"What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be minuscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the A.C.L.U., People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen’." These were the broadcast words of Rev. Jerry Falwell in conversation with talk show host Pat Robertson just days after September 11, 2001. While later seeking to amend his remarks, few long term Falwell observers had any doubt that his astounding words represented exactly how he felt and have long been emblematic of his radical philosophy. Whether one agrees with him or not (and I certainly don’t), Jerry Falwell, is consistent.
And it was exactly a perceived lack of consistency on his part that so unnerved many admirers of “straight talking” John McCain when he agreed to give the commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty College. After all McCain had been the victim of the clergyman’s venom and smearing during the 2000 Presidential Primary. The anger about McCain’s purported pandering is what caused so much rancor during his appearance at the New School last week, though the content of the protest was focused, probably rightly so, on the Senator’s continuing pro-Iraq War stand and his pandering support of George Bush. I doubt that McCain’s reception in New York would have been so hostile if not for the Liberty appearance. What’s lost in all of this is that candor aside, there isn’t that much light separating McCain, Bush and for that matter Jerry Falwell. Indeed apart from Falwell’s demagogic apocalyptic rhetoric and Bush’s mendacity, you would be hard pressed to identify any major philosophical policy difference between them. McCain has been a solid supporter of the Iraq misadventure from its inception until this day. Perhaps he wouldn’t express it in quite the same way as Falwell did on abortion – “destroying 40 million innocent babies”, but he is firmly anti-choice. While opposing a Constitutional Amendment on Gay Marriage, he does so only in the name of State’s Rights and indeed lent his full support last year for a restrictive marriage amendment proposed for Arizona.
John McCain isn’t tilting conservative in an effort to win the Republican nomination, he has always been conservative and would more than likely pursue an equally conservative agenda if elected president. If the Right has any problem with him, it is that he can be unpredictable, a perceived lose cannon. Nevertheless, he was a consistently strong supporter of Bush’s judicial appointments and there is no reason to believe a President McCain would pick differently. McCain’s straight talk is admirable and at times refreshing in comparison with the usual Washington-Speak. If you’ve seen him field questions after a talk, you can’t help but be impressed by his people skills. But having a real shot at the GOP nomination this time, is forcing him to reveal more clearly who he is and that’s the real straight talk. The electorate will have to decide if they want more of what has so derailed our democracy and reputation in the last five years, albeit packaged somewhat differently. That’s true with McCain as it will be with any potential Republican standard bearer on the horizon.
And all this talk of pandering brings me sadly to Hilary Clinton. Is she, or isn’t she? In the final analyses, Senator Clinton’s so-called tilt toward the right is really no more surprising than McCain’s supposed turn toward doctrinaire conservatism. The fact is that the Clintons, both Bill and Hilary, built their New Democrat political careers on tilting to the right. While not abandoning social progressivism, the President won office on the strength of appealing to and building a moderate center which included fiscal conservatism (much more so than the tax cut and spend Republicans), welfare reform (decimation) and a pretty aggressive military stand which included massive bombing of Iraq. Hilary supported the war there and still does (though she is critical of the execution) because her husband’s administration was also obsessed with Saddam and WMDs(even if they would have stopped short of going to war with a paltry “coalition of the willing” and without UN approval). I’ve said before that, while feeling that she is effective Senator, Hilary is not my candidate for President, even if what I think may not matter. The fact is that she doesn’t believe a Democrat can win without keeping somewhat to the center. It worked for Bill and why shouldn’t it for her? Clinton of course is pro-choice though she has been making noises about a middle ground there as well. Expect more nuanced positions in the months ahead and don’t read them as anything but the real Hilary.
Bottom line: John McCain is exactly who he always was, a true blue conservative, and Hilary Clinton is who she has always been a safe political moderate. Will either of them lead us out of our present morass? I don’t think so, and that’s the trouble with both of them. I’m still looking for a fresh face and until someone comes up with a better choice Obama remains at the top of my list. The country needs new thinking and its only chance for the future in this highly competitive world is a leader who comes to office without baggage, without having to explain his or her past actions and support for the unsupportable. Putting old policies in new cloths – a kind of Democratic neo-Republicanism – won’t work. Nor will “againstism” – been there, failed at that. We’re all looking for someone who can tell us what they are for and what specifically they will do to right the ship of state. New faces and a new agenda, not more of the tried and untrue.