Barring something very strange between now and November, the next president of the USA will be Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Barack Obama. The Democrats are currently divided, along some very interesting lines, between Obama and Clinton.
By contrast, the Republicans fall into a number of different camps, most of which are lukewarm-to-actively-hostile to McCain. Fortunately, save for Ann Coulter (see YouTube clip) the petulant calls to sit out the election or cast a protest vote for Hillary have subsided. Still, there remains a lack of enthusiasm for McCain among social and fiscal conservatives.
Arguments that conservatives and Republicans will or ought to stay home on election day generally rest on one of three postulations.
The first is that McCain is not a “real” conservative, and hasn’t earned their votes.
The second is that McCain is so eager to reach across the aisle and be moderate that electing him is tantamount to electing Hillary or Obama.
Finally, some analysts suggest that the long-term health of the Republican Party requires a crushing defeat this year, so that the (perceived) heresies of compassionate conservatism, neoconservatism and big-government conservatism can be rooted out.
Each of these ideas is badly flawed. I’ll address each of them in turn.
On fiscal and social conservatism, McCain has repeatedly asserted he did not “manage for profit,” as did Mitt Romney, but rather “led for patriotism.” Fine. But if he is truly a patriot he must be able to see the connection between the nation’s economic and social health and its ability to carry out the ambitious foreign policy missions he has outlined. That means fiscal issues are intertwined with social ones.
America spends a staggering amount of money on its military. Such budgets are only sustainable by an ever-growing and thriving economy; to advocate keeping the military strong, or using it worldwide, without recognizing the crucial nature of a solid economy to back it up, is folly. An effective and muscular foreign policy requires both strong families and a strong economy.
As to the second argument, that McCain is such a moderate that he’s not much better than Hillary or Obama, values voters should know better. McCain is staunchly pro-life, and would prefer to permit abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or life-threatening risk to the mother’s health. He is also in favour of traditional marriage. (He has not expressed an interest in settling these issues as President, but this is not because he opposes the idea, but rather that he considers that an inappropriate use of federal power in a federal system of government.) And for better or for worse, abortion law is made these days by the Supreme Court, so McCain’s thoughts on what federal abortion law should be are less significant than the judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court (and it is likely that up to three justices will be appointed between 2009 and 2012). Not only has McCain committed to originalist judges, but he even voted in favour of Bork at his confirmation hearings.
On the last point- that a stunning defeat would be a bracing and overall rejuvenating experience for the Republicans–there is some truth to this idea. The question we must ask is, what would the cost be? In the next four years, and possibly eight, what would happen as the Republicans rebuilt? The significance of a Supreme Court with three or more new hard-line liberal justices should be clear; major decisions that have a profound influence on life today, such as Roe v. Wade and Miranda v. Arizona, were decided in the 1960s and 1970s. And radical social change is always harder to reverse than to initiate. How much harder to reduce the number of abortions after two more terms of rulings striking down any laws about notification, parental consent, and third trimester abortions?
Exasperation and frustration with McCain are understandable. A moderate and a maverick he might be, but he is closer to mainstream Republicans and conservatives than any Democrat candidate, and Obama and Hillary in particular, could possibly be.
John McCain is perhaps not a values voter’s first choice, but he is certainly not a bad choice, and infinitely preferable to the other name on the ballot in nine months’ time.