Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

McCain Bonaparte


Jonah Goldberg of National Review asks conservatives to take a second look at Senator John McCain.

In response, McCain has decided to slap conservatives out of their haze. In what his campaign is billing as major speeches, the first on Wednesday at the Virginia Military Institute, McCain plans to make his candidacy a referendum on victory in Iraq. It is a truly bold and courageous gambit. At a time when the polls advise running away from the war, McCain will embrace it.

By positioning himself to the hawkish right of the Bush administration, McCain might be able to make the election a referendum on the future of Iraq, rather than a referendum on the last four years. As a war hero with two sons in the military, McCain can argue with obvious moral authority that while we may have blundered our way into Iraq, it would be an even greater blunder to get out before winning.

There are many reasons to have reservations about McCain: his love of regulation, his animosity toward free-marketers, or simply his age and temper. But conservatives who claim that the war trumps everything but won’t even consider pulling the lever for McCain have some growing up to do.

In response to his critics, Goldberg writes in The Corner,

A few responses to general themes of the most hostile emails. First, I think some folks confuse being a bad Republican — which McCain has surely sometimes been — with being a bad conservative which he has less frequently been. His apostasies often cut for and against his conservative credentials. Second, the most common objection is that McCain’s push for campaign finance reform is a first order disqualifier, end of story. I’m actually quite sympathetic to this and I think my dozens of columns on campaign finance reform make it clear I think McCain is all wrong on the subject. But the folks offering this complaint do need to answer how they view Bush, since it was President Bush who signed the bill into law at a ceremony where he ostentatiously took credit for signing it while also confessing that he thought the law was unconstitutional. Moreover, Fred Thompson was a CFR supporter unless I’m mistaken, and I’d bet Giuliani was too (though I’d need to look that up).

Some readers complain that the war in Iraq doesn’t trump everything as far as they’re concerned so my logic about McCain isn’t persuasive. To which I respond: Fair enough. But Giuliani’s support seems in large part to be driven by people who think the war on terror is the single issue in the ’08 election. If that’s the case, they need a better argument for why McCain is unacceptable.

Mark Krikorian responds in The Corner:

Jonah: I think you may mistake the conservative discomfort about McCain. Speaking for myself, my problem with McCain isn’t about policy specifics—I abhor his immigration views, obviously, but then I held my nose and voted for W last time, and could see myself, under certain narrow, special circumstances, voting for Giuliani, and they’re both as bad as McCain on immigration. Rather, the things people point to—the maverick stuff, the moral preening for the media, limits on the First Amendment, maybe even Kyoto—are symptoms of a larger problem; specifically, that he’s a bonapartist or, as Grover puts it, a caesarist. I don’t mean just that he has a big ego and thinks he’s the greatest thing since the hula hoop—that’s pretty much a job requirement for politicians. Instead, (and again, this is just the vibe I get from him, I don’t have any youtube videos to point to) he acts as though he’s the embodiment of the General Will, the personification of the Nation, “the man on the white horse”, as the French say. I don’t mean to sound unhinged about the man, but his character—his political temper, at least—is simply incompatible with republican institutions.

I’m undecided, but Jacques-Louis David is one of my favorite artists.

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