Better a principled, coherent liberal whose liberal choices will, if they don't go well, be blamed on liberals than an erratic, incoherent liberal whose liberal choices will be blamed on the party that ought to get its conservative act together.

In a word, no.

Simon said...

somefeller said...
"As a liberal who once was a libertarian conservative, if conservatism meant 'Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Clint Eastwood or Ronald Reagan'..."

It does. Bush isn't a conservative and hasn't governed as one; indeed, the problem with the GOP once it took over the reins of government is precisely that they failed to govern as conservatives. So this isn't like the situation where "liberal" became a pejorative; liberals hated that "liberal" had become a pejorative, but it did so because people started associating the term "liberal" with the ideas that liberals actually advocated. Nothing similar is happening or could credibly happen with conservatism. The stuff liberals (now sub nom. "progressives") are trying to tar them with aren't really conservative positions, so it won't stick.

Freeman Hunt said...

Better a principled, coherent liberal whose liberal choices will, if they don't go well, be blamed on liberals than an erratic, incoherent liberal whose liberal choices will be blamed on the party that ought to get its conservative act together.

It doesn't matter who gets the blame when you're dealing with massive new entitlement programs that can never be removed. Obama wants more of these than McCain. That is plenty enough reason to vote against Obama.

Daryl said...

"Principled" is often just a fancy way of saying that someone is an unpragmatic ideologue.

I'd rather have a pragmatist with conservative values who will cross over to the bad side once in a while, than someone who is bad 100% of the time because he has bad principles.

Is Althouse really calling for more partisanship from our elected officials? She doesn't want any squishy compromisers who will cross party lines! Even though that's what she is. That's how she would govern.

Revenant said...

Why isn't McCain a "proud conservative" anymore?

He doesn't like to talk about it, but the injuries he sustained during the Vietnam War make it difficult for him to lie with a straight face.

JAL said...

"Principled" how?

His associations for the last -- what -- thirty years? have been what?

Guided by his principle of finding the fringiest fringe so he can find himself, write some books about himself, and groom himself, while observing every one else aloofly? ? Is that a word? How about "...with aloofness." He prides himself on that.)

And then he tosses the ones who inconvenience him publicly for a moment under the proverbial, but figurative, bus (it's only temporary) when they can't be defended at the moment.

He's not principled enough to be forthcoming about what he believes. The white board crap should trouble thinking people. He lied during the debate.

How is that a principled liberal?

Unless Barack Obama is the definition of a "principled liberal" it isn't. He sure doesn't respect the plumber.

John Kerry anyone? Al Gore? John Edwards? Joe Lieberman? (Now he was a prinicpled liberal until he defended the war ... and then the netroots went ballistic.) He's actually what I think might be a "principled liberal".... Old school, that is. He at least has principles.

Obama = "principled liberal"

Sheesh.

somefeller said...

Bush isn't a conservative and hasn't governed as one; indeed, the problem with the GOP once it took over the reins of government is precisely that they failed to govern as conservatives. So this isn't like the situation where "liberal" became a pejorative; liberals hated that "liberal" had become a pejorative, but it did so because people started associating the term "liberal" with the ideas that liberals actually advocated. Nothing similar is happening or could credibly happen with conservatism.

Simon, conservatism, in any age, is what most people who call themselves conservatives say it is. (I'm being generous in accepting conservatism's self-definition as an anti-ideology in making that analysis, even though I don't believe in it.) It's simply a diversion (if not something worse) to claim that W wasn't someone who came from the conservative movement, as it is, in the US. Conservatism has been tied to W because most people who called themselves conservatives backed him up, and in many cases do so with his inheritors. The Palin crowd has more in common with W than with Russell Kirk, who I perhaps was excessive in insulting, to be fair. While there exist no shortage of conservatives who run away from W, in the end, the faith must be judged by those who practice it, and W was the standard-bearer of what constituted conservatism at its high point from 2001-2006. To say otherwise is just running away from inconvenient truths.

somefeller said...

The stuff liberals (now sub nom. "progressives") are trying to tar them with aren't really conservative positions, so it won't stick.

To amplify the point, the "stuff" that liberals want to tie to conservatives are the policies they have supported. The fact that Bush has now been shown to all reasonable people (including self-described conservatives) to be a miserable failure as President doesn't change the facts about which tribes supported him and which didn't.

