"We believe government should do only things we cannot do individually"

|

So said GOP frontrunner John McCain tonight, in his Florida victory speech. Excerpt:

We believe government should do only those things we cannot do individually, to tax us no more than necessary, and spend no more than necessary, and then get out of the way of the most industrious, ingenious and optimistic people in the history of the world so that they can build an even greater country than the one they inherited.

It was a fine sentiment, similar to what he was saying after winning South Carolina … and it has absolutely nothing to do with McCain's voluminous track record as a congressman, senator and public figure.

The road begins to fork at the definition of what "we cannot do invidually." For instance, individually we—and by "we" I mean "John McCain," his Senate office, and even his own campaign website—can enjoy making or facilitating bets on, say, college basketball games. But it's only through the government can we—and by "we" I mean "John McCain"—make betting on college athletics illegal.

The same goes for the most sacred style of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment (or should I say, "quote First Amendment"): political speech. Sure, individuals such as John McCain can pay for advertisements attacking his political opponents within 90 days of an election. But thanks to John McCain, if two individuals join forces to pay for an ad attacking an elected official 90 days before an election, they are either forced to register as a political committee (and therefore comply with Byzantine federal laws regarding donation limits and disclosure), or do battle in the courts long after the election in question fades away.

Most importantly, McCain's own concept of individuality does not include sufficient respect for the private pursuit of happiness. "Americans did not fight and win World War II as discrete individuals," he warned in the pages of The Washington Monthly after the Sept. 11 massacre. "Their brave and determined energies were mobilized and empowered by a national government headed by democratically elected leaders. That is how a free society remains free and achieves greatness." In his 2002 political memoir Worth the Fighting For, McCain wrote: "Our freedom and our industry must aspire to more than acquisition and luxury."

Or there's this stirring passage from a 2006 speech:

[T]hose who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it, live a half-life, having indulged their self-interest at the cost of their self-respect. The richest man or woman, the most successful and celebrated Americans, possess nothing of importance if their lives have no greater object than themselves. They may be masters of their own fate, but what a poor destiny it is that claims no higher cause than wealth or fame.

Should we claim our rights and leave to others the duty to the nation that protects them, whatever we gain for ourselves will be of little lasting value. It will build no monuments to virtue, claim no honored place in the memory of posterity, offer no worthy summons to other nations. Success, wealth, celebrity gained and kept for private interest is a small thing. It makes us comfortable, eases the material hardships our children will bear, purchases a fleeting regard for our lives, yet not the self-respect that in the end matters most. But sacrifice for a cause greater than your self-interest, and you invest your lives with the eminence of that cause, your self-respect assured.

Can you trust a man who speaks those words to separate "those things we cannot do individually" from private behavior that he perceives as contributing to "the pervasive public cynicism that is debilitating our democracy"? Is the best cherry to put on top of eight years of George W. Bush a man who was advocating multi-front pre-emptive wars back in 1999, and who doesn't even understand why anyone would question another century of U.S. presence in Iraq? These are some of the questions to chew on next week, and the nine months afterward.

For more in this vein—including an exploration of the legitimately limited-government element of his record—I can wholeheartedly recommend the book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick.

Advertisement

NEXT: Untold Stories of Florida

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I know this is a little off topic. I have never really doubted the future of the American economy, sure there are a few problems, but over all I thought it was secure.

    That all changed.

    Last night Beorge Bush said the long term economy was strong and not something we need to worry about.

    Now I’m kinda worried.

  2. George Bush

  3. Well, having Bush out of office is one thing that might help the long-term economy.

  4. I’m genuinely impressed with the timing of the publication of Myth – Oct 2007; it’s an example of buying on the dip worthy of Warren Buffett.

  5. Kohole — Oh, you don’t know the half of it. My due date was July 15, and I think it was around July 12 when McCain fired most of his staff and did a gut-check on whether he would stay in the race…. And from what I hear on the street, other critical bios had been scheduled, but were scuttled because of the campaign’s imminent demise….

  6. Kolohe, Kohole, whatever. Also, I’m pretty sure Business Week made its debut during the Depression…..

  7. wow. john mccain’s not a libertarian. there’s a newsflash :l

    neither are any of the democratic or republican candidates that have ANY chance of winning.

