No Golden Rule For Conservatives
April 22, 2008 - 4:56pm ET
I was heartened when George Stephanopoulos, for all the heat he has taken over the ABC debate, asked John McCain a question on This Week this past Sunday that I have been waiting to hear for a long time now. To paraphrase, he wondered why if government health care has been good enough for John McCain to receive his entire life, why it is not good enough for the rest of us?
That's right, John McCain, the son of an Admiral, has been getting taken care of by the government for the last seven decades, at taxpayer expense, yet when asked about it he is only able to muster lame jokes about his time "being taken care of at the Hanoi Hilton" and doesn't feel compelled to explain why he voted against the State Children's Health Insurance Program, so that countless children would lose the very health care to which he seems to feel entitled.
But just remember, it is Barack Obama who is the elitist.
In any case, McCain's rhetoric vs. reality on government health care is important in not only what it says about John McCain, but what it conveys about modern conservatism. Remember, Senator Trent Lott didn't believe in "big government," except when Hurrican Katrina decided to destroy HIS house. Many more examples exist of conservatives who are progressive on an issue where they have been personally affected, but remain steadfastly opposed to government assistance in all other areas of lif e.
Reporter Matt Cooper noted this phenomenon in his New Republic piece "Liberals for a Day" almost 10 years ago. In his work, Cooper established the voting records of Republican Senators Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, as the sine qua non of proving liberalism by close encounter. As Cooper stated, Domenici is "to the left of Ted Kennedy" on mental health issues, because his daughter suffers from mental illness. Meanwhile, former Senator DeWine, whose daughter was tragically killed in an auto accident at only 22 years of age, was an active supporter of related regulations, from speed limits to seatbelt safety laws.
Over the years, these men have remained consistently passionate on these issues, and consistently hostile to government protection of virtually everyone else. In 2004, Domenici supported the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals a combined 0 percent of the time. DeWine (who lost his reelection race to then-Congressman Sherrod Brown in 2006) was marginally better, standing with the ACLU 22 percent of the time and the Human Rights Campaign for 25 percent of crucial votes.
Meanwhile, back when he was in the House and thankfully could do somewhat less damage, Dick Cheney's voting record was to the right of Newt Gingrich's—he voted against Head Start, Meals on Wheels for seniors and the Department of Education, to name only a few of his more infamous positions. After his daughter came out as a lesbian, however, he began calling for federal protection for gay men and lesbians—including civil unions, a position way to the left of most of his ideological brethren—as if he had begun breaking bread with Barney Frank.
Similarly making the personal political, former Senator Connie Mack and House Member Clay Shaw, both cancer survivors, consistently supported government investment in cancer research, despite supposed "small government" philosophies. And let's not forget African-American former Congressman J.C. Watts, who opposed GOP led efforts to end affirmative action in 1996, because as he told then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich "in practice we still don't have a level playing field." Yet, the serrated surface of the pitch for women, like the two who became pregnant after teenage dalliances with Watts, did not merit equal concern for the proudly pro-life recipient of the Christian Coalition's Friend of the Family Award.
While it's great to have conservative support on important issues wherever and whenever one can get it, these examples lay bare their supposed conservative philosophy much like the outrageous pork-barrel projects that continue to increase unabated. Broadening one's worldview to see a role for government in protecting regular people is no easy task. But it seems to be no problem for those on the right when personal interest is involved. Just ask Senator McCain, if he's not too busy getting a doctor's check up on your dime.
Cliff Schecter is a guest blogger at Campaign for America's Future and the author of The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him And Why Independents Shouldn't
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