What’s Wrong with the World

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Oblivion Beckons

I want, at some level beneath that at which my conscious political reasoning occurs, to like John McCain - to like him in the sense that I could support his candidacy, or at least reconcile myself to it. His personal narrative is compelling, though I might admit to being tired of hearing about events which lost their salience before I entered primary school. His opposition to the attempts of the Bush administration to normalize torture as an element of American policy is heroic. Even the idea of the much-reviled campaign-finance-reform legislation holds its appeal for me. In execution, the legislation has been an abomination, so much so that one suspects that the stated intentions were merely a noble lie cloaking the actual intentions; but the idea of draining the DC swamps of the corrupting influence of various malefactors of wealth - well, that's a wonderful idea, if it entails shutting down K Street, and eliminating the corrupt and corrupting revolving door between business, lobbying, and government work. I'll give McCain begrudging credit for the idea, at least.

I find, however, that my opposition to McCain's candidacy becomes more profound by the day. I can state, of a certainty, as I once stated of Guiliani, that I will not vote for McCain, even if a gun is placed to my temple - be it the metaphorical gun of "the terrorists are coming!" or a literal gun.

I understand and respect the argument from the Court - the argument that a President McCain will be more likely to appoint competent, conservative jurists to the Court - having pledged to do so, though those aspersions cast in the direction of Justice Alito give me pause - and that such appointments could well portend the overthrow of the abortion license. Nevertheless, this seems to me a link in a probabilistic chain at best, and I have lived long enough to have been unjustly requited in this regard more often than rewarded, and by politicians famously less mercurial than McCain. I find myself concurring in the judgment that this strategy is a house of cards:

The idea is to elect politicians who may or may not appoint judges who may or may not overturn Roe v. Wade, which may or may not substantially reduce the legal availability of abortion, which may or may not affect the actual incidence of abortion.

I'll not lean on this point any further, except to note that I am profoundly skeptical that any probable configuration of Supreme Court justices will ever willingly rule to overturn Roe and its progeny, particularly the egregious Casey; this, because I disbelieve in the notion that the average justice is disinterested, and inclined to rule on the merits. Take any nine justices, and you'll have seven amateur sociologists terrified of the potential ramifications of a controversial ruling.

It is not that I am viscerally opposed to the sort of scenario sketched by Ross Douthat, according to which the construction of a genuinely pro-life America would entail a complicated and messy period of transition, during which a sort of pro-life, pro-family welfare state would arise, and the index of leading cultural indicators would plummet. To the contrary, I find the scenario plausible, and eminently desirable - one I'd accept in a heartbeat, if only legally-sanctioned abortion could be ended in America.

The trouble is that I regard the probability as vanishingly small.

Nonetheless, I'll assume in what follows that the probability is greater than that; there's no sense in attempting to provide a determinate figure, as these sorts of things are arbitrary, but I'll assume that the probability is reasonable enough to motivate some pro-life voters out of bed on an election day morning.

And even on that assumption, I cannot swallow the prospect of a McCain presidency. John McCain is the candidate of the foreign policy establishment, not to mention the neoconservative faction which drove the present administration into the abyss of unreason. If one peruses the anodyne boilerplate of the endorsement, and factors it by what can be known of the authors of the statement, what emerges is that McCain is a devotee of that strategy of openness that rolls the pursuit of global hegemony, a fetish for democratic capitalism and globalization, their concomitants, and all of the noble lies and ideological illusions that, of necessity, accompany such imperial conceits, into one baleful package. This is America reduced to The Idea; it is no longer America, a distinct place, inhabited by a distinct people, having a distinct culture, and observing distinctive political customs, but a simulacrum of that America projected onto a faux universality. This vision of global openness envisions the indefinite perpetuation of the egregious folly of Iraq, its potential extension into Iran and beyond, sabre rattling with Russia, the conclusion of the ruinous Balkan policy of Kosovan independence and Serbophobia, a refusal to abandon the paralyzing "Religion of Peace" meme, the augmentation of unaccountable executive power, and the hubris that remains uncomprehending in the face of its failures. John McCain will give to a nation in need of the bread and milk of self-government the stones of empire and the diminution of her sovereignty, for empire and international integration are, for the strategy of openness, but two sides of one coin.

Empire has an existential symbol, though, which, like any effective symbol, serves to make its reality all the more tangible: immigration. And here, John McCain is a multiculturalist, and an unrepentent one at that. For John McCain, America is a disincarnate idea, though, somehow, this spectral entity can be enriched, its blood enlivened, by the admixture of foreign nationalities. Enthusiasm for mass, nation-transforming levels of immigration symbolizes McCain's active hostility to the notion of America as a distinct national substance, and embodies his irrational animus towards those who partake of that substance. In virtually every conceivable respect, McCain is desperately wrong on the national question - from foreign policy to immigration policy, inclusive of most points intermediate between them.

