Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Johnny Mac - The Anti-Libertarian

The New Yorker recently ran a profile piece on "the maverick":

Recently, McCain said, he had read “The Coldest Winter,” David Halberstam’s account of the Korean War and its era. “I strongly recommend it,” he told the reporters. “It’s beautifully done. It’s not just about the war, but it’s a very good description, whether you agree with it or not, of the political climate at that time—the split in the Republican Party between the Taft wing”—Senator Robert Taft, of Ohio—“and the Eisenhower wing, and Harry Truman’s incredible relationship with MacArthur.” He added, “At least half the book is about the political situation in the United States during that period—the isolationism, who lost China, the whole political dynamic. That’s what I think makes it well worth reading.”

It was a telling reference and points to McCain’s transformation between 2000 and 2008—from a Teddy Roosevelt Republican to an Eisenhower Republican. In 2000, McCain railed against corporate power and the influence of lobbyists and money in politics. Today, the only mention of corporations in his stump speech is a demand that the corporate-tax rate be lowered. After 2000, McCain seemed briefly to be considering leaving the Republican Party, just as Roosevelt had. But, once terrorism and the war in Iraq became the preëminent issues, he decided instead to take over the Party, just as Eisenhower and the Republican moderates did when, in 1952, they vanquished the Old Guard isolationists who supported Taft. Instead of battling the corporate wing of his party, McCain has decided that it’s the isolationists—a group that he defines broadly, and which includes the left and the right—who are the real threat.

One afternoon, McCain talked about his surprise at the resurrection of this element in his party, which has been particularly visible in the candidacy of the libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul. “We had a debate in Iowa. I mean, it was, like, last summer, one of the first debates we had. It was raining, and I’m standing there in the afternoon, it was a couple of hours before the debate,” McCain said. “And I happen to look out the window. Here’s a group of fifty people in the rain, shouting ‘Ron Paul! Ron Paul!’ ” McCain banged on the table with both fists and chanted as he imitated the Paul enthusiasts. “I thought, Holy shit, what’s going on here? I mean, go to one of these debates. Drive up. Whose signs do you see? I’m very grateful—they’ve been very polite. I recognize them and say thanks for being here. They haven’t disrupted the events. But he has tapped a vein...

McCain is careful not to mock the broader libertarian right, which makes up a far larger share of his party than Paul’s followers do. Nonetheless, his victory is a repudiation of small-government conservatism, a development not seen in the years of Barry Goldwater, Reagan, and the two Bushes. “For the first time since Eisenhower,” Newt Gingrich told me, “you have someone who has clearly not accommodated the conservative wing winning the nomination. That is a remarkable achievement.”

He is, far and away, the anti-thesis of a Goldwater-libertarian. Perhaps the old man knew that all along. Anyway, at this point, it is obvious that it's all about the war for the right.