  8. wow. john mccain’s not a libertarian. there’s a newsflash :l

    Yes, but Republicans pretend to be Libertarians.

    When totalitarian socialists like McCain pretend to believe in small government and individual liberty, it gives Libertarian values a bad name by association.

    So when someone with REAL Libertarian values comes along, people who otherwise would support those values, associate those values with totalitarian socialism and reject them, thinking that the person is just another McCain.

  9. You forgot to add that he wants to rekindle the Cold War with Russia.

  10. Libertarians are probably the most lip-serviced group in American politics, at least we got that going for us 😛

  11. “Americans did not fight and win World War II as discrete individuals,” he warned in the pages of The Washington Monthly

    Hm, yes? Well they sure as hell died as “discrete individuals” I’d bet.

  12. sa sob
    You could say that this guy and his peers didn’t.

  13. “Yes, but Republicans pretend to be Libertarians. ”

    no, they don’t. some make reference to having libertarian values , to some extent, which some do have. thompson is a good example.

    and certainly ron paul.

    republicans would never pretend to be libertarians because they know the american public won’t VOTE for libertarians, at least in national elections.

    “When totalitarian socialists like McCain pretend to believe in small government and individual liberty, it gives Libertarian values a bad name by association.”

    and it’s lip service politics, just like the dems do, and everybody knows it.

    “So when someone with REAL Libertarian values comes along, people who otherwise would support those values, associate those values with totalitarian socialism and reject them, thinking that the person is just another McCain.”

    rubbish. but typical of the elitism here, that people are too stupid (dumb voters dumb voters meme) to understand the difference.

    some republicans trend libertarian, and some trend authoritarian (just like some dems do).

    but nobody in their right mind confuses a strongly libertarian repub like ron paul, with mccain.

    get real.

    the reason the public generally does not vote for libertarians, is that they generally don’t support the more libertarian candidates. heck, i’d love it if i mccain was more libertarian. but he’s not. nobody is gonna confuse the author of mccain feingold, the drug warrior john mccain with a libertarian.

  14. “the reason the public generally does not vote for libertarians, is that they generally don’t support the more libertarian candidates.”

    last line should read “the more libertarian POSITIONS”

  15. I can wholeheartedly recommend the book John McCain: The Myth of a Maverick.

    I think it’s time for a new drinking game.

  16. T]hose who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it, live a half-life, having indulged their self-interest at the cost of their self-respect. The richest man or woman, the most successful and celebrated Americans, possess nothing of importance if their lives have no greater object than themselves. They may be masters of their own fate, but what a poor destiny it is that claims no higher cause than wealth or fame.

    How is it even possible to indulge one’s self-interest at the expense of one’s self-respect? Is it not in one’s true self-interest to retain one’s self-respect?

    People possess nothing of importance if their lives have no greater object than themselves? Of importance to whom, one might ask – John McCain?

    A poor destiny it is that claims no higher cause than wealth or fame? Would it be a richer destiny if it sought power over one’s fellow man, Mr. McCain?

    …whatever we gain for ourselves will be of little lasting value. It will build no monuments to virtue, claim no honored place in the memory of posterity, offer no worthy summons to other nations.

    Of value to whom – everyone else?

    Success, wealth, celebrity gained and kept for private interest is a small thing. It makes us comfortable, eases the material hardships our children will bear, purchases a fleeting regard for our lives, yet not the self-respect that in the end matters most. But sacrifice for a cause greater than your self-interest, and you invest your lives with the eminence of that cause, your self-respect assured.

    Hm. I’d reckon as how that all depends on just what one bases one’s self-respect – now don’t it?

  17. @Kolohe,

    You could say that this guy and his peers didn’t.

    No dis-respect intended to those guys, but I guess, in a way, that sort of invalidates the “one to a box” theory.

  18. I just saw McCain’s gooey, misshapen, grinning rictus of victory on the news and realized how much he resembles the gluttonous ‘Slimer’ of Ghostbusters fame. Uncanny. Could it be that McCain is a “focused, non-terminal repeating phantasm”, or a “class-five full-roaming vapor”?

