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’sÃ‚Â own campaign website, in describing McCain’s “Experience to Lead,”Ã‚Â 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.”Ã‚Â 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.
McCainÃ‚Â 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.Ã‚Â (Rudy also mentioned fiscal discipline, a subject discussed below.)Ã‚Â
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.”Ã‚Â But he focused on McCain as someone who can “can reach across the political aisle to get things done”Ã‚Â — which Michelle Malkin called the annoying platitude of the day.Ã‚Â
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.Ã‚Â
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.Ã‚Â To the contrary, McCain campaigns on being one of its few supporters in either party.Ã‚Â 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 oppositionÃ‚Â toÃ‚Â McCain’s assault on free speech.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â McCain’s critics raise the McCain-Lieberman bills to regulate and tax greenhouse gases, which failed to pass.Ã‚Â McCain’s critics note the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards “patients’ bill of rights,” which passed theÃ‚Â Senate, but failed in the House.Ã‚Â He opposed the Bush tax cuts, which passed.Ã‚Â McCain sponsored an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill in 2005 limiting methods of interrogating known and suspected terrorists, which passed overwhelmingly and thus outlawedÃ‚Â any type of coercive interrogation, even methods that fall short of torture.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â McCain hasÃ‚Â called for theÃ‚Â 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.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â Apportion the credit — or blame — accordingly.
After considering McCain’s most controversial stands, fewer accomplishments come quicklyÃ‚Â to mind.Ã‚Â He sponsored Ã¢â‚¬Å“The National Tobacco Policy and Youth Smoking Reduction Act.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â That never became law either, thoughÃ‚Â the bill’s severe limits onÃ‚Â 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,Ã‚Â McCain would be heavily involved withÃ‚Â Telecommunications Act of 1996.Ã‚Â That was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate and the House.Ã‚Â McCain was one of five Senators to vote against it.
McCain’s supporters point to his record of supporting fiscal disipline and spending restraint.Ã‚Â 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.”Ã‚Â 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, thereÃ‚Â are some selective accounting issues in McCain’s reputation on this issue.Ã‚Â McCain likes to say that he has “aÃ‚Â record of saving billions of dollars.”Ã‚Â However, for every pork-barrel item or big-ticketÃ‚Â program that McCain opposed — the Medicare prescription drug benefit being one high-profile example — he has sponsored proposals that are just as expensive.Ã‚Â His tobacco bill had a price tag of at least $45 billion.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â 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,Ã‚Â 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 McCainÃ‚Â gets things done by reaching out to Democrats is mostly fiction.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â As Karl Rove put it in the 2000 campaign, ” Senator McCain is a 17-year Washington insider whose accomplishments are few and far between.”Ã‚Â Not much has changed in the interim.
Ironically, this would almost provide comfort to those who are content when the government is not expanding –Ã‚Â but for the fact that McCain is seekingÃ‚Â much greater power and influence to enact his costly liberal agenda.Ã‚Â 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.”Ã‚Â
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.