February 1, 2008

GOP 2008: The McCain record and the McCain agenda [Karl]

If anyone has lingering doubts that Sen. John McCain’s current success rests more on image than issues, one need look no further than his own campaign and supporters.

McCain’s own campaign website, in describing McCain’s “Experience to Lead,” provides a list that focuses on his military service and includes only vague references to his “leadership role in Congress in every major national security issue since the deployment of U.S. Marines to Beirut in 1983.”  The campaign also notes that he has “served on Senate Armed Services Committee for 20 years, (and is) now senior Republican member of committee,” but does not mention any specific accomplishments attributable to that service.

McCain received an endorsement from Rudy Giuliani that focused on McCain’s honor, the war and his efforts at “reaching out” to build a broader GOP.  (Rudy also mentioned fiscal discipline, a subject discussed below.) 

McCain was also endorsed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said McCain the national security credentials to do the job, and is a “crusader against wasteful spending.”  But he focused on McCain as someone who can “can reach across the political aisle to get things done”  — which Michelle Malkin called the annoying platitude of the day. 

Though that platitutde caused MM to ask why conservatives or Republicans should be enthused about “getting things done” if those things expand the government and shrink individual liberty, it caused me to ask what McCain’s reaching across the aisle has really gotten done. 

After all, McCain is running in no small part on his support of the “surge” of US troops in Iraq, but he certainly did not assemble a bipartisan coalition to support it.  To the contrary, McCain campaigns on being one of its few supporters in either party.  So what exactly are John McCain’s bipartisan achievements?

The first item that comes to mind is the McCain-Feingold “campaign finance reform” law, which also brought together a bipartisan coalition ranging from Sen. Mitch McConnell to the ACLU in opposition to McCain’s assault on free speech.  Bipartisanship cut both ways in that instance, but he does get the credit — or blame — for that law.

McCain’s critics focus on the McCain-Kennedy “immigration reform” bill, which failed to pass.  McCain’s critics raise the McCain-Lieberman bills to regulate and tax greenhouse gases, which failed to pass.  McCain’s critics note the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards “patients’ bill of rights,” which passed the Senate, but failed in the House.  He opposed the Bush tax cuts, which passed.  McCain sponsored an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill in 2005 limiting methods of interrogating known and suspected terrorists, which passed overwhelmingly and thus outlawed any type of coercive interrogation, even methods that fall short of torture.  As the amendment passed 90-9, I am unsure how much credit — or blame — he deserves for that, though I do not hear him shouting about it from the rooftops along the campaign trail.  McCain has called for the closing of the detention camp for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay; it remains open.

McCain was part of the bipartisan “Gang of 14,” which stopped the Republican leadership in the Senate from challenging the practice of filibustering judicial nominees.  Some criticize him for this, though others might be rethinking that criticism as they face possible Democratic control of the White House and the Senate in 2008.  Apportion the credit — or blame — accordingly.

After considering McCain’s most controversial stands, fewer accomplishments come quickly to mind.  He sponsored “The National Tobacco Policy and Youth Smoking Reduction Act.”  That never became law either, though the bill’s severe limits on tobacco advertising again suggest McCain’s casual attitude toward freedom of speech.

In 2001 and 2003, he sponsored gun control legislation, which failed.

While serving on the Senate Commerce Committee, McCain would be heavily involved with Telecommunications Act of 1996.  That was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate and the House.  McCain was one of five Senators to vote against it.

McCain’s supporters point to his record of supporting fiscal disipline and spending restraint.  Even groups that that oppose McCain on other issues, like the Club for Growth, laud McCain’s consistent “battle to eliminate wasteful projects and inject greater discipline and transparency into the appropriations process, often by introducing a slew of cost-cutting amendments.”  The Club is forced to concede that many of these efforts failed, which again speaks to McCain’s ability to reach across the aisle to get things done.