  19. Hey Rudy…..

    You LOSE! Good day sir.

    ahahha the day has come

  20. Could it be that McCain is a “focused, non-terminal repeating phantasm”, or a “class-five full-roaming vapor”?

    How about a dark void surrounded by a sphincter muscle? Interesting McCain would say what he said, though; the last candidate to call for small-governmentism was the one who beat McCain for the nomination in ’00. We know how well he worked out…

  21. John mcCain is obviously the leading candidate for mainstream libertarians and we should be rooting for him.

  22. “Americans did not fight and win World War II as discrete individuals,” he warned in the pages of The Washington Monthly.

    Actually, he is at least partially wrong: as Steven Ambrose observed, it was the American G.I.’s ability to take initiative when necessary, and think for himself – and thus adapt to changing situations – that put him at an advantage over his German counterpart who knew only how to “follow orders”…

  23. And we were a nation of (relative) individualism fighting nations of fascism. Of course, we won because of the USSR and its willingness to accept massive casualties suffered by individuals for eventual national victory. The distinction might be somewhat semantic (considering underlying societal factors), but even during draft wars like WWII there are plenty of volunteers, making our soldiery more voluntary than that of a nationalist regime.

  24. Let’s just hope and pray that the Libertarian Party doesn’t screw up for the 4th time in a row, and nominate a Losertarian like Phillies or Kubby.

    They’ve got a myriad of decent potetial candidates to choose from: Wayne Root, Bob Barr, Gary Johnson, Ed Thompson, Don Gorman, et.al.

    We don’t need another Badnarik clone who’ll end up with 350,000 votes.

    If the LP chooses Root or one of the other “real worlders” we could see millions of votes for the Party this cycle.

    If they choose Kubby or Phillies, is continued obscurity and dissapointment.

  25. rekindle the cold war

  26. totalitarian socialists like McCain pretend to believe in small government and individual liberty

    Ever consider the possibility that that belief is sincere? That on the scale in the mind of someone like McCain, he really does believe he’s for relatively small gov’t and relatively great liberty? That he’s comparing himself to the real totalitarians that he thinks most other people are?

  27. smartass sob –
    I like how you can’t have virtue unless you have national virtue. By putting John McCain, who insists that we do things altruistically, in office, suddenly everyone becomes more virtuous because our country acts not just out of self interest, or whatever. It’s the same thing with what “we’ve” accomplished and how “we” take care of “our” poor. It removes a lot of personal virtue, and it’s something that the evangelicals need to have brought to their attention.

  28. “[T]hose who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it, live a half-life, having indulged their self-interest at the cost of their self-respect. The richest man or woman, the most successful and celebrated Americans, possess nothing of importance if their lives have no greater object than themselves. They may be masters of their own fate, but what a poor destiny it is that claims no higher cause than wealth or fame.”

    Reminds me of Ellsworth Toohey …

  29. McCain might be the scariest of all because too many people respect him. He’s got all kinds of ways to fuck us, and a lot of people with let him get away with it, so it’ll be long and hard prison type fucking.

  30. Nick –
    I know what you mean. His approval numbers would likely be pretty high, giving him a lot of political capital to spend on pet projects. What those pet projects are is what scares me.

  31. Reinmoose, lot’s of “for the children” bullshit will pass. At least he’s against torture…unless it’s on April 15th.

  32. But sacrifice for a cause greater than your self-interest, and you invest your lives with the eminence of that cause, your self-respect assured.

    So, in a way, McCain admires the 911 hijackers and all the world’s suicide bombers?

  33. So, Matt.

    Does it make you happy that his candidacy is on the rise so that you’ll sell more books about how much he sucks, or are you more of a high minded sort who would rather he died in Florida?

  34. If the dissolution of the discrete individual in the glorious service of the state was really the way to win WWII, why didn’t the Nazis win?

    They sure dissolved more individuals than we did.

    Why didn’t the Soviets win the Cold War?

    We were pikers at the dissolution of individuals compared to them.

    I think that a man like John McCain makes it clear that authoritarianism’s great seduction is aesthetic. The Senator likes the feeling he gets when he walks among dead stone public monuments and across the grass of military cemeteries and while he watches a Memorial Day parade. In order to increase his opportunities to feel that ultimately cheap sentiment, he gives in at every turn to the temptations of incipient fascism. When you take a simplistic Spielbergian pathos and add in a 9/11, you end up with aggressive war, concentration camps, secret torture chambers, and “noble” lies from “honorable” liars like McCain to protect all of these.

