McCain Derangement Syndrome: A reply to Roger L. Simon [Karl]
Roger L. Simon, whose blog I usually enjoy, makes some serious errors today:
January 29, 2008: McCain Derangement Syndrome – It’s Here!
What’s amusing in one way and horrifying in another, but all-too-human in the final analysis, is how the moment a politician becomes popular and powerful – Bush, Clinton – a sizable percentage of the population starts to hate him. We’ve seen Clinton reviled. We’ve had years of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Welcome to McCain Derangement Syndrome – it’s happening before he’s even elected!
I heard two examples of it this evening – one from my friend Hugh Hewitt, whose rage against McCain today on Wolf Blitzer’s CNN show made the hair curl on my bald head and later, on the Larry Elder Show, I listened in as a woman caller excoriated McCain as no war hero even though she knew the Senator had spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, was tortured, had his bones broken yet stayed with the other troops when offered a chance to leave, etc. Even Elder was appalled at the woman, though Larry is no McCain supporter.
Put me in the same boat as Elder as to the woman who purportedly denied McCain was a war hero, but Simon manages to start from faulty premises and work his way even further into the weeds in his assessment of those opposed to Sen. John McCain. And I write that as someone who — unlike our esteemed host — has not ruled out voting for McCain if he is the GOP nominee.
Initially, while I have also invoked the “derangement syndrome” to describe certain mindsets, there are at least two things wrong with Simon’s use of it in this context. First, it is a phrase generally applied to blind partisan hatred. McCain is the subject of harsh criticism from within his own party, which suggests something quite different is at issue. Second, Simon seems to have forgotten that “Bush Derangement Syndrome” was initially the humorous description for the Post-Election Stress and Trauma Syndrome that plagued Democrats after losses in 2000 and 2004. AFAIK, McCain’s critics are not pouring into the psych ward with their symptoms.
Moreover, Simon is greatly mistaken in his assertion that the criticism of McCain is a recent phenomenon. Simon might want to ask himself why McCain was not the GOP nominee in 2000.
He will quickly find that the main answer is McCain’s record in the US Senate. Simon presumes to call McCain’s critics deranged while mentioning only his positions on the “surge,” waterboarding and Gitmo. There is obviously far more to McCain’s record than that. Thus, to address only issues within McCain’s strongest issue bloc is fairly disingenuous.
For example, as a blogger and a principal in Pajamas Media, Simon might have considered that he would be spending much less time blogging and collecting ad revenue — and much more time justifying his existence to the Federal Election Commission — if John McCain had his way. McCain sued the FEC to force the agency to police bloggers. It took a great deal of bipartisan effort on the part of the blogosphere to get the FEC to ultimately exempt most blogging from government regulation, therby ensuring that people like Simon and I are free to blog on the issues of the day (and for Simon to make money from PJM’s ad network).
Beyond McCain’s less-than-stalwart defense of free speech, Simon might want to consider “John McCain’s Top 10 Class-Warfare Arguments Against Tax Cuts,” all of which were made long before the current campaign. I will give Simon enough credit to recognize that most GOP voters like tax cuts and dislike class warfare.
These are just two of the many substantive reasons people have for opposing McCain. His proposed legislation on greenhouse gases would be another. His proposed “patients’ bill of rights” would be another. The full list goes on and on.
However, the McCain-Kennedy “immigration reform” bill warrants special attention in the context of Simon’s puzzlement (as well as that of Glenn Reynolds) that McCain’s critics are so much more forgiving of Mitt Romney, whose record as Governor in Massachusetts was admittedly not that of a doctrinaire conservative (his proposals on heathcare and aid to the auto industry in the current campaign are not either, but I digress).
Mitt Romney has shifted his positions on various issues… to positions that are more conservative and in line with those of the GOP since Reagan was nominated in 1980. Republicans — shockingly — are likely to be forgiving of those who agree to join them. There is some history on this point. Reagan shifted his position on abortion. George H.W. Bush shifted his positions on abortion and taxes.
However, that acceptance has to be accompanied by a certain level of trust in the candidate. McCain has shifted position on issues like abortion, yet is rarely called on it, primarily because those positions have been conservative and he has since had a track record of sticking with them. Where McCain insists on being a Maverick, his stubborn temperament (exceeding even that of Pres. Bush) leaves many convinced that much of what McCain says now is simply an expediency.
The recent profile of McCain in Vanity Fair contains his now classic commentary on immigration:
He began this mid-October day in Sioux City, appearing at a fund-raising Siouxland Breakfast for Representative Steve King, an immigration hard-liner. Recently he had called McCain an “amnesty mercenary” for daring to work with Senator Ted Kennedy on a compromise bill that would provide an eventual path to citizenship for the millions of immigrant workers already in the United States illegally. A day earlier, in Milwaukee, in front of an audience of more sympathetic businessmen, McCain had been asked how debate over the immigration bill was playing politically. “In the short term, it probably galvanizes our base,” he said. “In the long term, if you alienate the Hispanics, you’ll pay a heavy price.” Then he added, unable to help himself, “By the way, I think the fence is least effective. But I’ll build the goddamned fence if they want it.”
The Vanity Fair profile is filled with similar anecdotes, but Todd Purdum sums it up nicely:
John McCain has spent this whole day, this whole year, these whole last six years, trying to “fix it,” trying to square the circle: that is, trying to make the maverick, freethinking impulses that first made him into a political star somehow compatible with the suck-it-up adherence to the orthodoxies required of a Republican presidential front-runner.
On one level, I cannot help but respect McCain for not wanting to change his positions to align himself with the conservative base. It is undoubtedly the same defiant streak that got him through the hell of the Hanoi Hilton. On the other hand, many people wish that he would at least reserve his most harsh, sneering, morally arrogant and childish rhetoric for liberals, Democrats and their subset in the media, rather than for those with whom he purports to agree with most of the time.
Unlike Romney, McCain has built his political fortune on kicking people right of center in the teeth. Neither he nor Simon should be surprised when conservatives, libertarians and classic liberals fail to swoon at McCain’s success to date. Indeed, someone who thinks that is going to happen quickly is probably more deserving of being diagnosed with a “derangement syndrome.”