Monday, March 3, 2008

What's Wrong With McCain?

Primary season here in Texas will end tomorrow, and while the Democrats are still having an interesting time of it, the Republicans aren't really all that fired up. Whatever they do, McCain will still be the nominee, barring some extremely unforeseen set of circumstances; so I expect that in the coming weeks the talk among Republicans will be turning to the subject of John McCain, of making the best of things, and of moving forward as a party united around a candidate who, while not perfect, can still provide the sort of leadership and determination necessary to defeat the eventual Democratic nominee.

Before we get to that point, thought, I'd like to offer some thoughts about what I find unappealing about McCain. Granted, I think of myself more as an independent than a Republican, but I've voted more often for Republican candidates than independent ones, so there's every possibility that like many of us I'll have to decide whether to support McCain or not, this fall.

To the extent that I'm leaning toward "not," here are some of the reasons why. I've tried to list them from least to most important.

Yes, I know, it's almost seen as blatantly unfair to have this concern. After all, we had Reagan, who was only a little younger; after all, age brings experience and sometimes even wisdom, and so on. And I don't disagree with those notions; what concerns me about John McCain's age is that I can't help but see him as being out of touch with the realities of life for so many younger Americans.

It's not unfair to point out that John McCain grew up in a different world than the one our children are growing up in. It's not unfair to say, for instance, that his talk of cutting Medicare premiums as a way of helping the elderly is admirable, but fails to take into consideration that the Baby Boomers will be eligible for Medicare in huge numbers during the next presidential administration, and that as a group they have a great deal of personal wealth. It's not unfair to wonder if John McCain has spent much time talking to college students, young married couples, older homeschooling mommy bloggers, and others who are dealing with the daily fallout of a toxic culture that spreads its influence further each year.

It may, however, be unfair to compare him to our associate pastor, who is about McCain's age, and who announced triumphantly not long ago that he had solved the problem of our parish's daily Mass, which at 8 a.m. was too late for working people to attend: he was going to add one special evening Mass a week so that all the workers could come.

At 5:30 p.m.

Just as I wouldn't have the heart to tell Father that working hours have changed a lot since he was young, so would I not know where to start with John McCain, should he show signs (as I believe he has done) of not really understanding the problems and issues that growing families are facing in the twenty-first century.

Washington Insider Status

Linked to my concerns about McCain's age are my concerns about the sheer number of years the man has been a political insider--longer than many of us have been alive, in fact, though I don't mean to denigrate the quality of experience. But it's hard to stay inside the Beltway bubble and not begin to lose touch with people. The atmosphere of cronyism and privilege that Washington exudes doesn't exactly nurture the kind of politician who is capable of rising above politics and piercing through the rhetoric. McCain, so far, doesn't really seem to be offering anything new--not that newness for its own sake is a good idea, of course, but when I read over his policy statements on his campaign website, or read his speeches, I'm struck by how polished it all is, how inoffensive, how--well, how political. Complaining of a politician that he's too political almost seems like an exercise in calculated irony, but unless we're ready to define our president as our nation's politician-in-chief, this complaint may not be without foundation.

Besides, we can't ignore the fact that the Bush presidency has been greatly marked by cronyism and favoritism, and that this has been not been a good thing for our country. It's not too out-of-line, then, to wonder whether McCain's long years in Washington will have created a large number of people who will expect to be rewarded with positions in his administration, should he be elected.

Bipartisanship, or Liberalism?

I don't have a problem with bipartisanship in itself. Americans have a long history of reaching political compromises, and being able to work with one's colleagues on the other side of the aisle should be seen as a good quality.

But many have pointed out that McCain seems to be the one doing all the reaching; that is, that the other side hasn't seemed to reach back. For all the support McCain has given various Democrat-sponsored pieces of legislation, how much support has he ever gotten back from the Democrats, particularly on issues dear to conservatives? It may be that there has been more quiet support than there appears to be, but I can't seem to find too many times when McCain has been able to rely on Democratic support for Republican initiatives.

Back when "ecumenism" was a relatively new concept, my mother said something I've never forgotten: that for all the outreach to Protestants the Catholics were doing, the Protestants weren't saying any "Hail Marys." Now, it's been a long time, and many Protestants have said many "Hail Marys" since then, but at the time "ecumenism" seemed to be focused on forcing Catholics to experience various sorts of Protestant worship, and very little of anything in the other direction. This seems similar to the "bipartisanship" question; the sort of bipartisanship that will allow positive things to happen may yet develop, but at this point the definition of "bipartisanship" seems to be "When Republicans vote for things the Democrats want." There's been precious little "bipartisanship" in the Republicans' favor, and McCain seems almost symbolic of that problem.

The Pro-Life Question

John McCain in some ways seems to be a good pro-life candidate. His voting record on life issues has been impressive, and his website spells out his view of the dignity of human life in a way that seems to coincide very well with my own, and with the views of the other pro-life candidates. But there are two things I still wonder about: is fighting for the unborn really a priority for Senator McCain? And what does he really think about stem-cell research?

The stem-cell research question is the most puzzling one. The views cited on his website seem different from fairly recent statements he's made on the matter, at least in their focus; but it seems clear that McCain supports at least some federal funding of embryonic stem cell research on embryos already created and theoretically "slated for destruction."

Though this might seem to be a nuanced position, it is, in fact, troubling. Any infusion of federal funds into the embryonic stem-cell research programs will have the result of greatly increasing those programs, which in turn will greatly increase the demand for embryos on whom the research can be conducted. And though McCain insists that he will never agree to allow embryos to be created for the purpose of research, I don't really believe that will hold, in the face of huge demand fueled by federal dollars; worse, if someone really does discover a promising use for the stem-cells any opposition to the creation of embryos for further research will be seen as "standing in the way of progress" or "wanting people to stay sick."

Though I could probably, if I absolutely had to, get around my first three concerns, this is the one that gives me the most pause. If I really thought that John McCain was going to open the Pandora's box of a giant federal funding initiative for ESCR then I would never be able to vote for him in November.

I might not be able to anyway; but that's a topic for tomorrow.

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