    The person who chatters on and on about how life is meaningless without “some meaning beyond oneself” is going to end up either waging a bloody crusade or killing himself to try to beam up to a spaceship hidden in a comet. Given the fucked up crazy look in McCain’s eyes most of the time, he may eventually get around to trying both.

  35. Fluffy,

    I think he’ll end up waging a bloody crusade to get us all to take the spaceship in the name of that nation greatness which embiggens all our cromulent souls. I dunno.

    Honestly, I don’t need to read Matt’s book because I know the most important thing about McCain: he’s nuts. I don’t mean a little wierd, I mean full-on detached from reality sociopathic tending whackjob. I am firmly convinced he left an essential part of his brain in a tiger cage in North Viet Nam.

  36. Matt,

    I’d start working on an underground bunker, because it looks like President McCain is the most likely result in November. And he never passes up an opportunity to crush his enemies. After dealing with you, he’ll nuke Vietnam.

  37. “Americans did not fight and win World War II as discrete individuals…Their brave and determined energies were mobilized and empowered by a national government headed by democratically elected leaders. That is how a free society remains free and achieves greatness.”

    This is exactly why I am voting for McCain.

  38. Actually Jerry Krause, that statement reminds me of Hilary’s reasoning that removed a lot of the credit from MLK for the civil rights movement.

  39. Had it not been for Welch and what he’s written about McCain, I think I might have supported him by default. …I think I’d have seen him as the least worst heir to Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan…

    I hope the Libertarians run somebody good this time–and no I don’t mean Ron Paul. ’cause otherwise, this is going to be a hold your nose and pull the lever kind of election like I’ve never seen before.

    Yeah, if it wasn’t for what Welch has written, I might have come to McCain by default.

    I guess I can still pull for the Exhume Goldwater ’08 campaign that TWC linked to the other day, but that’s about it.

  40. Time for Ron Paul, starting with tonight’s debate in California, to start punching at ideas like staying in Iraq for 100 years, and the rest of the garbage McCain and Romney have been trotting out.

  41. Matt is really scraping the bottom of the barrel today. All McCain is saying is that it is generally better to have a deeper meaning and purpose in your life beyond yourself.

    “Should we claim our rights and leave to others the duty to the nation that protects them, whatever we gain for ourselves will be of little lasting value. It will build no monuments to virtue, claim no honored place in the memory of posterity, offer no worthy summons to other nations.”

    That statement says nothing about what those values are. It just says that you should have some concern for other people and the world that you leave behind. The funny thing is that Matt Welch pretty much lives those words. I would assume Welch could do something more productive and better paying than write for Reason. But, Welch to his credit looks to something higher than his own personal pleasure and forgoes wealth so that he can write and think and try to advance what he considers the cause of liberty. As a journalist and writer, Welch is very much a public servant in the very fain that McCain is talking about. Welch I guess is so prejudiced against journalists that he assumes that public service means picking up a rifle. It doesn’t and I don’t think McCain would think that it does. Is it the case now that anyone who praises sacrifice and public service cannot be trusted in government? Would we feel better about a candidate who candidly said, “the highest goal in life is self fulfillment. I have no concern for the world or anything or anyone beyond myself. If it comes down to a choice between principle and the welfare of others and my own greed and self interest, well everyone else will have to just take care of themselves because I am getting mine.”

  42. The only thing in life is self-fulfillment. One of the ways people pursue self-fulfillment is by seeking out the pleasurable feeling of helping others.

  43. Matt is really scraping the bottom of the barrel today. All McCain is saying is that it is generally better to have a deeper meaning and purpose in your life beyond yourself.

    BS.

    If I responded to McCain by claiming that my “deeper meaning and higher purpose” was to serve liberty by dissolving the bonds between the individual and the state, and by reformulating the concept of “nation” as an association of men devoted to the same ideal of liberty instead of being a referrent for an ethnic group or geographic area, McCain would say that wasn’t what he meant.

    McCain absolutely, positively means “pick up a rifle whether you think the state’s goal of the moment is right or not, and suspend moral judgment if we tell you to waterboard some guy, and if our crusades ruin your life or your life’s work or plans, satisfy yourself by whistling a Sousa march”.