This, in the final analysis, is why I cannot support John McCain; to lend such support would be to embrace the certainty of specifiable harms in exchange for the mere possibility of one specifiable benefit. I will not, and indeed cannot, ratify the reduction of America to an empire. I will not, and indeed cannot, ratify by my vote the dissolution of the American nation, the dispossession of her people, and the disinheritance of my own children; indeed, such an act would, for me, represent a breaking of faith not only with them, but with the direct ancestors who immigrated to a nation that will no longer exist if John McCain's ambitions are realized.

There remains one final consideration, one I have discussed with some friends; namely, the calculus that seems to be implicit in the stated (exoteric?) electoral strategies of the GOP establishment, according to which the New Americans will prove natural social conservatives: a trade of American national identity for the values of social conservatism. I do not imagine that my intuition on this matter will be palatable, but it is that such a bargain would essentially identify the American nation with various social evils, abolishing the nation in order to be rid of the evils themselves - killing the patient in order to eliminate the pathogens. Even as an hypothetical - though anyone who reads the City Journal now and again knows that demographic and political realities augur against such a calculus - such a rumination causes me to shudder, for this is a profound sort of alienation and betrayal, though seldom recognized as such, and I dare not leap into such dark chasms.

In summation, I cannot with a clear conscience throw my support to the campaign of John McCain, inasmuch as such support would seem to me to ratify a fundamentally unrepresentative anti-national consensus among the political and economic establishments, a consensus with which they cudgel us, and that with impunity.

Comments (30)

So who is better? Especially on the Democratic side? Real immigration reform will have to be forced by a continued groundswell of grassroots outrage, which McCain has responded to somewhat already. Our entire culture is whistling "Religion of Peace...Religion of Peace" in the dark. This will probably not change until we get another hard hit from the Moslems. Huckabee intrigues me but he's just not ready for prime time. Tancredo and Brownback are long gone. Are you telling me Romney is going to challenge the globalist outlook?

Let me add two other points:

1) If either Huckabee or Romney somehow win the nomination, they will have my enthusiastic support.

2) There seems to be this idea that working against a John McCain presidency and enabling the Democratic candidate to win will preserve some alledged Republican Party and/or Conservative Movement purity. Then, after four or more years of Democratic judicial appointments, flooding the nation with immigrants, aggressive integration into the UN and other international bodies, complete indifference (at best) to a growing Jihadist movement in this country, etc, the American body politic will arise from its slumber and embrace the wisdom our still pristine conservatism. This is a suicidal fantasy. Just ask the Bourbonists in France.

It seems that the Rockefeller/liberal wing of the GOP believes that it can diss the social conservatives in the primary with impunity, banking on the idea that they will come around in November and vote GOP anyways to avoid an Obama or Hillary presidency. Well, guess what? It may not work this time, especially if the social conservatives figure out that that's what's going on. And if the block of disgruntled soc-cons is large enough, this may be a good time to start thinking 'third party,' not for this election, obviously, but towards the future. What would the GOP do if the soc-cons bolted en masse?

Besides the judiciary issue, the only reason I can see to vote for McCain over Hilobama is that I would hate to subject our military to either of the latter as Commander in Chief. I would trust McCain far more to defend the country than the Dem candidates. But I'm not sure that that's enough to warrant me casting my vote for him, though, considering his liabilities. His Soros connections especially worry me.

Your reasons are not all the same as mine, Maximos--I object to some aspects of McCain that you don't object to as strenuously, such as "campaign finance reform"--but we come to a similar conclusion. I definitely will not vote for McCain. And his references to his Vietnam experiences do not attract me, not simply because they are now ancient history, but because he is obviously trying to manipulate me with them. I actually got an ad saying how pro-life he is because he saw life devalued when he was a POW. I mean, come on! That is such politician behavior, and I found it insulting to the voter's intelligence. It's like "never mind my policy positions and behavior, assume I'm pro-life because I was a POW." And then there's the fact that (so I understand) he divorced the wife who had waited for him when he got back...Even not-so-morally-great men can be good soldiers, get tortured, etc.

I think Douthat has some rather odd ideas in his post--e.g., about the necessity for the growth of the welfare state if abortion were really legally limited. It's an interesting idea, and not simply stupid, but I'm not convinced. One way to look at it is that most of the welfare programs in question (AFDC, for example) are already in place, so what he is talking about is at most a growth in size, not in scope or nature. Why should this require conservatives to set aside their concerns about the growth of government any more than the present situation where many women do not abort and do live on welfare? If the difference is one of extent rather than of kind, the issues seem as separate in a world of restricted abortion as they are now.

I tend to agree with Maximos, although the biggest nail in the coffin for me on McCain is his support for ESCR. Try as I might, I cannot find a clear statement from him being against it in principle, and I have come across many indications that he supports it. He seems to be doing his weasily best to hide his true position on it.