Donn said...

McCain is trying to shed a very unpopular movement. The right wing has been moving more and more extreme since Reagan. They left the mainstream of American society a long time ago.

Nothing but bs in that comment!

The right wing is moving more left all the time, right along with the Dems.

Donn said...

The fact that Bush has now been shown to all reasonable people (including self-described conservatives) to be a miserable failure as President doesn't change the facts about which tribes supported him and which didn't.

Sorry, don't buy that for one sec.

Bush, more than likely, will be positioned somewhere near the middle of the pack of past Presidents, after a more honest appraisal some years down the road.

Host with the Most said...

Why isn't McCain a "proud conservative" anymore?

Do you really give a damn, Ann?

Really?

Since the last debate and your coming out for Obama, you haven't discussed the disaster Obama will be for our military and our country.

Your only reasons for Obama seem to be that he's a better communicator than McCain. I know that law professors like good communication. But McCain's poor skill at communicating his obviously better ideas is no reason to vote into office someone who will bring America's efforts in Iraq - currently successful - into a "lost war" column next to Vietnam.

But the worst - and you can't possibly get this, Ann, living in Madison - will be the constant campaign of hatred towards evangelicals and non-Obama worshippers bolstered by a compliant masturbating media. Example one today_ the New York Times "exposes" Joe the Plumber ( a Republican), but not one word about the Secret Service investigation revealing that NO ONE, except the reporter who made it up - Heard "Kill Him" at an Obama rally.

It's going to be 4+ years of shit from Pelosi/Obama.

Thanks for your shortsighted selfishness.

Revenant said...

Simon, conservatism, in any age, is what most people who call themselves conservatives say it is.

Assuming for the sake of argument that that is true, the vast majority of the people who call themselves conservatives have had serious problems with many of Bush's policies, especially his dramatic expansion of entitlements and his support for illegal immigration.

Revenant said...

I would also add that the highpoint of conservatism was 1994-1998, not 2001-2006. The highpoint of the Republican Party was 2001-2006, but the highpoint of conservatism was the era of the Gingrich Congress.

Host with the Most said...

And you know, Ann, we constantly heard about how Bush has ruined this country by taking away our "rights".

Since Bush has been in office NOT ONE American can point to any "rights" guaranteed them under the constitution that have been taken away. Not one woman in America who wanted an abortion had her right to one taken away by Bush. 3 states have legalized gay marriage in the last eight years under Bush.

But the FIRST ACT OF THE PELOSI CONGRESS AFTER OBAMA is elected will be to pass the NO MORE PRIVATE UNION VOTING, taking away a right from workers to be free of the public humiliation, intimidation and possible violence perpetrated by unions on those who disagree (a proud union tradition).

Ann, I knw you don't "get" this or understand it, but there is actual intimidation done by union thugs constantly in America, and the new "card check" will definitely increase it.

So, thanks for that too.

Trumpit said...

Didn't McCain say that economics wasn't his strong suit? Now he's had a deathbed conversion about it's vital importance with the onslaught of the financial crisis brought on by Bush's pro-rich deregulatory policies. Another GOP operative was making war profiteering hay at the American people's expense: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/world/middleeast/17fuel.html

Enough is enough! Eight years is beyond too long; go back to Crawford, Texas. History, that you couldn't care less because you'll be dead by then, won't be kind to you at all. McCain you are not George Bush, but you are too close for comfort. You are not the comeback kid. You must lose. I'm in a good mood, so I purposely didn't say, "You must die." I hate all this touchy-feely, good will, Obama love fest. so maybe I'll vote for McCain afterall. I've lost my mind. Sorry folks, only temporarily; I'll be back to haunt you. Fear not. The only thing you have to fear is me, myself, & I.

Host with the Most said...

somefeller,

The only way history will judge Bush a failure is if Obama puts the Iraq war in the "lose" column, snatching defeat out of the current fragile success.

I'm fed up with the amount of hate that cunt's like you throw at the President of the United States. Go suck Oliver Stone's dick, then douse you and him with kerosene and light a match.

Spread Eagle said...

