John McCain: False Moderate
If the Democratic primary ever ends, the pols and the media can start focusing on John McCain's complex relationship to the far right. Lucky for McCain, some of the biggest bumps in his path to the White House have come as the Democrats are too busy fighting among themselves to take much notice. Think Reverend Wright is a loose cannon? Check out the Reverend John Hagee calling the Catholic Church "the Great Whore". That didn't stop McCain from seeking Hagee's endorsement. Not until Hagee suggested that Hitler and the incineration of 6 million Jews was God's way of forcing Jewish people to return to the promised land did McCain renounce Hagee from Florida, where he was seeking support from Jewish voters.
McCain had no sooner put out the Hagee fire when he had to get up in the middle of the night to denounce the remarks of another prominent religious endorser, televangelist Rod Parsley, who said of Islam, "America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed." (Parsley was referring, it turns out, to the Spanish Crown's simultaneous interest in Christopher Columbus's historic voyage and the Inquisition-era expulsion of "infidels" from Spain.)
Who would have guessed how large a part this parade of religious kooks would play in the 2008 Presidential race? But, as David Corn writes in Mother Jones Parsley's get-out-the-vote effort was very important to George W. Bush's 2004 victory in Ohio.
McCain, who once called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance," has been scrambling to repair bridges to the Christian Right as he seeks their help to win the White House. At the same time, he benefits from his image as a maverick candidate in polls of independents and moderate Republican voters. With President Bush's approval ratings at a historic low of 23 percent, McCain gives the Republicans hope that they can win the White House by distancing themselves from their own disastrous eight years of tenure there.
The trouble is, McCain can't go on being all things to all the disparate factions of Republican voters. He's either with the Administration and the rightwing nuts who have had too large a hand in policy under Bush, or he isn't.
To take a look at McCain's record is to realize that, while he may not fit in that well with the evangelical Christian base, he is not a secret moderate, either. In fact, McCain is a lot closer to the George W. Bush right end of the Republican political spectrum than the elder Bush's more moderate Republican politics--both on foreign policy and on issues like abortion.
NARAL and Planned Parenthood have begun public information campaigns to try to educate voters about how anti-abortion McCain's voting record really is. Out of 119 abortion-related votes in the Senate, NARAL points out, McCain voted against abortion 115 times. That includes some minority positions like a failed domestic gag rule on doctors, voting to delete family-planning grants from a spending bill and voting against spending Medicaid funds on abortions in cases of rape and incest.
McCain has also been with Bush as he has stacked not just the Supreme Court but also the lower courts with rightwing judges. His "strict constructionist" litmus test for judges contrasts sharply with Barack Obama's much more nuanced and knowledgeable position on what makes a good judge, The New York Times reports. In speaking to his party's base, McCain uses what Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL calls "the code speech" indicating that he will appoint anti-abortion judges to the Court. He has also explicitly called for overturning Roe v. Wade.
While McCain occasionally takes some "maverick" positions, like giving a speech about the seriousness of global warming, or working with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform legislation, on the hard-core issues that the base cares about, he has been a reliable ally for the far right.
Sam Brownback, the anti-abortion Senator from Kansas who now works on the McCain campaign, and Christopher Smith, the Representative from New Jersey who came out of the anti-abortion movement, have both assured voters that McCain is 100 percent OK. (And McCain himself touts his zero voting record from NARAL)
Those fringe characters who keep popping up to embarrass McCain are not just a fluke. They are leaders of a movement that is counting on him to help them keep their grip on the federal government.
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CURRENT ISSUE: July 2013
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