Frankly, if I could trade and end to abortion for an increased welfare state, I'd take that deal.

In the end I come down on the side of Maximos and Lydia (though I find substantially more agreement with Lydia than Jeff on the reasons) and not Paul (life's full of surprises). McCain (mass immigration, BCRA, ESCR, G-14, carbon-caps, etc. - to say nothing of his temperament and past - present? - open hostility to "conservatives" of nearly every stripe) is simply a bridge too far.

Depressing still, but there it is.

Best -

Well, I assume that Douthat is arguing, in effect, that such a pro-life bargain with aspects of the welfare state would represent an alteration of established conservative doctrine. The natural change would lie not so much with the existence of the welfare state apparatus, but with conservative attitudes thereto. I'd not be entirely sanguine about such a welfare state, but a welfare state is still preferable to abortion.

I neglected to mention ESCR. That was an oversight...

As regards BCRA, I did observe that my enthusiasm is limited to to the idea of the thing; there is a great distance between the idea of eliminating the corrupting influence of money upon the political process - which is a legitimate concern in a republican form of government - and forbidding pro-life groups from advertising the death fetishes of certain pols in the months preceding an election. In reality, the actual substance of the resulting legislation was a non-sequitur, given the stated concerns.

I suppose I should read my co-bloggers' pieces more. Then I wouldn't be surprised to see them quoted. I agree with the sentiment behind MM's quote. I also agree with Maximos's general argument. The only thing I can add is that McCain has proved quite unable to manage over long periods of time. His comeback only happened once he was forced to dump his campaign staff. It will be scary watching him in a general election.

"The natural change would lie not so much with the existence of the welfare state apparatus, but with conservative attitudes thereto."

Yeah, but if we don't "have to" drop our opposition to it now, when the pro-welfare-state person will want to say that it "saves such-and-such many lives," why would we be any more forced to drop our opposition to it if more women are making use of the programs? The logical situation just is what it is, regardless of how many people are accessing the welfare programs.

I think really (I am guessing) that Douthat himself has a disagreement with fiscal conservatives about welfare and is using this pragmatic "argument" as a way to try to move around the issue of principle. "Well, if you guys are opposed to welfare now, you won't be _able_ to be opposed once you've outlawed abortion." And why, exactly? Just because more women will use welfare, then? But numbers shouldn't matter. Behind all of this I catch a whiff of the liberal notion that it is _inconsistent_ to oppose welfare and also to oppose child-murder, as though we "owed" it to people to offer them welfare if we tell them they cannot murder their children. But this is no more a logical consequence w.r.t. abortion than w.r.t. the murder of five-year-olds. It is entirely consistent to think welfare a bad idea and to wish to roll it back in favor of private charity, etc., etc., and to hold that it shd. be illegal for poor women to hire someone to murder their four-year-old children. The same holds for their unborn children. This does not change if we were to succeed in making it illegal to murder (at last some) unborn children.

I suspect that you are reading too much into Douthat's hypotheticals. He really is concerned primarily with the pragmatics of the envisioned situation, in which certain externalities of certain classes of decisions will be borne by society as a whole, but where purely private measures will likely be insufficient. I don't believe that Douthat is pressing the specific philosophical claims that you mention; he simply has a melioristic streak.

I would outlaw abortion tomorrow, period. If that meant, as it probably would, that more women applied for more welfare, then so be it. But that doesn't represent any change whatsoever in my attitude toward the welfare state. I just don't think killing off the poor is a moral way to reduce the welfare rolls! You can't do everything at once. If killing older children were legal, I would also outlaw it immediately, even if that meant a greater strain on the present welfare system. But of course that would only happen because we _have_ a welfare system. That would, IMO, be a good thing to change. I'm certainly not expressing any "acceptance" of it. I'd yell just as loudly about the desirability of downsizing the welfare state even if abortion were outlawed. They are just different issues.

Speaking purely pragmatically, adoption is probably the best way to take care of children born out of wedlock without increasing welfare. And also, often, best for the baby.

McCain will probably lose to the Dems more spectacularly than Romney would have. That's just my untestable opinion.

In addition to welfare for indigent, single mothers, you would also be faced with the disposition of many more children in need of some kind of foster care, I would think. The foster care system as it currently exists, at the client levels it currently deals with, is a nightmare. What are your thoughts on that?

Romney has just dropped out, apparently. That was a bit unexpected and changes things somewhat, I would think.

I actually got an ad saying how pro-life he is because he saw life devalued when he was a POW. I mean, come on! That is such politician behavior, and I found it insulting to the voter's intelligence.

I take it the Democrats have not once engaged in such 'politician behaviour'?

Good heavens, of course. But I expect it, and much worse, of them. I prefer that I not be solicited qua pro-lifer by what purports to be "my own side" in that fashion.

