This unreconstructed Bull Moose will run with the donkey in November.
I am an independent McCainiac who hopes to revive the Bull Moose tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, and I support the Kerry-Edwards agenda. Don't get me wrong--this Bull Moose is not completely in agreement with the Democratic donkey. But the Bush administration has betrayed the effort to create a new politics of national greatness in the aftermath of 9/11.
If John Kerry wins, it remains to be seen whether his administration will be more willing to break with its ideological base than a Bush team that has been slavishly loyal to its corporate paymasters. But there is no remaining shred of doubt that another four years of a Bush presidency would have a toxic effect on American politics. If George W. Bush is re-elected, unlimited corporate power, cynicism, and division will ride high in the saddle.
In the past few years, there has been an effort by the neoconservative center-right to forge a new politics of national greatness. Although this new political perspective was never spelled out in specifics, its adherents (including me) envisioned an energetic federal government that would implement a foreign policy advancing American interests and human rights, along with a domestic policy that would promote national service, and an economics focused on benefiting the middle class.
Our model was Theodore Roosevelt, the original Bull Moose, who did not flinch from taking on the special interests at home while aggressively promoting American interests abroad.
The modern champion of conservatives for national greatness is Sen. John McCain. In the 2000 campaign, he advocated rogue state rollback, reform of government, an economic plan that focused on middle-class tax relief, and national service. He inspired Americans "to enlist in causes greater than their self-interest."
Of course, the Republican establishment rallied behind Bush, who used "compassionate conservatism" rhetoric to hide a corporate conservatism agenda. In Bush, the GOP moneyed establishment saw a candidate who served its self-interest, comforting the comfortable and catering to fat-cat contributors--the new Republican base.
When McCain threatened Bush in the 2000 primaries, we got the first real glimpse behind the curtain of Bush World--with its vicious and ferocious assault on McCain's patriotism and character. What the Bushies used against McCain was an unholy coalition of the two primary wings of the Republican Party--the Corporate Warriors and the Prayer Warriors. These unlikely allies united against McCain despite the fact that he had a strong pro-life record and a conservative congressional record.
The alliance of Mammon and the religious right was consummated in opposition to McCain's support for campaign finance reform. The embodiment of this coalition was a key operative who implemented the anti-McCain assault in South Carolina--former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, a Karl Rove crony who was also on the payroll of Enron. Reed had been my boss when I worked as legislative director of the Christian Coalition. Before the primaries, Reed warned me that he would implement an under-the-radar slime assault on McCain if he posed a threat to Bush--just what happened in South Carolina after Bush's loss to McCain in the New Hampshire primary.
Anyone who was involved in the 2000 McCain campaign, as I was, knows exactly who is responsible for the "Swift boat" slime attack on Senator Kerry--in Bush World, all low roads lead to Rove.
When I was at the Christian Coalition, I witnessed first-hand the alliance of the deregulation, no-tax crowd with the religious conservatives. Ironically, the rank and file of the religious right are hardly the country club set. They are largely middle-class Americans who don't rely on trust funds or dividend checks for their livelihoods. But the leaders of the religious right have betrayed their constituents by failing to champion such economic issues as family leave or access to health insurance, which would relieve the stresses on many working families. The only things the religious conservatives get are largely symbolic votes on proposals guaranteed to fail, such as the gay marriage constitutional amendment. The religious right has consistently provided the ground troops, while the big-money men have gotten the goodies.
The realization that the religious right had essentially become a front for the money men of the Republican Party was a primary source of my disenchantment with that movement. And without a doubt, the GOP has merely become a vehicle for unbridled corporate power. Such a party cannot provide a home for a movement that strives for national greatness.
Everything could have changed in the aftermath of 9/11. For a while it appeared that it had. Bush displayed moral clarity and leadership worthy of national greatness. However, it was short-lived. It turned out that Bush would be more of a Tom DeLay than a Winston Churchill. On the domestic political front, there was a brief interregnum of national unity. Bush rhetorically sought to bring together the nation in the fight against the terrorist enemy. However, it was soon clear that no political imagination would be employed to forge a new politics. Rather than challenging Americans to enlist in national service, the administration told them to "go shopping." Rather than asking more of those who have more, the administration refused to explore a progressive way to finance the war against terror. In fact, before long, the president returned to his mantra of permanent elimination of the "death tax." Yes, Virginia, there is a war going on, but the donors must be reimbursed!
Bush wisely initiated the overthrow of the Taliban and the liberation of Afghanistan. But as Kerry and others have pointed out, the Rumsfeld Pentagon pursued liberation on the cheap and did not aggressively pursue Osama bin Laden and the remnants of the Taliban in the battle of Tora Bora. As a result of the failure to devote sufficient resources to secure the peace in Afghanistan, that country's future is uncertain.