John McCain

McCain's Interventionist Schizophrenia

How do you sell neoconservatism to an anti-war audience while still rallying the base?

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It is sometimes hard to remember just how radically conditions have changed in a few short years. Back in the summer of 2004, as the nation prepared for its first major-party political conventions since the Sept. 11 massacres, a good deal of the pre-game chatter, both in the press and among the conventioneers, was about whether the tens of thousands of sitting-duck politicians, staffers, and journalists would be the target of a new and insidious terrorist attack.

Going through security was a sweaty, nerve-jangling exercise in questioned mortality. Random loud noises from inside the convention center were treated with maximum suspicion. And when the Republican Party convened in New York City, just one week shy of the three-year anniversary of that awful day in lower Manhattan, the intentional symbolism was leveraged with maximum effect to portray opposition Democrats as appeasing, Euro-loving "girlie-men" unable to recognize the grand American throughline from fighting Hitler, to fighting communism, to fighting the War in Iraq.

"You know, we're just not going to let the terrorists determine where we have political conventions," said former New York Mayor and then-2008 hopeful Rudy Giuliani, in an uproarious opening-night speech. Democratic turncoat Sen. Zell Miller brought the natives' blood to boil by fetishizing domestic political unity in times of war and thundering that "it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press." And Arizona Sen. John McCain, after three-plus years of tangling with the president and building his own independent fanbase, wrapped his long-reluctant arms around George W. Bush "and the steady, experienced, public-spirited man who serves as our Vice-President, Dick Cheney," declaring that "only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war."

Four years later, McCain is the nominee of his party precisely because of those "deluded" anti-war voters, who came out for him in the GOP primaries in numbers far outpacing even Ron Paul, thus making up for the fact that the maverick never won a plurality of self-described Republican voters in any early-primary state. The ongoing, fundamental challenge to McCain—which is producing a fundamental schizophrenia in his campaign—is to keep his party's restive base disciplined and enthusiastic, while maintaining his crossover appeal to independent and centrist-Democrat voters, who largely hate the war and hate neoconservative foreign policy.

Ever since wrapping up the Republican nomination, McCain has fallen all over himself insisting that he's a moderate "Eisenhower Republican" on foreign policy, and not a radical interventionist. That is, until an international crisis softens the ground of public opinion for some trademark exaggerated bellicosity.

But political conventions are different, especially those attempting to knit back together a fraying coalition already beginning to express doubts about the foreign policy credentials of vice presidential pick Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. Nothing unites Republicans—or highlights the substantial differences between McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)—than a stern pounding on the Democrats' limp-wristed internationalism. But with the whole country watching on television, such a message could drive away the voters McCain can't win without.

The 2008 McCain has tried to assuage weary skeptics, both domestic and foreign, that "when we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic, or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them." But the 2004 convention McCain (consistent with his entire adult career) sang a much different tune: "As we've been a good friend to other countries in moments of shared perils, so we have good reason to expect their solidarity with us in this struggle….even if we have, at times, been disappointed with the reactions of some."

The 2008 McCain says the wisdom of the decision to invade Iraq is "a job for the historians," but the 2004 convention McCain was both more certain and less in a mood to hear otherwise: "It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not our critics abroad. Not our political opponents. And certainly not a disingenuous film maker."

Will a McCain-led Republican Party once again try to re-punch their ticket to the White House by thundering against the foreign policy of Michael Moore? It feels like the American context has changed too much since then. But old campaign habits die hard.

And, most importantly, even if McCain finds some magical formula (realistic idealism!) to bridge his political gap, the candidate's core convictions on foreign policy center around a principled interventionism that far outpaces anything ever envisioned by George W. Bush. The Republican Party platform might put McCain's foreign policy best: "In dealing with present conflicts and future crises, our next president must preserve all options. It would be presumptuous to specify them in advance and foolhardy to rule out any action deemed necessary for our security."

Matt Welch is the editor in chief of reason and the author of McCain: The Myth of a Maverick.

NEXT: Party Platform: If You Can't Read It In One Trip To the John, That's a Problem

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  1. Easy. Two words.

    Resurgent Unions.

  2. Matt Welch wonders how John McCain will sell neoconservatism to an anti-war audience while still rallying the GOP base.

    By splitting into “Good McCain, maverick” and “Bad McCain, asshole”, and only letting out the second half at Republican rallies where there are no cameras.

    Now, all the GOP needs is a transporter, so they can have an accident…

  3. LOL, I really cannot believe that anyone with a single ounce of common sense would be taking McSame seriously. Crazy!

    Jiff

    http://useurl.us/12m

  4. Also, mild pedant: Schizophrenia is not typically associated with multiple or conflicting personalities. It is an illness that is typified by aural, tactile, and visual hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized thought patterns, and an inability to distinguish interior thoughts from reality.

