Tuesday, March 6, 2007

John McCain: Not Our Standard-Bearer

XXAs politicians begin exploring 2008 presidential campaigns, conservatism is at a crossroads. Our dilemma: Will the GOP nominate a Republican in name only who we think is most likely to win a general election, or will we remain loyal to our core principles—even if it means losing the White House?

The man at the center of this debate is Sen. John McCain of Arizona. John McCain is a good man. He is a war hero. He is a distinguished senator in his fourth term—re-elected in 2004 with 77% of the vote. His media appeal is the envy of politicians on both sides of the aisle.

But our nominee needs to be someone who not only inspires us, but also shares our values and principles. After analyzing his views and votes, one thing is clear: Despite his much-heralded recent makeover, John McCain is not a conservative.

How can he on one hand reference Ronald Reagan in stump speeches to bolster his conservative credentials, and on the other hand thwart myriad conservative issues in the Senate to cement his status as a maverick?

How could he have invited Tom Daschle, the incoming Democratic Senate Majority Leader, to his home to discuss switching parties in 2001, and now want to be the Republican standard-bearer?

How could have run for president in 2000 by vituperating Christian conservatives, and now portray himself as our long lost friend?

As Glenn Frankel, of the Washington Post, has observed, “However much he courts the base, it will never be enough to allay the suspicions of diehard opponents on the right, who loathe what the National Review’s Rich Lowry calls McCain’s ‘richly layered history of apostasy.’” To wit, on issue after issue, John McCain is all-too-willing to compromise on conservatism.

Consider campaign finance regulations, which is McCain’s signature issue and thus epitomizes his political worldview. As even the senator himself has conceded, banning political speech in the run-up to an election violates the First Amendment. Yet McCain believes there is a higher good than the Constitution—the purported purity of the political process—to be enforced by that instrument of incorruptibility: Government itself. Never mind that McCain has taken millions of dollars from the corrupting “special interests” that he decries. It seems voters are just supposed to trust that John McCain, rather than we the people, knows what’s best.

Similarly, McCain believes that politicians like him know better than taxpayers how to spend hard-earned tax dollars. In 2001, he was one of only two Republican senators to vote against a trillion dollars in tax relief, and in 2003, he was one of only three to do it again.

McCain’s plight only worsens on social issues. He favors federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. He supports Roe v. Wade. He voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. Together with liberal lion Ted Kennedy, he sponsored legislation granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. These are the positions of an independent, not a conservative.

Nor is McCain a friend of the Second Amendment. During the 2002 election cycle, he appeared in ads in Colorado and Oregon for ballot propositions requiring background checks in order to buy a gun. According to Americans for Gun Safety, a group that advocates gun control, his support for a similar amendment to a federal bill was “critical” in the amendment’s passage.

Then there’s his refusal, at a time when energy demand is rapidly rising and supply is diminishing, to allow drilling for oil and gas in Alaska’s Artic National Wildlife Refuge. Couple that with his anti-growth global warming legislation—which 60 senators voted against—and McCain’s environmental bona fides are strong—for a Democrat.

Conservatives understand that John McCain is now pandering to us, in the hope that we will minimize his past apostasy. But the apostasy isn’t just in the past—it’s in the very fiber of his character. Conservatives deserve a standard-bearer who is completely committed to a conservative agenda, not one who just mouths its slogans. In other words, we want an heir to Ronald Reagan.

The 2008 presidential nomination is our last chance to recapture and reorient the GOP. Shame on us if we hand this crisis to an opportunist like John McCain.

David N. Bossie is the president of the Citizens United Political Victory Fund, a political action committee dedicated to electing Ronald Reagan conservatives. This op-ed is based on CUPVF's recent report, “He’s No Ronald Reagan: Why Conservatives Should Not Vote for John McCain.”