Activism, treason, and other political solemnities

A lot of people -- not including me and my fellow politically-irrelevant Pennsylvanians -- are voting tomorrow, and it is natural for them to be ferociously debating whether Romney or McCain is a better choice. In a number of blog posts, I've said that even though I am very uncomfortable with him, that I prefer McCain slightly. I like McCain's outspokenness and his Maverick streak, even though I don't agree with a lot of the stuff he has said -- and I can never forgive McCain-Feingold. I loved the way he tore Michael Moore a new one, for example. (And when James Wolcott slammed McCain as a "seething nest of proto-fascist impulses," I felt sweet stirrings in my proto-fascist heart.)

Despite my problems with him, I also warmed to McCain considerably when his name was booed at CPAC. At the time I would have loved it had he thumbed his nose at them by actually being there. All he'd have needed to do would have been to smile and wave, and the effect would have been like John Wayne smiling and waving at a peace rally. Anyway, this year, McCain may get a chance to maliciously smile and malevolently wave at the activists who find his presence so galvanizing:

Romney is trying to do just well enough Tuesday to give conservatives the time and incentive to mobilize against McCain, who has always had tense relations with party activists.

McCain is to appear Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the movement's largest annual gathering. McCain declined to speak at the event last year, instead renting a hospitality suite in the hotel. But this year, he asked to attend and will speak.

"If we're competitive, that will validate the sense of urgency that is now emerging from grassroots conservatives across the country," a Romney aide said. "We can create a confrontation between McCain and conservatives as opposed to a welcome home. If we do well, there'll be a showdown."

Romney was endorsed Sunday by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.).

Conservative talk-show hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham said last week for the first time that they will vote for Romney.


Not only does the thought of going against the express wishes of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham make me want to wet my pants, I absolutely hate confrontations. And showdowns. What might they have in mind? Will McCain be loudly booed by the crowd that cheered Ann Coulter's fag remark last year? What might that do for his chances with middle America?

At the risk of sounding like the "sociopath" that Amanda Marcotte said I was, I have to confess that I actually find Ann Coulter more offensive than I find John McCain. Doubtless that makes me a "traitor" to the "principles" of CPAC, whatever they are. (I don't want to read them right now.)

And while we're on the subject of treason, as someone who has repeatedly switched parties myself, I don't mind the fact that McCain entertained the idea. I also liked the reasons he gave for rejecting the offer to become Kerry's running mate (which pissed off Kerry big time):

Kerry's courtship of Senator John McCain to be his running mate was longer-standing and more intense than previously reported. As far back as August 2003, Kerry had taken McCain to breakfast to sound him out to run on a unity ticket. McCain batted away the idea as not serious, but Kerry, after he wrapped up the nomination in March, went back after McCain a half-dozen more times. "To show just how sincere he was, he made an outlandish offer," Newsweek's Thomas reports. "If McCain said yes he would expand the role of vice president to include secretary of Defense and the overall control of foreign policy. McCain exclaimed, 'You're out of your mind. I don't even know if it's constitutional, and it certainly wouldn't sell.'" Kerry was thwarted and furious. "Why the f--- didn't he take it? After what the Bush people did to him...'"
In that respect, McCain reminds me of Lieberman, and I like Lieberman. Or is that not allowed?

Bear in mind that when I say "like" I do not mean that I like Lieberman's positions, many of which I am sure would horrify me. But presidencies are not all about what positions on issues a candidate may have taken at one point or another in his career, nor are they about particular comments. More than almost anyone in politics, McCain has an unusual combination which accounts for much of the personal hatred of him, and which makes him a political hybrid.

I do not use the word "hybrid" in the normal political sense, though. McCain combines two traits which are rarely seen in combination. Like most politicians, has the ability to be a political chameleon changing colors and tailoring the appearance of his positions in a manner calculated to appeal to whatever crowd he is trying to please at a given time. But that is combined with a trait which is very risky in a politician -- he shoots from the hip and says things seemingly without any regard for the consequences. Moreover, he does this without any apparent sense of shame, and instead of being apologetic the way most people would be, he'll just blithely move along as if nothing happened.

