The sniffling anti-McCain conservatives meeting at the annual CPAC conference had better blow their noses and wipe away their tears and wake up to their failures when it comes to building a real political movement.
The CPAC attendees that I saw interviewed in media reports are probably good-hearted, well meaning people. It’s probably a good guess, however, that they don’t exactly understand what the word “action” means in “Conservative Political Action Conference.”
Let me be clear: I am a conservative who agrees with that crowd on most every issue. What we disagree about is who is responsible for where we’re at today, and what every conservative in America needs to do about it. Attending conferences isn’t on the to-do list.
Their most important work is to hold accountable all those so-called “conservative” elected officials who are already in government or party office — not just U.S. Senator John McCain. A lot of toil and treasure has been poured into getting all those other men and women elected. If most of them were doing their job, we’d be winning the policy debate nationally.
Next, a lot of those CPAC types need to refresh their memory about what it takes to build a real local and state party organization. Are they helping to raise money for good conservative candidates? Are they finding ways to work the press? Are they presenting credible conservative solutions to busy Americans who need to hear them explained clearly? Are they recruiting new people into the process?
I’d bet most of them spend a lot more time listening to talk radio than they do engaging in real grassroots political activities.
Hearing them whine is much like listening to retired Congressman Dennis Hastert complain about John McCain. For crying out loud, Hastert was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for eight years — the equivalent of two full presidential terms. His problem never was John McCain — it was his own lack of vision and inability to advance conservative principles.
During all those years no one except the President of the United States had more power than Hastert to build something. Instead, Hastert and his merry band accomplished so little that voters saw Nancy Pelosi as preferable. That wasn’t John McCain’s fault.
I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who are so slow to learn that politics is about moving public opinion — and that labor will only be successful if more people pitch in and do their part. We’ve said it before – citizenship can’t be delegated.
It’s time for big money Republican donors to also wake up and realize that they need to spend their resources wisely. Funding individual ego trips, ivory tower think tanks, corrupt party organizations, and ineffective issue groups isn’t getting the job done. A little soul searching and honesty about the return on their investment is in order.
The left gets it. The right still doesn’t. One good case in point is the American public school system. Thousands of school districts around the country fail to adequately prepare their students for life, but they never fail in the public relations battle. School district employees give an inordinate amount of time and energy to driving media coverage and as a result, the public mind is impacted. Their P.R. efforts are ongoing, and they pay off in protecting the status quo.
If conservatives are ever going to make up the ground they’ve lost, they’re also going to have to quit relying on the political hack class to save the day. The Karl Roves of the world are auto mechanics, not people fit to run the company called BMW. Clever campaigns that trick or cajole accomplish nothing except the advancement of one person’s ambition to hold office.
In the past few days several respected conservative leaders have stepped up to defend McCain.
Here are a few excerpts from William Murchison’s column “The Right and ‘Wrongs’ of McCain“:
The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes instructs his fellow conservatives to “grow up.”
I might myself put it this way: Who you got that’s better? Meaning not only better but capable of winning the election? …
There’s Mike Huckabee, whose foreign-policy credentials are zilch and who, one suspects, for all the moral perspectives he expresses so well, hasn’t thoroughly thought through the reasons that government regulation of the marketplace is generally a bad idea.
There is, of course, Mitt Romney. The Romneyites are bitter at McCain. I’m not sure why.
Presumably because they see their man as the true-blue Reaganite in the race. But that makes minimal sense. This is Mitt, who, in Massachusetts, made health-insurance acquisition compulsory without figuring out what to do with people who can’t afford it. Nor, a few years ago, from the right’s perspective, was Mitt up to snuff on gay rights and abortion. He has recanted on the social questions. Does this indemnify him against accusations of political perfidy?
The question resonates in another context: Mitt’s lack of experience in national and international affairs. It’s the same rap Mrs. Clinton is using on Barack Obama. Mitt might be OK in these departments, but to declare without equivocation that he’s the better man to represent conservatives strikes me as bizarre.
Here is what U.S. Senator Tom Coburn had to say when he introduced McCain yesterday at CPAC.
By Tom Coburn
February 7, 2008
I’m honored by the invitation to be here today. I want to thank each of you for your devotion to our country, and for the sacrifices you have made to participate in this event.
I have the privilege today to say a few words about John McCain, a man of rare courage and character, who I believe is uniquely equipped to lead our nation through the difficult challenges ahead.
As conservatives, I know that most of us are sick and tired of politicians who tell us what we want to hear then govern in the opposite way. We won’t have that problem with John McCain. He may not always tell us what we want to hear, but he will say what he means and do what he says.
John McCain has the unique blend of character, guts, and experience to tackle the two greatest challenges facing our country – radical Islamic extremism and the looming financial catastrophe that will hit our economy when the Baby Boomers retire.