Moreover, there are some selective accounting issues in McCain’s reputation on this issue.  McCain likes to say that he has “a record of saving billions of dollars.”  However, for every pork-barrel item or big-ticket program that McCain opposed — the Medicare prescription drug benefit being one high-profile example — he has sponsored proposals that are just as expensive.  His tobacco bill had a price tag of at least $45 billion.  The McCain-Lieberman global warming bill had a price tag of roughly $45 billion just through 2010, not to mention the significant financial burdens that would be imposed on the average American household each year.  The McCain-Kennedy “immigration reform” bill, if passed, could have had a price tag as high as $2.6 trillion.

It might be said that as the federal budget closes in on three trillion dollars annually, McCain’s claim to have saved billions over the course of more than two decades is not particularly earth-shattering, particularly when laid against the costs of the McCain agenda.

In sum, a review of McCain’s record shows that it is long on biography and national security credentials, with a claim of fiscal discipline that stands largely because the claim that McCain gets things done by reaching out to Democrats is mostly fiction.   As Karl Rove put it in the 2000 campaign, ” Senator McCain is a 17-year Washington insider whose accomplishments are few and far between.”  Not much has changed in the interim.

Ironically, this would almost provide comfort to those who are content when the government is not expanding – but for the fact that McCain is seeking much greater power and influence to enact his costly liberal agenda.  Moreover, he is not running on that agenda; he is running on his biography, his perceived personal qualities and the public’s vague notion of “change.” 

Should he be nominated and elected on that basis, as opposed to his record and agenda, it would not be shocking to find McCain living out a funhouse mirror version of the Clinton years — having to twist arms for narrow victories, having major proposals utterly fail in Congress, shrinking in stature, playing the Maverick by triangulating on small issues, and so on.

Posted by Karl @ 3:40pm

Comments (34)

  1. Like I said a time or two before: John McCain is a bona fide war hero — but the war he was a hero in ended more than 30 years ago.

    He’s been waging another war since then, and it ain’t been heroic.

  2. You forgot one of his better accomplishments, being one of the Keating Five.
    Campaign slogan, a new Manchurian Candidate for New Times!

    All kidding aside, it is looking increasingly like he will be the nominee.
    I don’t like either McCain or Romney and I don’t think that either one will beat Hillary/Obama.

  3. Pingback: Michelle Malkin » McCain: “I’ll rely on people to judge me by the company that I keep.”

  4. He’s also a bona fide dildo. He really is nasty I know cause I listened last night to the last debate. I was kind of embarrassed just listening to him be so buffoonishly snotty. If he can get knocked on his heroic ass on Super Tuesday it would be such a nice blow to the media, really. This conceited power-mad geezer, I really think watching him flounder about maverickly for four years would just be pitiful, kind of like King Lear just backwards.

  5. *He’s* I meant. I can’t proofread as much cause I’m at a temporary computer where people walking by can get up all in my business. And they’re all liberal and kind of sensitive and it’s Friday and I don’t want to talk to them anymore this week.

  6. Oh. Nevermind. I had it right the first time.

  7. If he can get knocked on his heroic ass on Super Tuesday it would be such a nice blow to the media, really.


    I like it.

  8. Don’t forget about his quest to ban gambling on college sports, which is currently legal in a grand total, I believe, of one state.

  9. McCain the Insane for President!!!!

    100 years of Occupation to control oil.

    Where is my constitution? Oh yeah, the Patriot Act made me give it over to the government along with my gun, my money, and my next vote!

    I like so many Republicans feel so out of step with this present party it is not funny.

    I’ll vote my conscience. No War and No Spending. Everytime I’m invited to, :)

    Until then I will sit here and refi trailers for the elderly. Well I’ll try to anyway, with the Social Securtity money drying up, I might just be shifting to the eviction division of the democratic party so I can continue to see old ladies on the street with shopping carts.

