Monday, July 14, 2008

McCain's true colors

Some readers have asked what it is that conservatives and libertarians find so objectionable about John McCain on domestic policy. Considering that during the election season he has sounded almost like Phil Gramm, who was advising until he stuck his foot in his mouth, it's a not unreasonable request. He almost sounds like free-market conservative.

Of course Matt Welch's book "McCain: The Myth of a Maverick" is a pretty good source, especially on McCain's veneration of Teddy Roosevelt, the original big-government Republican (though until Bryan that wasn't that big a deal: post-civil war the Republicans were the party of big government and the Democrats advocates of limited government). But there's a more concise piece run in the New Republic in February by Jonathan Chait, who describes McCain's turnaround after the 2000 election. It's been fairly common knowledge that McCain was considering switching parties then, and perhaps it's no wonder. Chait argues that "It is no exaggeration to say that, during this crucial period McCain was the most effective advocate of the Democratic agenda in Washington."

Sound overheated? "In health care McCain co-sponsored, with John Edwards and Ted Kennedy, a patients' bill of rights. He joined Chuck Schumer to sponsor one bill allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs and another permitting wider sale of generic alternatives. . . . On the environment, he sponsored with Kerry a bill raising automobile fuel-efficiency standards and another bill with Joe Lieberman imposing a cap-and-trade regime on carbon emissions. He was also one of six Republicans to vote against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

Need more? He teamed with Carl Levin on bills regarding tax shelters, accounting and use of stock options that were fiercely opposed by business lobbies, almost all Republicans and even many moderate Democrats. The fact that he voted against the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts is well known. He sponsored bills to close the gun show "loophole," expand Americorps, and federalize airport security.

The key is a Teddy Roosevelt-style progressivism that is deeply suspicious of business (especially "big business") and wedded to ever-increasing federal regulation. He's toned it down, but you see this occasionally emerge when he talks about the importance of being dedicated to something larger than self or to mere profit, or when he rails about the evils of selfishness. The cause greater is always a government project, preferably a war.

No comments: