Monday, November 21, 2005

Black And The Whites

I don't have major disagreements with Duncan Black (aka Atrios) all that often - although there are many lesser nits to be picked. But one of today's posts marks just such an infrequent point of departure. The subject is John McCain, and Black starts out with this intro:

I'll never understand certain liberals love affair with John McCain. I'll set my bar slightly higher than "not as obviously incompetent and evil as George Bush" thank you.
Now I am a liberal, and while I wouldn't describe my relationship with John McCain as a "love affair" I would admit to dating him off and on over the past handful of years. Let me try to explain why. First of all, it should be noted upfront that McCain is a Republican and as such, I disagree with many of his policy proscriptions and philosophical viewpoints. But I think that Atrios should recognize and/or acknowledge that many on the Left find McCain a refreshing alternative precisely because he is a....refreshing alternative to other Republican figures. Last time I checked, we don't get to mold Republican legislators into the shape of Democrats, so any across the aisle affection will have inbuilt limitations. My expectations are tempered by the reality of the situation. But that shouldn't preclude me, or any other individual on the Left or the Right side of the spectrum, from recognizing that there are degrees of disagreement, shades of policies, varying character issues and other factors that can lead to more or less admiration and respect for members from differing political persuasions. I refuse to draw a bright line and say something to the effect of, "everyone on that side of the spectrum is equally and indistinguishably bad."

Does Black have a favorite Republican or one that he considers a stand out? Is it possible to take such a position without it rising to the level of "love affair" or an endorsement of every position or action of that Republican?

Consider some stances taken by McCain that I view as noteworthy and commendable -especially in the modern GOP: McCain is relatively solid on environmental issues, and even goes as far as to acknowledge the existence of global warming, humans' role in exacerbating the problem, and the need to take affirmative steps to mitigate the damage (for contrast, Senator Inhofe considers global warming to be a hoax perpetrated by deranged environmentalists). McCain, with Feingold, has been championing campaign finance reform for many years and while the eventual legislative output from this duo was watered down by critics and dissenters, I praise him for trying. McCain has been pretty outspoken and strong on issues of torture and detainee abuse. As much as it pains me to say it, that is a rare territory to stake out in the current GOP landscape (recent Senate vote notwithstanding). McCain is a fiscal disciplinarian who endorses the pay as you go legislative model whereby new spending programs and new tax cuts must be offset by cuts or increased revenues from other parts of the budget (outside special circumstances that warrant exception). Similarly, he has taken a position that acknowledges that certain of Bush's tax cuts might need to be repealed in order to right the fiscal ship. There are others that I will not list. Our spending priorities might differ, but we both believe in the worth of balanced budgets. So did Clinton.

Obviously, despite these not altogether insignificant areas of agreement, there are still many positions on which me and McCain simply don't see eye to eye. But I will say this, I believe this country would be in much better shape if all Republicans thought like McCain, rather than the Bush administration. Part of the impetus for the McCain love-fest comes from just that: the fact that one is able to distinguish between McCain and Bush in the first place. He shows a willingness to display some backbone and think for himself on occasion - a sharp contrast to the lock-step discipline of the Rove/Delay corralled GOP. Obviously, I would like it if McCain acted on his own more often, and I have been disappointed on more than one occasion by his decisions to buckle, but let's be realistic. He is a Republican and must rely on the Party for support, financing and other logistical assistance. Absent my ability to remake the GOP into Democratic clones, I will continue to appreciate voices that can at least find their own bearing and put forth reasonable policies on certain important issues given the limitations.

Consider, also, the incident that gives rise to Black's critique. According to the title of the post, he seems to suggest that McCain is a "Straight Racist" for speaking at a fundraiser for George Wallace, Jr. What evidence is offered? Wallace, Jr. has spoken at the Council of Conservative Citizens four times - including once this year. The Council of Conservative Citizens' Statement of Principles is a pretty ugly document, and it contains some language that has very serious racist overtones. But I think it a stretch to call McCain a racist for speaking at a fundraiser for a candidate who has spoken before the Council. I generally try to avoid the guilt by association game - especially the guilt by association with six degrees of separation twist. As a liberal, I am all too familiar with the Right's attempt to tar everyone on the Left with the voices of the fringe - buttressed by claims that follow the model: X politician spoke at Y rally and Z political group was one of the attendees at the rally and Z political group is communist. Thus, X politician endorses communism. Why does X politician hate America?

I don't mean this in any way to be an apologia for the contemptible positions taken by the Council of Conservative Citizens, nor for Wallace, Jr.'s decision to speak before such a group. But we should accept that in the world of politics, sometimes politicians stump for other candidates and that shouldn't be read as an endorsement of every position taken by groups that the candidate in question spoke before. The connection is just too tenuous.

[Ed Note: I was also a fan of Jeffords before he made the jump to Independent thus removing the need for preemptive caveats when I praise him]

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