In the 2000 election, John McCain was a very different politician. He was truly a maverick, unafraid to confront the radical elements within his own party, and he paid the price. He lambasted the social conservatives’ hold over the GOP agenda, critiquing the symbolism of George Bush’s speech at Bob Jones University, and calling evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance.” For his principled stand, he was rewarded with a truly horrific smear campaign in South Carolina by the Bush campaign which insinuated that his adopted Bangladeshi daughter Bridget was actually his illegitimate love-child. That smear derailed his impending victory in SC and literally cost him the nomination.
In 2008, John McCain has flip-flopped on almost every issue, consistently moving towards politically-expedient positions that fall in line with the social conservatives he once criticized. He’s also courted even more extreme evangelical leaders like John Hagee, whose comments on Jews, homosexuals, women, muslims, Catholics, and Hurricane Katrina make Falwell and Robertson (who blamed American morality for 9-11, if you recall) seem tame in comparison. And, most tellingly, he has hired the architect of the smear campaign against his own daughter, to help him win against Barack Obama.
I will admit that in 2000 I was less of a political junkie than I am now. But I was a big fan of John McCain in 2000, and had he won the nomination I’d have likely voted for him over Al Gore (because then, unlike now, I didn’t really appreciate Gore’s intellect, vision, and his judgment in matters of foreign policy). Actually, I might have voted for Bill Bradley over McCain, but that’s another story. At any rate, the John McCain today is not the John McCain of yesteryear.
My good friend Joshua Trevino argues that John McCain’s acceptance speech at the RNC convention was a return to the John McCain of old, and in many ways a direct rebuke to the Bush years. But a speech is one thing – the words sounded great, but his actions say something else. By moving to embrace George Bush over the past 8 years, by sacrificing his principled stand against everything that darkens the GOP for the sake of his political career, by choosing a vice presidential nominee whose role is purely to ignite a culture war of the sort he once was an anchor of resistance against, he has betrayed his old 2000 maverick identity.
I’m certain that I am one of the people Josh had in mind when he wrote,
“I’d vote for John McCain if he were still the John McCain of 2000,”
they say. After tonight, we get to find out if they mean it.
However, even the John McCain of 2000 falls well short of the new standard set by Howard Dean and Barack Obama. That new standard is born of the transformative paradigm of a people-powered campaign, a 50-state strategy, a true call for the empowerment of the ordinary American citizen to take direct control of the political machine. Howard Dean was bested by the establishment, but succeeded in clearing the path, and Obama has followed. The country wasn’t ready for these new ideas in 2000, and the key organizing power of the Internet which makes this political revolution possible was still in its infancy (though, McCain 2000 was one of the pioneers there, too).
So would I vote for John McCain circa 2000 in 2008? It would be like riding a steam engine rather than a shinkansen. But easy as such a choice would be, that’s not even the choice offered to me today. McCain 2008 is not McCain 2000 – that John McCain is gone, and there’s no room for him in today’s GOP.
(bonus points for identifying the allusion in the post title…)