In watching the Republican debates, I have generally marveled over the performance of one participant: John McCain. Fact is, I disagree with McCain about a lot of things – too many to start rattling off. But he’s a terrific debater, and his positions – including the ones I disagree with – have a unifying theme of integrity, both in the sense of having a moral system, that is a coherent set of moral principles from which he proceeds, and in the sense of being integral, namely, his views fit together logically and soundly and make a complete whole. And it’s not just his campaign trail style. In the last two years I have had a lot of interaction with McCain and his senior staff, and he’s consistent. He listens carefully, he gives a considered response, and then he does what he thinks is right, often when he knows it’s not going to be popular with the GOP “base.” I may agree or disagree with him about it, but I respect the process. It makes me think that if we still have something approximating the spirit of Daniel Webster in our senate, McCain is it. These traits are a very rare thing among politicians today.
But McCain, once far up among the Republicans, now is languishing in third place behind candidates who could be poster boys for political sleaze because they constantly attune and redefine their positions to match the latest polls.
I just looked at Rich Lowry’s column at National Review, in which he asks, what, exactly, is it that the Republicans dislike about John McCain? I think he’s hit the nail on the head:
McCain’s position is indisputably sincere and courageous. But it is only reminding Republicans exactly what they don’t like about his sincerity and courage. One man’s bravery is another’s obstinacy. Once considered the frontrunner in the race, McCain is now tied for third nationally with Romney at 14 percent in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and has dropped to as low as 11 percent in a Rasmussen survey.
The core of the Republican Party don’t like people who are sincere or courageous. They prefer the Mayberry Machiavellis. For them, it’s mostly seizing and holding power. Can this possibly be true? In any event, we’ve just hit upon a far more credible definition of what it means to be a “family values Republican.”