When you get right down to cases conservative means Goldwater as he was in 1964 and Reagan. Look at the list of all other Republican presidents and candidates since FDR. Dewey, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, GHW Bush, Dole, and GW Bush. Not a conservative to be found. McCain actually fits in there nicely on that list. And Goldwater? He didn't like or fit in with the conservatism as it came to be defined post-1980. So I dunno. Conservatism can be expressed as a philosophy on paper, but in actual practice it is an illusion, not grounded much if at all in the real.

Roost on the Moon said...

Assuming for the sake of argument that that is true, the vast majority of the people who call themselves conservatives have had serious problems with many of Bush's policies, especially his dramatic expansion of entitlements and his support for illegal immigration.

So what? If they'll vote for McCain anyway, who cares what "people who call themselves conservatives" think?

The national GOP is an unprincipled party based on the idea that democrats are not Real Americans and that foreigners are a threat to our freedom. Throw in a deep suspicion of 'ACLU-types', and it's not hard to see where it's headed.

rcocean said...

McCain never was a conservative. He has conservative positions on several issues. No conservative is the darling of the DC press corps. No conservative would desire Joe L to be his VP, or cut a deal with Ted Kennedy to support open borders.

He's also forced to take conservative positions because he's from a conservative state, and is running as a Republican.

If elected, these constraints would be off & we'd get the real McCain - a scary thought indeed to this conservative.

Trevor Jackson said...

"they failed to govern as conservatives"

The next question, for me, anyway is why? It's not like they didn't have the pull to make it happen. Was it just a raid on Clinton's surplus?

Conservatism can never fail, only be failed. This argument is the same as that from far lefties who still believe that true Marxism has never actually been attempted.

As somefeller noted above, conservatism is as conservatism does.

BJK said...

McCain - for better or worse - is the same guy he's always been. Problem is, anyone who identifies with the word 'conservative' already knows whether or not they would be willing to vote for John McCain over Obama. People for whom idiology matters aren't in play right now.

It's the fuzzy, feel-good middle that both parties keep reaching for. The people who don't follow politics, the ones who haven't put in the time and effort to decide what they believe in, but still show up at the polls out of a sense of duty. (If you don't vote, then you can't complain...even if that means complaining about things completely out of the President's control, like oil prices.)

They're the people who run to the mommy-staters at the first sign of trouble, only to run to the daddy-staters when they look at their taxes. They're the people who say they hate negative ads, yet are also the people whose voting decisions are most affected by negative ads (since they won't take the time and effort to identify the misleading statements). In short, they're the people that neither party can reason with, but both desperately parties need.

To those people, 'Conservative' either means nothing, or it means George W. Bush. Neither one is helpful to the McCain camp at this point. If the names 'Teddy Roosevelt' or 'Ronald Reagan' meant anything to these people, McCain might go back to casting himself in their shadow....like he did during the primaries and at the convention.

Know your audience.

William said...

Liberals like to say that war is the health of the state, and perhaps it is. I would offer a corollary that depression is the health of the welfare state.....In time of war, one wishes to wave the flag and cheer those who plant the flagstaff in the chest of our enemies. In times of economic hardship, one loses patience with the free market system. One quotes Adam Smith with much less self assurance when one has lost four or five years income in a market downturn.....Booms and busts are as natural to capitalism as inhalation and exhalation are to breathing. But there's such a thing as pneumonia. Rightly or wrongly, the Democrats seem the ones who will be willing to experiment with antiobiotics (and leeches). The Republicans seem to be the ones who will tough it out and win a war.....I know it is better to win a war than to lose a war. About the economy and the way to fix it, I am not so sure. However, I am in favor of free markets when I am making money in them.

Revenant said...

The next question, for me, anyway is why? It's not like they didn't have the pull to make it happen.

Political parties exist to keep their members in office. Both conservatives and left-wingers are a minorities within the electorate; both rely on attracting "swing voters" who are neither left-wing nor conservative. Thus, even though the Republican base is conservative, the party itself will inevitably govern in an unconservative manner.

Republicans briefly tried governing as true conservatives, holding down the size of government and the like. There were two effects of this: first, Clinton got all the credit for the resulting surplus, and secondly Republicans got punished at the polls for not delivering up enough handouts to the voters. So Gingrich was out on his ass, and the new leadership did what those precious swing voters wanted: served up lots of new handouts without asking the voters to pay for them.