The fact is, we haven’t had a president over the last eight years who had the guts to take on the excesses of a Republican and Democrat Congress. Our government wastes $200 billion every year. Every year. John McCain will lead a top down review of everything government does and actually cut wasteful and duplicative spending. If we don’t elect a president who will challenge the excesses of Congress we will wreck our economy. John McCain will heed Will Durant’s warning that, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.”
I trust John McCain because he possesses the rarest virtue in politics upon which all else depends – courage. He has risked his political life during this presidential campaign. In defense of the unpopular surge in Iraq, John McCain said, “I’d rather lose the presidency than lose the war.” John McCain may win the presidency precisely because he was willing to let it go in service to his country.
Courage matters most in Washington, especially when dealing with Congress. Just as no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, no presidential agenda – however conservative – survives contact with Congress. John McCain has the courage, grit and conviction to tell Congress no and fight for the reforms we need to secure our future.
Maybe it’s John McCain’s disregard for his own personal political safety and the opinions of other politicians that led an appropriator to say the thought of McCain presidency sends chills down their spine. Anything that sends a chill down the spines of big spenders in Congress should warm the heart of every American taxpayer.
Other critics have said that John McCain stood in the way of the conservative GOP agenda. But, as conservatives, we have to look at the whole picture. In fact, due to a failure of leadership in Congress, I’m not sure we’ve had a comprehensive GOP conservative agenda since 1995.
Was the Bridge to Nowhere and an explosion of earmarks part of the GOP conservative agenda? John McCain was one of only 11 Republicans who supported me in my fight to kill the Bridge to Nowhere. Most Republicans were marching off the bridge we were trying to de-fund. What John McCain’s record tells me is that we won’t have to wait until the last year of his presidency to see him pick a fight with Congress over wasteful Washington spending.
John McCain will declare war on pork – the gateway drug to spending addiction in Congress – on day one. There will be no earmarks for teapot museums, First Lady Libraries and taxpayer-funded hippie flashbacks in a McCain administration.
The new prescription drug entitlement our party leadership pushed on us was part of the GOP agenda but it wasn’t part of the conservative agenda. John McCain had the foresight to vote against Medicare Part D, the largest entitlement expansion since Lyndon Johnson, when many Republicans were AWOL. John McCain believes Congress should keep the promises it has already made before making new promises it can’t keep. He also has the most comprehensive and conservative health care reform plan of any candidate. John McCain will fight the government-run, universally-controlled health plans supported by Clinton and Obama with common sense, free-market principles that work.
Even if John McCain has taken some positions we don’t like as conservative, I don’t believe you can ignore the fact that he took many bold stands against the Big Government Republican agenda that destroyed our majority. When most Republicans were trying to build a governing majority through pork – and were growing the government faster than the Democrats who came before us – John McCain was pushing the party in the opposite direction on key issues.
Let me touch on some other issues.
On judges, I wouldn’t have endorsed John McCain if I wasn’t confident he will nominate judges like the ones he has voted to confirm in the Senate: Bork, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. I also know that he shares my desire to see the Senate approve conservative judges now.
On immigration, John McCain was trying to solve a problem which, incidentally, hasn’t improved much. He listened and learned and decided the facts were on our side. He doesn’t have a secret plan to enact blanket amnesty as president. And, if he did, he knows I’d kill it.
McCain-Feingold misdiagnosed the real problem as too much money to politicians rather than politicians whose votes are for sale. Even though I disagreed with McCain-Feingold, John McCain’s desire to tackle corruption in the congressional neighborhood was correct.
The source of Washington’s corruption isn’t K Street; it’s Congress’ lack of restraint, and John McCain has taken bold steps to tackle that problem at its source.
Still, I have to say that the concerns I hear about John McCain pale in comparison to the two greatest challenges facing our country – terrorism and a Congress that refuses to correct our unsustainable fiscal course. If we get all of those other issues right but those two issues wrong we won’t survive as a nation. John McCain’s record on the issues that are paramount to our future is a record conservatives can support. John McCain also has a conservative record on what is arguably the transcendent social issue of our time: the sanctity of life. He has been pro-life for 24 years and has record that matches his principles.
And, on national security, John McCain is by far the most qualified candidate on either side. He will meet not only the security challenges we know about but, more importantly, those we don’t know about. Tyrants and terrorists will think twice about challenging the United States with John McCain in the White House.
Is John McCain perfect? No. Will we disagree with him sometimes? Yes. But, elections are about choices. I’d be happy to debate anyone who thinks staying home or supporting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is a better choice for our future than John McCain.
Now, I’d ask you to welcome the person who is best equipped to talk about his own record and vision for the future, the next President of the United State, John McCain.