  44. “McCain absolutely, positively means “pick up a rifle whether you think the state’s goal of the moment is right or not, and suspend moral judgment if we tell you to waterboard some guy, and if our crusades ruin your life or your life’s work or plans, satisfy yourself by whistling a Sousa march”.”

    In case you missed it, McCain is very anti-torture. He has been one of the most consistent critics of waterboarding and the like in Congress.

    “If I responded to McCain by claiming that my “deeper meaning and higher purpose” was to serve liberty by dissolving the bonds between the individual and the state, and by reformulating the concept of “nation” as an association of men devoted to the same ideal of liberty instead of being a referrent for an ethnic group or geographic area, McCain would say that wasn’t what he meant.”

    WTF? A nation of men but no geographic area? I fyou are going to be a transnationalist, at least drop the nationalist language. If there is no nation and only the individual there is no nation and further there is no government or nation to protect your rights, just individuals.

    Fluffy you need to get back on your meds today.

  45. McCain has no sympathy for medical cannabis users. He thinks they are faking so they can get high.

    Fuck McCain.

  46. McCain hates the First Amendment with a special enduring passion, so he’ll be acceptable about the same time hell freezes over.

  47. “McCain has no sympathy for medical cannabis users. He thinks they are faking so they can get high.”

    fwiw, i 100% support medical marijuana (and decrim of pot in general).

    but he’s right. SOME *are* faking so they can get high. just like some patients seeking pain medication are just seeking highs.

    so what?

    the point to a libertarian should be that 1) medical mj is a states’ rights issue 2) medical mj is a states’ rights issue. rinse, lather, repeat.

    even if i thought that 99% of medical mj proponents were just using it as a subterfuge to get high, it doesn’t change the fact that the feds should let the STATES decide.

    also, the fact that SOME medical mj advocates and patients are using it as an excuse to get high such nothing aobut the underlying strenght of the argument for medical mj.

    a very large percentage of the people protesting WTO in seattle (i know this firsthand from speaking to them) did not care or know anything about the WTO or trade policy, they just enjoyed the spectacle and the chance to break stuff and have fun in a riot.

    that says exactly zero about whether the committed WTO protestors were or weren’t correct in their protest of the WTO.

    i would certainly support mccain over obama or hillary, but i don;t think for the 2nd that he is a libertarian godsend. he aint. he’s a statist, drug warrior’ing, free speech restrictin’ guy.

  48. The richest man or woman, the most successful and celebrated Americans, possess nothing of importance if their lives have no greater object than themselves.

    Do I detect a faint whiff of fascism in the above quote?

  49. the reason the public generally does not vote for libertarians, is that they generally don’t support the more libertarian candidates.

    Gee, that is a very nice example of circular reasoning. Sounds good, but in reality, doesn’t tell us a damn thing we didn’t already know. Libertarian candidates don’t do well in elections. Kind of hard when you are competing with pandering politicians who want tell voters they can have their cake and eat it too. But of course voters aren’t dumb.

  50. Forget “libertarian”. Call it limited government, and I think a whole lot of the population would be on board. The problem is, that alternative is rarely presented to us.

  51. Welch I guess is so prejudiced against journalists that he assumes that public service means picking up a rifle.

    That’s pretty funny!

  52. Call it limited government, and I think a whole lot of the population would be on board.

    Fred Thompson was preaching that gospel and look where it got him. Admittedly, he did have an opponent (Ron Paul) who was much more clearly committed to the concept, as demonstrated by past actions. So between the two of them, they got 19.4%. There’s your percentage on people who think limited gov’t is a good idea. 1 in 5.

    No wonder I’m in this handbasket and it’s getting warmer…

  53. Did Fred Thompson actually run?

  54. It was more of a saunter or a genial amble.

  55. I am never voting for McCain.

  56. Matt is completely right that McCain is a horrible candidate and all around bad guy. That is why it is so baffling that he went out of his way to torpedo Dr. Paul’s campaign, one that could have swung the election to a slightly less horrible candidate: Mitt Romney.

    The only reason I can fathom is the cynical possibility that Matt really wants McCain to succeed so he can be the in-house dissident, like Noam Chomsky is for the Dems.

    Free minds and free markets deserve a better and more principled advocate than Matt Welch.

  57. they can have their cake and eat it too

    They can have their cake and eat it too – it’s eat their cake and have it too that they can’t do.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.