  10. happyfeet,

    I agree. Nasty doesn’t even begin to cover it. McCain makes Dick Cheney look warm and fuzzy

  11. I don’t always agree with Ann, but she’s absolutely correct on this. Al Qaeda can’t destroy America. They can only launch terrorist attacks that we will always overcome. McCain sought amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. His actions very well could destroy America. The only way America will ever cease being the most powerful nation on Earth and a fighter for personal liberty of every person on the planet is if it is destroyed from the inside. Likewise, the GOP is helping to kill conservatism. They supported Bush’s amnesty plan. Strike one. The are pushing a McCain nomination. Strike two. I predict that this year conservatives will leave the GOP in droves…and possible never come back. It amazes me how AP and others in the media think that conservatives will eventually come around. Many of us won’t. The best way in my opinion to get some attention is to take some drastic measures. If McCain is the nominee, I hope all conservatives will get behind the Dem nominee (but Republicans in Congress). I want the Republican elite who shoved McCain down our throats to have a very rude awakening. They cannot get away with spiting in our faces over and over again. I will laugh when million and millions of conservatives don’t get behind McCain and all the pundits wonder why their plan didn’t work. McCain is not a hero in any way. He is a disgrace to this nation! And before you fake conservatives get all worked up, I served in OIF. I say again, McCain is a disgrace to our nation!

  12. I remember when I first met Rob J at Republican summer camp and we had so much fun doing all sorts of Republican things and he sent me a couple letters about all the fun Republican things he was doing but then we lost touch but here he is as stalwart as ever! *Hugs* for real bro. Call me.

  13. Well if anyone does not believe that the media is not completely in charge of this election then they are fools.

    CNN Debate Republican side Anderson Cooper shutdown Huckabee and Paul.

    Now Coulter and Fox get their two more cents after barring Paul before New Hampshire.

    The media is going to pick your President whether you like it or not.

    Your Constitutional Rights are under complete attack with the Patriot Act and your mind control police are changing your TV channel to speak in one voice.

    They have donated their money, and manipulated public opinion to the candidates they know will make the best TV Shows. Don’t you vote away “their” investment.

    You have now been told the following:

    Republicans you WILL vote for Willard.
    Democrats you WILL vote for Hilary.

    If they have to they will hand deliver voters to the polls to make this so.

    Be sheep!

    Or vote exactly opposite their will.
    Vote Paul or Huckabee in the Republican side.

    Vote Obama in the Democratic

    Then watch the Bloomberg factor step in with tons of money to save the day as a third party choice. Your Media to the rescue!

  14. Biggest expansion of Medicare in history (Part D). McCain was against that.

  15. happyfeet, I don’t remember that clearly, I was animal control that year and we had those boy scouts from Arkansas running around. I was kinda busy, hehe.

    Now I’m still in animal control it seems, I’m surrounded by sheep.

  16. I have pictures.

  17. Roy,

    I noted McCain’s vote against Part D.

  18. …and yet we have Part D, another testiment to McCain’s bipartisan clout.

  19. The way I see it, it’s six of one, half dozen of the other.

    It really looks like, no matter who becomes president, we are France at it’s worst. “Kiss my butt and pay for my toilet paper, government!”

    McCain isn’t worth the powder to blow him to Hell. So much for our constitution.

    Sorry, but I am sitting this one out. Clinton? Obama? McCain? Our constitution is dead, no matter who wins.

    What’s the difference? I certainly don’t see any…

  20. Mitt Romney got Rick Santorum’s endorsement today.

    That is like Jack Nickelson getting kissed by the strange woman in the hotel room in The Shining.

    Do you think Rick gave Mitt some tongue?

  21. I’m leaning to your way of thinking Lost Dog. And it has started with Bush. For as “unconservative” as McCain is, Bush is too. Sigh…The left seems to be winning slowly but absolutely surely.

  22. McCain is death. 99% of all this melodrama is cause the media keeps saying he’s undefeatable, but Romney can still win easy all we need is for him to get more votes than McCain. McCain got his sad ass kicked last time and there’s no reason he needs to be the nominee. No reason at all.

  23. I’ve yet to vote, and it won’t be for The Distinguished Senior Senator From Arizona.

    Or should that be Senor Senator?