And even when he is forced to apologize (as he was to Falwell and Robinson) his apologies seem as insincere as a POW's phony confession under torture. This Star Wars analogy gave me a chuckle:

Under growing fire over his recent attacks on leaders of the Christian right, Senator John McCain apologized yesterday for remarks the day before in which he characterized Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell as ''forces of evil.'' He said those remarks had been intended as a joke.

Repeating that he ''disagrees with the political message and tactics'' of Mr. Robertson and Mr. Falwell, Mr. McCain added in a prepared statement, ''I do not consider them evil, and I regret that my flip remark may have mistakenly created that impression.''

''In my campaign,'' he said, ''I often joke about Luke Skywalker, evil empires and death stars. It was in that vein that I used the phrase yesterday.''

Mr. McCain's apology focused on remarks he had made on his campaign bus that amplified on a speech he gave on Monday, calling Mr. Robertson and Mr. Falwell ''agents of intolerance.''

Talking on the bus the next day, he said: ''To stand up to the forces of evil, that's my job, and I can't steer the Republican Party if those two individuals have the influence they have on the party today.''

Mr. McCain issued the apology shortly after his most prominent supporter on the Christian right, Gary L. Bauer, harshly criticized him for attacking Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson, and suggested that the attacks could cost him the Republican nomination.

Now, having just doubted the sincerity of the above apology, I have to ask myself, why I am not more horrified?

The answer is that I like his style. He doesn't seem to take politics all that seriously. The way he handles the attack and the later apology reminds me more of an artist mixing paint than a normal politician.

Interestingly, this works both ways, and McCain seems just as capable of moving along and ignoring things a lot of people would take quite personally.

Here he's accused of ignoring racist attacks on his adopted Bangaldeshi daughter:

Bridget McCain, McCain's youngest daughter, is of Bangladeshi origin. McCain and his wife adopted her from an orphanage run by Mother Teresa. The Bush wing of the Republican Party, the same wing that George Allen belongs to, used Bridget's ethnicity to defeat McCain in the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary.

The push poll organized by Karl Rove in South Carolina in 2000 asked Republican voters if they'd still be willing to vote for John McCain if they knew he had an illegitimate child with a black woman. Bridget McCain, who is dark skinned, appeared in public with her adoptive parents on the campaign trail and the racist Republican voters of South Carolina drew the conclusion Rove--and George W. Bush--wanted them to.

Now, in 2006, McCain is on the road again, trying to build support for a presidential run in 2008. As part of his fence mending he will be fund raising for George Allen today in Virginia. Ironically, George Allen's campaign manager Dick Wadhams is often referred to as the next Karl Rove. Isn't it strange that McCain is working hard for a man who called an American citizen of East Indian ethnicity a "macaca" less than a week ago? Is McCain actually working for the same racist Republicans who shamelessly attacked the race of his adopted East Indian daughter in 2000?

No word on whether McCain cared. I suppose he might have said he cared to one crowd, and said he didn't care to another -- depending on the political exigencies. But I doubt he took it personally.

I'm thinking the man has a very thick skin.

All political considerations aside, I like that. I even admire it.

I say this as someone who hates politics with every bone in my body. The hardball politics that I experienced when I was unfortunate enough to serve as a Police Review Commissioner in Berkeley was enough to damage my psyche for life, and I confess, I do bear a grudge against the activist mentality. The people who take their politics and themselves so deadly seriously that they'll shout you down with insults, keep you up half the night so that they win by sleep-deprivation attrition, chain themselves to buildings and vandalize your car if you disagree with them. Unfortunately, these people are often used as shock troops by the more responsible politicians who find them useful because they drive normal people away. I'll never forget my neighbors complaining to me about a police-related issue (their position would have placed them on Berkeley's McGovern conservative faction), and I urged them to come down and speak up at the public mike session, which was typically dominated by hard core anti-police activists such as Copwatch. Their response was "ARE YOU KIDDING?" and they complained that they might be insulted.