    Yeah, I know, the word has taken on the additional meaning due to frequent misuse. And I’m not normally a prescriptivist. However, it is an actual disease, with real sufferers, so I dislike the confusion it causes.

  5. By splitting into “Good McCain, maverick” and “Bad McCain, asshole”, and only letting out the second half at Republican rallies where there are no cameras.

    Now, all the GOP needs is a transporter, so they can have an accident…

    You can’t fool me. That episode of the original Star Trek was the one that aired in syndication this weekend.

  6. The concepts of ideological extremism, aggressive political tactics, partisan rigidity, and personal niceness or meanness often get conflated in political discourse.

    McCain’s hope is to use his history of bipartisanship and of breaking ranks with his party to play on this confusion, hoping it will demonstrate to those non-Republicans that he is, therefore, also not an ideological extremist when it comes to preventive war and great power confrontations. It’s not a bad tactic, as his win in the primaries among anti-war Democrats, Republicans, and Independents demonstrates.

    However, it’s going to be difficult for him to pull it off at the convention, given the aggressiveness of his political attacks on Obama (i.e., continuing to use the Munich-appeasement-type language that went out of style a few years ago) and his own pugnacious, hotheaded personality.

  7. Now, all the GOP needs is a transporter, so they can have an accident…

    Also, mild pedant: you’re going to need some ore dust from an unknown planet as well.

  8. LMNOP gets the definition of schizophrenia correct, and with the correct definition it is still the correct diagonsis of the McCain campaign.

  9. Also, mild pedant: you’re going to need some ore dust from an unknown planet as well.

    Word. Well, I figure they could just use some of that there “clean coal” dust.

  10. Diagnosis is based on the patient’s self-reported experiences and observed behavior. No laboratory test for schizophrenia currently exists.

    Schizophrenia is a catch-all behavioral diagnosis which may or may not include manifestations of known and as yet unknown physical diseases.

  11. Yes, SIV. Because we can’t test for it, it obviously doesn’t exist.

  12. Man, that pic is creepy.

  13. Man, that pic is creepy.

    It’s a Republican ManDate.

  14. There’s something about an Aqua Velva Man.

  15. Because we can’t test for it, it obviously doesn’t exist.

    That is my argument.

  16. Man, that pic is creepy.

    It’s like Uncle Fester trying to hug Gomez. It’s hilarious.

  17. gotta love that picture! yes mccain, come to daddy and give him a hug.

  18. An “Enemy Within” McCain wouldn’t last nearly as long as the two Kirks did. The bellicose asshole McCain would be about 80% of the personality vs. 50% or so for Kirk. Wimpy McCain would be dead in a matter of minutes, leaving asshole McCain to go on raging until he was brought down with a taser or elephant tranks.

  19. From the article:

    “McCain is the nominee of his party precisely because of those ‘deluded’ anti-war voters, who came out for him in the GOP primaries in numbers far outpacing even Ron Paul . . .”

    Talk about the turkeys voting for an early Thanksgiving.

  20. To hell with “Enemy Within” McCain
    I want to see “Mirror Mirror” Sarah Palin

  21. I want to see “Mirror Mirror” Sarah Palin

    You want to see Palin with a goatee?

  22. That is my argument.

    Thankfully you don’t speak for the rest of us Atheists.

    You want to see Palin with a goatee?

    No. Mirror, Mirror Palin would be in a miniskirt and have access to the Tantalus Field and be doing evil-McCain.

  23. …or shivving him.

  24. No. Mirror, Mirror Palin would be in a miniskirt and have access to the Tantalus Field and be doing evil-McCain.

    She’s also have a bare midriff. That’s very important.

  25. I remember watching McCain’s speech at the ’04 convention, but I can’t say that I remember a few lines which jump out at me now that I just read the speech. I find it odd that he kinda cops some language from the Gettysburg Address to make some of his points. For example, he says:

    “My friends, we are again met on the field of political competition with our fellow countrymen.”

    Of course he leads with the “My friends,” line, but then uses Lincoln’s language of “We are met on a great battle-field of that war” but McCain says “met on the field of political competition”. So, he compares a political campaign to the Civil War. And I’m assuming that the republicans are playing the role of the Union, while the Democrats are in the role of the Confederates. Yet earlier in the speech he says, when speaking of the Democrats:”We must, whatever our disagreements, stick together in this great challenge of our time”. I guess the sly inference here is that Democrats are attempting to rip apart the country and plunge it into civil war if they oppose the idea of giving Bush a 2nd term, and if they oppose the US using it’s armed forces to export democracy to countries that threatened us with weapons that they didn’t have. John McCain is, my friends, a bizarre politician

  26. McCain – Palin, aka “Schiz and tits”? Discuss.

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