Ms. Lydia,

I just thought it wasn't at all fair to the other candidates that McCain seemed to have been the only one singled out by your comments where such 'politician behaviour' was concerned; after all, there's much credit to be shared by all.

If an outsider may intrude...

I've argued today on my blog that by choosing McCain, the Republican party cements in place its commitment to be the "Slightly Slower Imposition of Socialism" party, which should convince most conservatives that we no longer belong.

I think the nation as a whole would welcome the creation of a "Retreat From Socialism and Race Full-Tilt Toward Freer Markets, Far Smaller Government, and Liberty of Conscience" party. Not the Libertarian Party, I'm afraid, with no malice intended toward candidates with initials like "RP"; too great a reputation for outright lunacy to overcome. But as Newt Gingrich has noted, there is near-universal support for an astonishing number of solutions that both Democrats and Republicans are avoiding, and a new party could be built on that.

I've not decided what I'm going to do in the fall. McCain is bad. Clinton and Obama are worse. So, what I'm contemplating is revving up activism to form a new party, but throwing the support of whatever I can raise toward McCain just this once -- a polite house gift and a tip of the hat as we walk out the door of the Republican party.

However, if I thought it would be possible to coalesce enough support around a third party in November, I'd throw myself into that. The problem here is finding a single candidate that enough people would support. I've heard people exclaim that they're going to write in Romney, Gingrich, and Thompson so far, and my fear would be to start a squabble about who the candidate ought to be. My pick would be Gingrich, personally; he's the best thinker conservatives have at the moment. But I don't think we'd do more than hand the election to the Democrat, and I don't want that.

Would some of you be kind enough to amble over to my blog, read it, and comment -- there or here? Thanks.

Aristocles, the only reason I "singled out" McCain is because of the question of his service in Vietnam. That had come up in the main post, and I was pointing out this weird and, to my mind, unpleasant way it was being used to try to get pro-lifers. I'm a particularly passionate pro-lifer, so I noticed it. That's really all there is to it.

Plumb Bob, I think our political process would be healthier if there were _lots more_ viable parties than just two or three. But I don't know how this is to come about. To some extent, it seems that the American people _like_ the de facto two-party system we have.

I think our political process would be healthier if there were _lots more_ viable parties than just two or three.

Whoa! Imagine that! You and I agree on something that is somewhat controversial. Will wonders never cease?!?
The only quibble I would have is that I'd say we have a two-party system that is a de facto one-party system.

I think our political process would be healthier if there were _lots more_ viable parties than just two or three.

More parties! It couldn't hurt. : )

More parties! It couldn't hurt. : )

I'll bring the guacamole...

I'm going down to CPAC on Saturday, and I'm going to see if I can't corner Newt Gingrich and find out if he has any thoughts on this. Mind you, I'm nobody, he doesn't know me from Adam, and it's pretty unlikely that I'll even get close, but doggone, this is important and I'm going to try. And I'll talk it up to others and see what sorts of reactions I get.

The deal is, we've got two parties trotting the nation toward socialism, and somebody has to stand up to it. I guess it's my turn. Call me delusional, but I'm going to see what's possible.

And you know what I call the Constitution Party? The HO Train party. You know--a sort of miniature, pretend, toy party. Literally, I phoned a contact person for their party in my state one time and asked if I could have a yard sign for one of their candidates. And he said they print so few that they can give them out only to people who are signed-up party members. So, no, I couldn't get one. Now that's not any way to run a third party! D'you suppose the Green Party tells lefties that when they phone up?

I take it by the silence that no one can come up with anyone better.

The silence means starting a new party doesn't excite anyone. I understand. It doesn't excite me, either, but I'll have to think about what the alternatives are. Blogging some more about it today...

Are any of you at CPAC, maybe on Blog Row with Red State? I'd like to come by and shake your hand tomorrow if so.

Ms. Lydia,

Aristocles, the only reason I "singled out" McCain is because of the question of his service in Vietnam. That had come up in the main post, and I was pointing out this weird and, to my mind, unpleasant way it was being used to try to get pro-lifers. I'm a particularly passionate pro-lifer, so I noticed it. That's really all there is to it.

I merely intended to convey in my remarks the prevalence of such politician behaviour even amongst the democratic candidates.

I respect and admire the fact that you are a passionate pro-lifer.

God-willing, one day all Americans may adopt a similar passion.

Plumb Bob,

A third party is self imposed irrelevance. The only real effect it might have is making the Republicans worse. Stick around and make them better. The McCain ascendency, even if it is as bad is you think, is not the end. There's always 2012.

Not at CPAC, alas.

"John McCain will give to a nation in need of the bread and milk of self-government the stones of empire and the diminution of her sovereignty, for empire and international integration are, for the strategy of openness, but two sides of one coin."

Nicely put.

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