Most people are like that, and it is why activists win.

Politics is disgusting because political activists are disgusting, and the inflexible activist ideology which drives them is even more disgusting.

McCain, by not taking ideology seriously, by seeming to thumb his nose at activists, might be refreshing to those who think politics is disgusting. He might even be appealing to those who are just plain tired of politics.

I have mixed feelings about McCain, and as I said, I'd vote for him or Romney over the Clintons. But if I were a solid McCain supporter, I might hope the activists would yell louder.

The angry middle might hear them.

UPDATE: For all the talk (and I do mean a lot of talk) about McCain thumbing his nose at Republican principles, I'm wondering what the reaction of conservative ideologues will be to this very damning, very recent flipflip by Romney on the gun issue:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was asked about the assault weapons ban on Meet the Press on December 16, 2007.

"I would have supported the original assault weapon ban," Romney said. "I signed an assault weapon ban in Massachusetts governor because it provided for a relaxation of licensing requirements for gun owners in Massachusetts, which was a big plus."

Asked Tim Russert: "So the assault ban that expired here because Congress didn't act on it, you would support?"

"Just as the president said, he would have, he would have signed that bill if it came to his desk, and so would have I," said Romney.

In the last few hours, Romney contradicted that in a podcast interview with Glenn Reynolds and Helen Smith of Instapundit fame.

"I know that a lot of the gun rights folks aren't sure about your position on gun rights," asked Smith. "Would you pledge to veto any new gun control bills that come across your desk as President?"

"Yeah," Romney said. "Yeah, I don't support any gun control legislation, the effort for a new assault weapons ban, with a ban on semi-automatic weapons, is something I would oppose. There's no new legislation that I'm aware of or have heard of that I would support. In regards to guns, I think we have enough legislation and should enforce the laws as they exist. I was pleased that when I ran for Governor that I received the endorsement of the NRA and I hope to receive their support now."

In addition to that apparent flip flop, it should be noted that the NRA did NOT endorse Romney when he ran for governor, as his campaign acknowledged when he said it last December.

This is a rank untruth Mr. Romney continues to peddle.

Said Mr. Reynolds: "I'm beginning to question his sincerity."

Via Glenn Reynolds, who's such a gentleman that he didn't mention his own remark in linking to the above.

Well I don't have to be a gentleman about it. Glenn is absolutely right to question the man's sincerity. This just plain stinks.

For days now I've been reading about McCain and his abominable flipflops, and how they indicate a lack of integrity and lack of principle. I share a lot of these misgivings and I don't defend McCain where I think he's wrong. But when I see Romney caught in two major lies -- both going to the heart of the level of his commitment to the Second Amendment -- and both of them recent in nature, I have to ask some basic questions.

McCain is said to be reprehensible, dishonest, and "unpresidential" for taking Romney's "timetable" remarks out of context, right? So why isn't Romney dishonest for saying he got the NRA endorsement when he didn't? And for switching his positions on the AWB barely two weeks apart? It's one thing to downplay what he did in years past as governor, but this is just glaring.

I haven't scrutinized Romney's record in detail, but I hope someone does. It's one thing to slam McCain, and a lot of it is deserved. However even if we assume that McCain is all those terrible things people say he is (a traitor to the GOP, and either no different or even worse than Hillary), it is a fundamental error in logic to conclude that because McCain is bad, Romney is therefore good.

Assuming McCain is a RINO, well, what if Romney is a RINO too? Doesn't that mean anything?

Or is this just a game of "good RINO, bad RINO" with one standard for McCain, and another for Romney?

posted by Eric on 02.04.08 at 10:06 AM


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