Rattling the Cage: The liberal case for McCain

Iraq is not the only reason for Democrats to support him.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
This week Mitt Romney warned Republicans in Florida - in vain, as it turned out - that if John McCain were elected president, he would lead America on "a liberal Democratic course." Now that statement, I think, says more about Romney and the intellectual dishonesty of political campaigns than it does about McCain, but still, for liberal Democrats like myself who support the Republican from Arizona, it's an encouraging sign. Last week I wrote that I supported McCain because he, unlike the Democrats, would prevent a meltdown in Iraq, which is preventable now that the surge - whose earliest, strongest proponent had been McCain - was proving itself. But Iraq is not the only reason for Democrats to support him. On some very important issues, especially those that can truly be called "moral issues," Romney was right - McCain acts like a liberal Democrat. He's the only Republican candidate who's taken a humane position on immigration and torture, the two themes - especially immigration - that the Republicans are using to bring out America's mean streak. He's also the only Republican candidate who's talking about global warming. The "maverick" label for him may be an old cliché, but that doesn't make it any less fitting. It wasn't just electoral considerations that led John Kerry to ask McCain to be his running mate in 2004; ideologically, there's no other leading Republican Kerry could have asked. The evangelical Christians are wary of McCain because in the past, he slammed their political leaders, at one time even comparing Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell to Louis Farrakhan. (Beautiful.) The economic radicals are wary of him because he opposed President Bush's early tax cuts as gifts to the rich, which, in the minds of economic radicals, is "class warfare" talk. True, McCain has since made up to the evangelical Right, and he's come around to Bush's side on the economy, but the Christian and capitalist purists still don't trust him. They're not convinced his repentance is irreversible - and neither am I. McCain's roots run far from the Christian and economic Right; I think that what he says about these issues to voters in Republican primaries is very different from what he would do in the White House. That's why I'm not overly worried that a President McCain would appoint more Clarence Thomases and Antonin Scalias to the Supreme Court; he's not a right-wing ideologue. I'm not too worried, either, that under a President McCain, Washington would remain in the hands of the Bush Republicans. The GOP lobbyists hate him for leading the fight for campaign finance reform, and with a pinko Democrat like Russ Feingold, yet! On immigration, the hot-button issue for Republicans, he wrote a bill with Ted Kennedy!! Kennedy, Feingold, Kerry - these are people McCain can do business with? Then he can't do business with us, say raw-meat Republicans. THE RAWEST of them all, Rush Limbaugh, warned that if McCain wins the nomination, "it's going to destroy the Republican party" because he'll drive away all the real right-wingers. And Limbaugh is absolutely correct - McCain will drive them away, and they'll have nowhere to go, not to the Democratic Party, of course, and not to the Republican Party anymore. The radical Right, the GOP's base, the Americans whose politics are driven mainly by fear and hatred - of Mexican immigrants, of Muslims, of homosexuals, of welfare recipients, of liberals, of Clintons - will be isolated. And this, above all, is why Democrats should support McCain. With Barack Hussein Obama as president, the radical Right will be in its glory. With Hillary Clinton as president, they'll be over the moon. With John McCain as president, they'll be finished. But there is a question, in my mind as well, about McCain's hawkishness, mostly over his gung-ho support for the Iraq invasion - which remains a terrible blunder, even if the surge is staving off the catastrophe that would follow an American withdrawal now. McCain gives the impression he'll go to war against Iran, too, if that's the only way to get rid of its nukes. And maybe elsewhere. "There's gonna be other wars," he told supporters in Florida. I think two wars are plenty for America to handle right now, I don't want to see it start any new ones. But for all of McCain's belligerent talk, I don't think he will make another mistake like he made with Iraq five years ago, mainly because he can't. America's military is already stretched to the absolute limit in Iraq and Afghanistan, it does not have the armed forces to take on Iran and Pakistan or some other new enemy as well. McCain isn't crazy, he's not going to break the US military's back. And unless America is attacked on the order of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, he's not going to reinstate the draft because the American public won't accept it, not for another war of choice, and McCain is not a political shahid. Furthermore, he's not a knee-jerk enthusiast of military intervention. He opposed Reagan on sending the Marines to Lebanon in 1983, he was at first against sending US troops to Bosnia, and he pushed for bringing the troops home from Somalia. He knows about the limits of force, too. And what's hugely important, as far as I'm concerned, is that because of his war record, he doesn't have to bomb somebody to prove how tough he is, how worthy he is to be commander-in-chief. This is a big worry I have with the Democrats, especially Democratic non-combatants whose middle name is Hussein or whose gender is female - they're so vulnerable on national security, they're looking over their shoulder so frantically that they're liable to do anything. About Iran, Hillary keeps repeating, "All options are on the table." Obama was even moved to say he'd send American troops into Pakistan to get bin-Laden. These two worry me at least as much as McCain does, maybe more. If Al Gore were running for the Democrats, I'd support him, but he's not running. Obama doesn't have the experience or foreign policy understanding to be president, while Hillary is too opportunistic; I don't know where she stands. McCain is head and shoulders above them - and I haven't even talked about the character issue. If it's possible to be a liberal without wanting to abandon Iraq to its fate, and without being afraid to break Democratic Party ranks, then this maverick, this nightmare of the radical Right, deserves the liberals' attention.