A Conservative Phoenix from the Ashes Populist - John S. McCain

A phoenix is a mythical bird with a tail of beautiful gold and red plumage. It has a 1,000 year life-cycle, and near the end the phoenix builds itself a nest of cinnamon twigs that it then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self.

There has been a lot of chattering and head shaking lately about how John McCain is changing all of his Republican positions and sounding like a Huey Long populist just to win the Presidency. This is not the John McCain that they have known. Why this John McCain is not lashing out at Pat Robertson and evangelicals like he did in 2000. Oh nooooo.

I disagree with these chatterers and head shakers, and I think their problem is that if they did not have George W. Bush and Dick Cheney opposing them then at least it ought to be Bob Dole and Jack Kemp. Cry me a river because I think this is the same John McCain maverick politician that he has always been.

They are also wrong in portraying John McCain as a Huey Long populist. There are no examples of John McCain speaking about populism in terms of rich man vs. poor man or proletariat vs bourgeoisie. The kind of populism that John McCain expresses is government of the people by the people and for the people. Here are some quotes from his acceptance speech:

Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming.

You know, I’ve been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment and sometimes it’s not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.

I’ve fought corruption, and it didn’t matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. They violated their public trust, and had to be held accountable. I’ve fought big spenders in both parties, who waste your money on things you neither need nor want, while you struggle to buy groceries, fill your gas tank and make your mortgage payment. I’ve fought to get million dollar checks out of our elections. I’ve fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes. I fought crooked deals in the Pentagon. I fought tobacco companies and trial lawyers, drug companies and union bosses.

I’ve been an imperfect servant of my country for many years. But I have been her servant first, last and always. And I’ve never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I didn’t thank God for the privilege.

John McCain will be the next President of the United States of America, and he will serve for the ones who vote for him and for the ones who do not vote for him. An example of this is Michael Steele’s take on John McCain appearing before the NAACP.

You’ve got to live in the real. Barack is going to take more than the lion’s share of the black vote. But that doesn’t and has not stopped John McCain from competing for that vote. And I think that says a lot about the kind of president he is going to be — that he doesn’t just see this as an election opportunity, that he sees this as an opportunity for America to right a lot of wrongs certainly but to grow together — the idea of every boat being lifted at the same time, and I think that’s a powerful message.

Unlike Obama, McCain held a Q&A after his speech, which caused a visible stir in the room.

You could hear the room go, what?! He’s actually going to open this up?! And I was asking folks, ‘Did Barack do that?’ And they were, like, ‘No.’ So, I think it speaks to the style. It speaks to the substance of the man in terms of how he wants to engage the black community, and I appreciate him doing it.

It is “long overdue” for Republican leaders to reach out to the African Americans. I think the work has to begin in earnest, and I think John McCain wants to do that. Regardless of how the election falls out in November, the Republican Party — if they want to be players; if they want to be taken seriously as a political voice in this country — they are going to have to engage in all levels, all communities. And you can’t piecemeal this. You can’t have this attitude, ‘Well, they won’t vote for us so why bother?’

Rich Lowry analyzes the McCain campaign:

The McCain campaign believes that there are twin tests this fall. One is whether Barack Obama is ready to be commander in chief; the other is whether John McCain represents change. Even if Obama fails to meet his test of readiness, he will still win if McCain fails the test of change. It wasn’t enough for McCain to mock Obama in his deadly ‘not ready to lead’ ads. He had to re-establish his outsiderness, and did it with his electrifying pick of fellow reformer Sarah Palin, whose Alaska governor’s desk sits no less than 2,800 miles from Washington.

For Sarah Palin’s other contribution to McCain is to point him downward, toward the lunch-bucket concerns of the working-class voters that Hillary won in the primaries. McCain’s politics of honor can be as unsatisfyingly abstract as Obama’s politics of hope. No more. With a new Palin-enabled populism, McCain the ‘fighter’ for you evoked the struggle ‘to buy groceries, fill your gas tank and make your mortgage payment.’

John McCain is going to pass the tests of readiness and that he represents change. Barack not only fails the readiness test, but he also fails the test of making the voters believe the choice is between Barack Obama and George W. Bush.