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How McCain threatens Democrats

By Bruce Walker
web posted April 29, 2002

Democrats fantasize about John McCain as their standard bearer in 2004. This interest in McCain reflects the quiet desperation of seeing Al Gore as the likely nominee and the only candidate who has a remote chance of defeating President George W. Bush - and Democrats know that retread candidates like William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stephenson lose popularity over elections.

Why pick a sure loser like Gore? Because Gore would give President Bush a respectable loss and not scare or anger most voters. Hillary Clinton or Tom Daschle could easily lose by the sort of huge margins that would sweep Republicans into congressional and state offices across the board: better to lose modestly with Gore than to fall off a cliff with some weaker Democrat.

Eight years out of the White House, with little certainty of reclaiming it in 2008 and very narrow majorities for either party in Congress is unappetizing to Democrats accustomed to the narcotic of power. President Bush would be able to thwart anything the Democrats tried to do, nominate conservatives to the federal bench, and use executive power to achieve his policies.

Sen. John McCainSo John McCain looks to many Democrats like the last lady at the bar before last call: very sexy... after a few slugs of bourbon. McCain might beat Bush in a presidential race: his war record is true heroism, his support for conservative positions in the past would calm the fears of many conservatives, and no one seriously thinks McCain is a major crook.

But despite his appeal, the savants of The New Republic and other organs of the pseudo-intellectual left might want to sober up and end their flirtation with McCain before making a sloppy drunk proposal of marriage. John McCain could quickly become the Democrats' worst nightmare.

While many of us conservatives are more than a little annoyed at McCain's gleeful support of many Democrat issues, only a fool would doubt McCain's courage, his independence, or his cantankerousness. John McCain is an Arizona senator, which puts him in the class of Carl Hayden and Barry Goldwater. The word "maverick" does not begin to adequately describe the independent streak of these men.

Although most conservatives opposed McCain for the Republican nomination, it is worth considering that Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, and Chuck Hagel were among several bright, conservative, die-hard McCain supporters. Democrats relished the internecine Republican battles, but does anyone seriously believe that these Democrats would have supported McCain over Gore in the general election?

While Democrats have grown accustomed to stealth candidates like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, governors of southern states who were not required to take positions on federal issues and who could pay lip service to conservative social policies, McCain is emphatically not a stealth candidate. His votes in the Senate and his speeches on national policies are generally conservative, not liberal.

Read some of his speeches on missile defense or partial birth abortion, and consider whether Democrats could stomach his strong support of the former and strong opposition to the latter. Democrats do not really want candidates who have non-doctrinaire positions. Rudy Giuliani, for example, is not welcome in the Democrat Party, even though his policies often coincidence with Democrat positions. Democrats insist on Orwellian orthodoxy.

So the left's courtship with McCain would inevitably end, and the only question is whether there would be a broken engagement, a groom left standing at the altar, or a messy divorce. If it looked like McCain would actually win the Democrat nomination, liberals would probably pull out all the stops to defeat him. That would leave much more blood on the floor than any Democrat would want going into the 2004 elections.

What if McCain prevailed and won the nomination? He would probably lose, but McCain would remain the titular head of the Democrat Party for the next four years. He should, by custom and by tradition, be able to pick the Chair of the Democrat National Committee (and what if he picked Zell Miller or Sam Nunn?)

The worst nightmare, however, would be if McCain won the presidency. He could then not only set the Democrat agenda at the federal level, but he could - and probably would - punish those Democrats who opposed him by fighting them in primaries and policies. Consider, for the moment, how John McCain must really feel about Cynthia McGivney or Barbara Lee.

Moreover, Democrats must consider the grim possibility that McCain might want to actually address problems like Social Security, and ask Congress to pass the recommendations of Clinton's task force on Social Security. How would Daschle oppose that? What if McCain trotted out Democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan or Bob Kerry to act as the administration's point men on Social Security reform?

What if John McCain, whose commitment to a Strategic Missile Defense System has been long and consistent, went on national television and asked Congress to give him the funds and authority to implement this system at once?

These are just policy areas. McCain might also enforce the law. He might prosecute AFL-CIO leaders for violating his precious campaign finance laws. He might seek an indictment of some Democrat scoundrels, and who could accuse him of partisanship then?

The danger for Democrats is that John McCain might not be pure hokum, like they are, but rather sincerely interested in improving America. What if a President McCain actually tried to make our educational system work, our nation safe, and our tax code sensible? Democrats would privately shudder at anyone who tried to end the infinite karmic incarnations of federal policies and problems, and yet McCain might try to do precisely that. If so, then a general nuisance in the Republican Party could become the worst nightmare of the Democrat Party.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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  • He'll be back by Joe Schembrie (March 13, 2000)
    Super Tuesday doesn't herald the last sighting of John McCain, writes Joe Schembrie, and he thinks he knows who will bring America's favourite war hero back to life
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