Day By Day

Friday, February 08, 2008

Looking Forward: Bush and McCain, Continuity Not Change

There are many ways to interpret the outcome of the super-duper primaries and these have been churned over and over and over both in the MSM and in the blogosphere. What struck me most was the fact that both major parties consigned their major organizing myths to the dustbin of history.

On the Republican side, the mythic image that has faded is that of Ronaldo Magnus, the paragon of conservative purity. Republican voters turned their backs on the presumptive heirs to the Reagan legacy and chose, instead, a “maverick” who frequently has expressed his contempt for the party’s ideological purists. At the same time, in a desperate bid to stay relevant, the Kennedy clan – Teddy, Caroline, and Maria – took to the airways to endorse that nice young man from Chicago about whom so little is known other than the fact that he is black. The result? Obama lost Massachusetts and California while doing much better in places where Kennedys are seldom seen and heard. Obviously the Kennedy “mystique” doesn’t carry the weight it once did. Finally, the Democrats’ competing myth – that of Clintonian political genius, has been firmly rejected and the old rouĂ© stands exposed for all to see as the slimy, opportunistic, unprincipled hack he always has been.

This, I think, is all to the good. Elite opinionmakers in both parties have in recent years indulged themselves in a perverse nostalgia for a past that never was. Democrats have clung tenaciously to the “Myth of Camelot” or a fantastic Clintonian era of perfect “peace and prosperity” while Republicans have extolled the imaginary glories of the “Reagan Revolution”. Staring fixedly back toward an imagined golden age, opinion-makers in both parties have lost touch with the world as it is today and have failed to appreciate those, most importantly President Bush, who are attempting with considerable success to grapple with the great problems of our times. Republican pundits have assailed President Bush because he wasn’t Ronald Reagan while Democrats disparage him because he seems to lack the presumed elegance and sophistication of a Kennedy or the political shrewdness of a Clinton. In all three cases he has been measured against false standards rooted more in ideology and partisan fantasies than in history. It is time that we begin to understand our national leadership as it is, rather than as we wish it might be or imagine it once was.

I have often opined that the Republicans need to stop searching for the next Reagan and instead look for the next Dubya. After all more than two thirds of Republican voters approve of the current administration. It appears that, despite the protestations of the pundits, they have found him.

Few are willing to admit it, but John McCain has a lot in common with the current President. Both are strong on tax cuts and on free trade, both are adamant on the need to vigorously prosecute the global war on terror, and both favor a compassionate resolution to the problems raised by the influx of illegal immigrants. Most importantly, both are men who are willing to place compassion and an appreciation of our common humanity above ideology and mere partisanship. There are many reasons to dislike John McCain, most of them rooted in his [I have detailed some here; Yuval Levin discusses lots more here] but there are also many reasons to embrace him, understanding that in doing so we are recognizing that the Bush regime has had much to recommend it, that the past eight years have not been the disaster ideologues of both the Left and the Right have made it out to be.