  24. Comment by Karl on 2/1 @ 6:09 pm

    …and yet we have Part D, another testiment to McCain’s bipartisan clout.

    Can someone show me one case where “McCain’s bipartisan clout” led to a vote that favored the right side of the aisle? (I truly appreciate the effort, Karl, but sometimes I think you need to put down the scalpel and pick up a sledge hammer.)

  25. So McCain’s running on his Vietnam war record and hiding his ability to sponsor bills that are disasters for freedom and the Constitution?

    Will he now “report for duty” at the convention. Maybe the Republicans at the Convention can dance the Macarena. Have Al Gore introduce “Global Warming” John to the Convention. And last but not least the President of Mexico can give the Keynote address.


  26. Gang of 14 got us a conservative replacement for O’Connor.

    McCain’s support of the Iraq war in its bleakest hours was the reason we didn’t withdraw in defeat. Remember, GOP Senators like Warner and adviors like the ISG was recommending that we give up on Iraq.

    Tell me of the great achivements Romney made when he was governor.

  27. It’s not at all out of character for John Boy to buck the tide and support something he expects to be defeated so he can say I told you so later. He’s made something of a career out of it. Christ but he’s a pussy at heart.

  28. The bottom line is that we should be judging McCain on those things he’s managed to pass. The 500 pound gorilla of those things is McCain-Feingold.

    I thought it was telling in Michael Medved’s “Six Big Lies About McCain” at Townhall that he waited until number six to tackle that particularly odious piece legislative trash. The very first sentence states this piece of tomfoolery:

    LIE #6: McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform represents a devastating assault on free speech.

    TRUTH: McCain-Feingold was a piece of useless, misguided legislation but it’s done no serious damage to the country, the constitution or the conservative pro-life cause.


    So we are to be encouraged by the fact that this big, stinking pile of monkey crap, while wrong headed and anti constitution, really didn’t do any serious damage.

    I know I feel better. Not!

  29. He does not get a pass from me on those things that didn’t get passed into law. The attempt either means he wants them to be law or worse that his ego demands that he get his name on anything he can regardless of the consequences to the nation.

    Attempted murder and attempted armed robbery are only considered less serious crimes than murder and armed robbery because the didn’t succeed, not because they are not crimes, they are.

    I agree that McCain-Feingold is the worst but only because it passed. Bush signing it and the Supreme Court not striking it down totally were also defining disgraces. Those were the start of my disgust with the Republican establishment, Immigration reform AKA McCain-Kennedy was the topper. The Democrats lost me long ago with the Jimmy Carter presidency. In 1976 he was the last Democrat who ever got my vote.

    Is it 1854 yet? I don’t live that far from Jackson Michigan.

  30. geoffb:

    I certainly did not mean to suggest that McCain should get a pass on mkany other attempts to circumvent conservative principles. I’m merely pointing out that McCain-Feingold is enough of a damning piece of crap that all of the others fall into the supporting category.

    Beyond National Security and Abortion, McCain is no conservative and that is amply spelled out by his body of work, both passed and attempted.

  31. Not a problem, I’d had a late Friday night at work and hadn’t had my 2nd coffee yet. I felt that all those things that he signed up for are things that he would do if elected President. However I sometimes think that McCain doesn’t know or care what he puts his name on as long as he gets good press. Once/if he gets the nomination all that good press is going to disappear. They will fall on him like the sharks they are and his reaction should be something to see.

  32. Gang of 14 got us a conservative replacement for O’Connor.

    Not quite. Without the filibuster as a tool for obstruction, the Democrats wouldn’t have been able to stop Alito however much they might have wanted to. The Gang of 14 kept that tool in the bag — but if Republicans ever try to filibuster a Dem-nominated SCOTUS

  33. candidate (dang keyboard!), the media-fanned outrage will make the explosion of the sun look like a wet firecracker.

  34. Pingback: Daily Pundit » John McCain: The List of Infamy