February 08, 2008
McCain the McMaverick?
Posted by: Chris
I get why Patrick Dempsey is McDreamy, and I certainly understand why Eric Dane is McSteamy, but I don't really understand why John McCain is so attractive as the McMaverick Republican to GOP moderates, especially if they are gay. And yet there was barely contained jubilance yesterday among gay Republicans at the departure of Mitt Romney from the GOP primary, which guaranteed that McCain will be the nominee.
The Log Cabin Republicans, who have long favored either Rudy Giuliani or John McCain as alternatives to the once-gay-friendly Massachusetts governor, issued a statement praising the development:
Governor Romney ran an aggressive campaign, spending tens of millions of dollars to hide his record and to distort the record of his opponents. In the end, voters did not find this version of Mitt Romney to be credible. Too many voters learned the truth about his record, and that record didn't match his new found conservative rhetoric.
I understand the sense of betrayal over Romney's flip-flops, but is it really the Log Cabin view that Romney's pro-gay past was inconsistent with being a true conservative, and his anti-gay primary campaign reflects "newfound conservative rhetoric"? I had thought the gay Republican view was that backing individual freedom and equality of opportunity is a central tenet of conservatism and a founding principle of Abraham Lincoln's GOP.
My co-blogger Kevin sounded a similar note yesterday:
Log Cabin Republicans are celebrating, and with good reason. They had a score to settle with Romney, and a message to send to any GOP gay rights supporters that there will be pain if you flip-flop on our issues.
Got it. But is that really the message that other Republicans will take? Or will those with aspirations to higher office (and don't they all?) shy further away from supporting gay rights because they know any attempt to tack back to the right will be met with greater acrimony than if they stuck with the consistent, anti-gay party line?
It is true, of course, that Romney transparently reinvented himself for a presidential run, but Rudy Giuliani, the LCR's favored candidate, did so as well to some extent. Before Rudy ran for president, he said he favored repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and civil unions for gay couples. He reversed himself on both issues, though he still marginally supported domestic partnerships.
McCain has certainly been more consistent on gay issues, but he's been consistently bad. He says he opposes discrimination of any sort and yet he opposes repeal of the ban on gays in the military and is against even basic gay civil rights laws, whether discrimination in the workplace or tackling hate crimes.
Unlike Romney and Mike Huckabee, McCain does oppose a federal marriage amendment (on federalism grounds). But the president doesn't get a vote on constitutional amendments, and anyone who thinks a President McCain will waste one iota of political capital opposing a marriage amendment is fooling himself.
McCain says he opposes discrimination and yet he vigorously opposes any form of legal recognition whatsoever for same-sex couples. He even favored Arizona's draconian anti-gay ballot measure in 2006, which would have prohibited not just gay marriages and civil unions, but even basic domestic partnerships. It was so severe that it stands out as the only anti-marriage ballot initiative to be rejected by U.S. voters.
So I'm puzzled by how McCain impresses gay Republicans and other party moderates. Matt over at the Malcontent was pleased, for example, by McCain's CPAC speech yesterday:
Best of all for the socially moderate, while [McCain] espoused strong “pro-life” views (with which I am largely comfortable), he never took the opportunity in front of this most conservative of audiences to blame society’s ills on gays, not even by using codewords.
Yes, he voiced support for “judges who enforce, and not make, our laws,” but that is a longstanding and valid critique by conservatives that extends way beyond just the narrower and legitimate debate over the way marriage equality is to be achieved.
And he never used the word “family,” not once, nor the word “traditional,” and certainly never both in combination. Good for him.
I understand the importance of this sort of rhetoric, and many moderates still love McCain for calling out Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance" back in 2000. But let's not forget how McCain sucked up to both of them in advance of this presidential run, even speaking at Falwell's Liberty University, which expels gay students. So for me, the rhetoric pales in importance to actual policy positions and how McCain as president would stand in the way of every piece of pro-gay legislation in the hopper.
If McCain were to appoint more judges and justices of the Alito/Roberts/Scalia mode, he could even set back the gay rights movement by a generation. Ultimately the question of marriage will reach the Supreme Court, when some states refuse to recognize gay marriages from other states, and those justices insistent on divining "original intent" -- as opposed to the plain meaning of the Constitution -- will no doubt rule the wrong way (as they would have in Brown vs. Board of Education and practically every other major civil rights ruling).
It's not just on gay rights that I find McCain lacking. I was impressed by his willingness to reach across the aisle and support sensible and desperately needed immigration reform, but he's backed away from those views as a candidate. He betrayed his own record as a fiscal conservatism by signing on in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts (he voted against them before he voted for them). And McCain has been among Washington's most ardent supporters of the Iraq War, which has been a tragic and monumental distraction from the real fight against terrorism. Even today, despite the lack of WMDs and the failure of the Iraqis to govern themselves, McCain still talks about the conflict in the simplistic Bush rhetoric of "surrender" and "victory."
I also see little evidence that McCain has the capacity to repair America's tarnished image in the world, and he certainly lacks the world-changing potential of someone like Obama. The year is 2008, not 1992, and it is long past time for social moderates and gay Republicans to expect more of the party's standard bearer than John McCain offers.
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