McCain no worse than Bush

Most of the criticisms aimed at McCain can be directed at President Bush himself. Campaign-finance reform is a great example. Most conservatives think McCain's effort to regulate political speech is an unconstitutional abomination. But in fairness to McCain, he doesn't think that. You know who does? George W. Bush. The president signed the McCain-Feingold bill though he admitted that he thought it was unconstitutional. But as a "uniter not a divider," Bush felt it wasn't his place to veto an unconstitutional law - his oath of office notwithstanding - that was very popular, particularly with independents, centrist Democrats and the New York Times crowd.

Amnesty for illegal immigrants? To be sure, McCain was a big player last year in pushing legislation many on the right detest. But the biggest player of all was, again, Bush. Whatever your disagreements with McCain on immigration might be, it's pretty much impossible not to have the same disagreements with the president who campaigned in 2000 insisting that "family values don't end at the Rio Grande." Indeed, before the 9/11 attacks, Bush wanted to make Mexico, not Great Britain, our No. 1. ally.

You can go on like this for quite a while. If you point to McCain's very conservative record on judges, his detractors will dismiss it, saying they don't trust his instincts. Didn't McCain say something about Justice Samuel Alito being too conservative? they ask. Well, didn't Bush's instincts guide him to naming White House insider Harriet Miers before conservatives revolted and forced him to choose again? McCain opponents note that while the senator talks a big game about cutting pork from the budget, he's still a big regulator and friend of activist government. This is fair, to some extent, but they forget that it was President Bush who pushed through the biggest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society with his prescription drug benefit - a plan McCain opposed and promises to scale back.

In 2000, conservatives supported Bush despite his insistence that he was a "different kind of Republican" and his insistence that he was a bipartisan bridge builder. He wasn't like those mean conservatives of the Reagan-Gingrich period; he was a "compassionate conservative." Many on the right overlooked this stuff, believing it was unfortunate but necessary marketing for Republicans at the end of the Clinton years. After 9/11, disagreements with Bush were displaced by the need to support the commander in chief in the war on terror. Even now, conservative frustration with the pre-surge fumbles in Iraq remains very high, but muted. Indeed, many on the right who do support McCain do so precisely because he would have "surged" from Day One of the Iraq invasion.

McCain is presented with a dilemma. How can he rally the conservatives to his flag without alienating the moderates and independents the GOP needs to win in November? As nothing in politics needs to be clear-cut, he will probably try to do both as best he can, much as he did in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. At CPAC and elsewhere, McCain insists he's an unchanging conservative. But he might do better with his right flank if he can make the case that with him, we might get a conservative in the White House, for a change.

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McCain best hope for SCOTUS: "The Presidential winner in November will probably appoint no fewer than two Supreme Court Justices. The likeliest vacancies, from an actuarial perspective, will come from the liberal wing of the Court. So a President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton has the potential to set back the prolife agenda by 30 years. It could well be a generation before a President would have another opportunity to shift the balance on the Court to the right. [John] McCain's harshest critics argue that his judicial picks could easily be as bad as anyone tapped by Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama. This is caricature, but even if it had merit, [they] would be trading the risk that Mr. McCain picks moderates for the court for the certainty that his opponent would appoint liberals. It's always possible Mr. McCain would make a bad Supreme Court nomination, just as Ronald Reagan picked Anthony Kennedy, who later affirmed Roe v. Wade... The conservative coalition has learned a lot about picking judges since 1987, and especially since the nomination of David Souter by another Republican President."

Posted by John Ray

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