You’ve had your tantrum. Now it’s time to be adult about it.
That is the heart, after all, of what being a conservative is about: recognizing reality and dealing with it.
Conservatives of many stripes have plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the ascendancy of John McCain. If abortion is your issue, if illegal border-crossing is your issue, if McCain-Feingold did it for you, or the accusations of torture in the midst of a difficult, dirty war. The list goes on. It may just be the long career of contrariness, punctuated by moments of anger.
Some conservatives are talking about sitting it out. The idea is that it is not such a bad thing to lose one. It might be better for the party. Give the other side enough rope, let the Republican Party regroup and find its feet and a few new candidates.
It’s loser talk — bitter loser talk — worthy of the Democratic leadership of Congress. You’ll recall they claimed a mandate they didn’t quite have, fought the same futile battle again and again, but failed to bring anything viable to the table. Rather than look ahead to the interests of the nation, they looked to their own narrow political interest, failed to satisfy that either, and stumbled and fell, earning the disgust even of the people who voted them in.
Now, in time of war, when there is a single issue that trumps all others, some conservatives are looking to duplicate that absurd and dangerous performance, to the detriment of the United States. In fact, they are opting to hand ultimate victory to those same Democrats.
It’s not like there isn’t another way.
John McCain can’t win on his own. He needs the social and economic conservatives. He needs to convince them while still winning over the moderate independents and Democrats. It isn’t an easy balancing act, but it is the reality America is faced with today.
That is an opening for conservative power brokers to influence the shape of this campaign and the administration that follows, to make sure their views are represented. It is an opening for them to demonstrate that they are relevant.
That argument is undercut by the claim that McCain can’t be trusted not to betray whatever interests he caters to in the campaign. And, depending on what kind of running mate, what kind of people he draws around him, that may or may not be true. That is a risk.
The security argument against John McCain is a limited one, more a matter of pique than anything else. He vocally opposed harsh interrogation techniques, which irked many on the right as a semantic bickering that undercut the president and fueled the opposition in time of war. It is otherwise largely irrelevant, however. The most objectionable interrogation methods are controversial among practitioners, and are not regularly practiced.
There’s the temperament claim. He gets angry sometimes. I’d suggest someone who experienced what he did and went on to become a highly respected United States senator, who has maintained himself through hard-fought campaigns, can be relied on to maintain presidential composure, even if he snaps at subordinates or his loyal opposition or other adversaries from time to time. The notion that he’ll be a wild finger on the button is absurd. I’d suggest he’s entitled to be a little cranky sometimes. He wouldn’t be the first president with a temper, and if Republicans cede the election, they may well have allowed a rage problem of a different stripe to occupy the Oval Office.
These debatable points are not the central issue of this election. Nor is it, as some have suggested, the economy.
What is undeniable is that the single greatest threat the United States faces is that in four years, