McCain burning his bridges

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (U-WIRE) — Anyone watching the presidential campaign knows that the “special interests” winning over the “public interest” is a theme for John McCain, a media-proclaimed maverick Republican senator who takes delight in campaigning within the GOP as an “independent reformer” running against the Washington establishment.
McCain has taken delight in trashing conservatives with whom he has traditionally voted all in the name of currying favor with the media and with moderate to liberal independent voters. On a recent episode of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the largely pro-life McCain trashed the National Right to Life Committee, saying it turned the pro-life cause into a business, essentially equating it with private businesses and corporations seeking tax loopholes, subsidies or government contracts.
By blasting pro-lifers by affronting an organization he’s generally aligned with, McCain showed the lengths he will go to blast the special interests he says rule Washington. On a side note, don’t expect Al Gore or Bill Bradley, also pro-campaign finance reform candidates, to turn off their base liberal voters by blasting Greenpeace or the National Organization for Women for being selfish special interests.
What we have to understand about this campaign is what I believe will prove to be a fatal mistake to McCain should he win the GOP nomination. He isn’t getting conservative support to the extent he needs to because he doesn’t address government regulation and intrusiveness as the reason lobbying groups often exist. Furthermore, for all you campaign analysis junkies reading this, I argue McCain’s strategy is a formula for defeat in the general election.
To the extent that there is a problem with special interests, we have to largely blame the liberals who have consistently expanded the scope of federal legislation. Lobbyists and posterior-kissers of all kinds have always plagued capitals of nations from antiquity. We will always have the lobbyists and special interests with us. But why are they more prevalent now than in times past?
I believe it’s because of the scope of federal legislation in our lives. Ever since the first regulatory commission set up shop in Washington in the 1880s, the federal government has, under color of the commerce clause, regulated thousands of aspects of everyday life better left up to local governments or individuals.
Not only does the government regulate, it redistributes tax monies as goodies to different interests. When government gives out grants and subsidies to everything under the sun, it’s no wonder the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League is lobbying for federal public funding of abortions and agribusinesses lobbying for ethanol subsidies.
McCain and other politicians who pontificate about campaign finance reform rarely consider deconstructing Washington’s regulatory and redistributionary grip on the American economy. To McCain’s credit, he has come out against ethanol subsidies and corporate welfare, but even so, he has generally done poorly in the Senate to scale back the behemoth size and reach of the federal government.
On the campaign trail he has done even less to teach voters to equate a government beholden to lobbyists with a government that pervasively regulates the industries these lobbies represent. Instead, McCain pushes campaign finance reforms as the silver bullet that will return government to the public interest. A major problem with this concept of the restoration of the “public interest” is that such a thing doesn’t truly exist except in the eye of the beholder.
The public interest is a construct of political actors, who truly believe their policies will better benefit the general public.
Ultimately, voters will consider the policy specifics and how they affect them and their families within the ideological framework through which they generally see life.
McCain voters now love all this talk of defeating special interests, but these voters range the political spectrum and some of them want interventionist, activist government while some want restrained government except for a powerful military and coherent, strong foreign policy.
McCain’s blind faith in fighting the demons of special interests, while promoting a populist, public interest-oriented campaign, will lead to general election campaign perils when left-leaning supporters leave his camp as they find out he has not always been, nor truly is now one of them. McCain is moderate to conservative and isn’t as willing to toss out government goodies as readily as Gore will be.
McCain is also pro-life and has a generally good pro-gun rights record. Gore can easily woo back left-leaning voters and drain a broad base of McCain’s current support leaving him vulnerable as his media image as a broadly appealing centrist is weakened when the media portrays McCain as losing his centrist appeal.
Furthermore, McCain’s meager tax cut plans and “bold” campaign finance reform proposals will not sit well with many conservatives. And again, remember McCain has foolishly alienated the grass roots conservatives by saying groups like the NRLC have turned causes into businesses.
McCain will accordingly, I fear, fail to sufficiently energize the conservative base to vote and fail to give moderate swing voters a good reason to not vote Democratic, especially since Gore is also for small tax cuts and campaign finance reform in addition to the economy being generally healthy. This will help to give Gore enough of an edge to win.
If McCain is the nominee and pulls it off with his risky strategy, more power to him. If McCain is the GOP pick and it fails, however, you can count on a Gore inauguration next year.

Ken Shepherd’s column originally appeared on Feb. 21 in the University of Maryland’s paper, the Diamondback.