December 14, 1999
Im here to tell you the things you
dont want to hear as well as the things you do, and one of them is
ethanol, said Senator John McCain of Arizona in the latest
Republican presidential pageant (debate), held in Iowa. He
added, in rebuke to his opponents, that everyone here on this stage,
if it wasnt for the fact that Iowa is the first caucus state, would
share my view.
McCains attack on federal
subsidies for corn-based ethanol in Iowa, the corn-growing state, was the
latest manifestation of what the media are calling McCains
authenticity his blunt refusal to pander to
special interests. After eight years of Slick, Authenticity
is in vogue.
In the typecasting that generally
accompanies presidential races, McCain is the medias good guy
the heroic former prisoner of war, the conservative maverick who
opposes powerful voting blocs and much of his own party (war on the
tobacco industry, new limits on campaign spending, and the use of women
McCain has also hinted that his
opposition to abortion and gay rights is negotiable. In
foreign policy he is hawkish, as witness his support for the NATO bombing
of Yugoslavia. He is reliably internationalist and took the bold step of
saying that Patrick Buchanans views on World War II and
isolationism in foreign policy have no place in the
Republican Party (where they used to be standard); did he think the liberal
media were going to boo him for attacking Buchanan?
The media find even McCains
famous hot temper endearing, in contrast to George W. Bushs
smirk. McCain may roar, but he doesnt smirk.
The very qualities that make liberals like
McCain make conservatives distrust him. They regard him less as a hero
than a squish, a Rockefeller Republican in Goldwater drag. (It
doesnt help that even Barry Goldwater became squishy in his old
age. Conservatives have learned to expect betrayal from Republicans.)
McCain is self-consciously playing the
role of the Authentic Candidate who wont back down from his
convictions to please anyone. Let others pander if they want to; John
McCain isnt playing that game. He alone will tell you the
things you dont want to hear, which, as it happens, are
often the things the media do want to hear.
the media praise a candidate for refusing to pander, it may only mean that
he is successfully pandering to the media. McCains campaign
spending reforms would greatly increase the ratio of media
influence relative to other factors in political campaigns; they would also
increase the power of incumbents by imposing limits on challengers. At a
time when running for office is already prohibitively expensive, money is
the only effective equalizer.
Money, says McCain, is a
corrupting influence in politics. But incumbency and power
are even more corrupting, especially when they are shielded from
opposition. One of the first principles of American republican government,
founded in reaction against hereditary monarchs, is that officeholders
must be removable; McCains proposals would make them even
harder to remove than they already are.
McCain professes devotion to the
Constitution and says he would appoint strict
constructionists to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet he is willing to let
incumbents (such as himself) regulate their own opposition. Under what
clause of the Constitution is such incumbent tyranny authorized?
In this and in his anti-tobacco crusade,
McCain seems to take the common view that the federal government can do
anything it isnt specifically forbidden to do never mind the
Tenth Amendment, the real test of strict interpretation, which says that
the federal government is forbidden to do anything it isnt
specifically authorized to do.
Israel is now asking for up to $18 billion
in additional U.S. aid to implement the peace process with
Syria. Here is a golden opportunity for a display of Authenticity against a
truly powerful special interest: the Jewish lobby, before which Congress
grovels. Will McCain show his mettle by opposing this and other forms of
Or is Authenticity just the latest
campaign shtick, offering postures instead of positions? Has McCain
simply found a new way of playing it safe, taking
controversial stands that actually cost him nothing and
make him a media pet?
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