Listening to the monolithic hysteria emanating from conservative talk radio over the past few days, one would think that the Republicans were about to select Che Guevara as their nominee. The aversion that some "professional conservatives" have to John McCain, the charismatic war hero who represents the GOP's best hope of retaining the White House, transcends the bounds of logic.
McCain's talk radio critics typically rattle off a list of issues on which McCain has allegedly "abandoned" his party. I respect the fact that McCain's critics have honest, good faith differences of opinion with him on certain issues. I just wish that those leading the group diatribe against McCain would be a little more consistent.
Many of McCain's critics are the same pundits who regularly blast liberal Democrats for not comprehending the overarching importance of the fight against Islamo-fascism. That is how many of these pundits justified their willingness to seriously consider supporting Rudy Giuliani's candidacy, notwithstanding his liberal views on social issues. During Giuliani's long tenure as "national frontrunner," his perceived electability in November made many radio pundits willing to set aside their differences with Giulani on almost everything. After all, they reasoned, the War on Terror was the issue that dwarfed all others, and even a "liberal" Republican in the White House would be better than Hillary Clinton. I like Giuliani, and found the willingness of many conservative Republicans to embrace Giuliani's candidacy to be a hopeful sign that the Republican Party's "big tent" was expanding further than ever. And I believe that if Giuliani had not made serious campaign strategy errors and had maintained his frontrunner status, conservatives would have indeed rallied around him.
Well, it appears that the logic that held sway when John McCain's campaign was in the ashes has been swept away in the updraft of his Phoenix-like rise (as it has often been described) from said ashes. Most of McCain's talk radio critics will grudgingly acknowledge that McCain has by far the strongest credentials to lead the War on Terror, but balk at supporting him because of his stands on immigration (where President Bush agrees with him), campaign finance reform (where President Bush signed his legislation) and other issues. But wait a minute: Isn't the War on Terror still the issue that dwarfs all others? And why can't conservative pundits who were willing to live with Giuliani's stands on abortion, gay marriage and gun control accept McCain's independent stands on issues that, while important, are much less fundamental to social conservatives? Are these pundits really willing to risk losing Republican control of the White House in the middle of the War on Terror because they object to McCain's stands on campaign finance reform and environmental protection?
What's going on now is something out of Alice in Wonderland. McCain's critics are impugning the character and integrity of a genuine American war hero who endured five and a half years of brutal treatment as a POW. In order to stop him, they are belatedly rallying around a candidate who has had very recent and very dramatic changes of heart on many issues that social conservatives hold dear, suspiciously coinciding with his decision to seek the Presidency.
Despite all of the huffing and puffing from some quarters, McCain has excellent conservative credentials on issues that have defined the movement in the modern era. He is pro-life, he is a crusader against excessive and wasteful government spending, and has by far the best credentials of all of the candidates on national security. Notwithstanding McCain's solid conservative record, he has always demonstrated an ability to find common ground with those across the aisle. While hard-core ideologues will find this to be a weakness, most normal Americans will recognize this as a strength. Most Americans are not ideologues. They respond to candidates who have strong core values, but without an ideological rigidity that prevents them from thinking independently. McCain thinks independently. This is why independent voters, among others, respond so strongly to him. It may also be why some people are threatened by him.
Most voters have the maturity to recognize that no one candidate will be a perfect fit for them on every issue. There is the famous saying that cautions against allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. In the case of John McCain, who has inspired so many with his exceptional courage and love of country, some misguided souls are causing the perfect to become the enemy of the great.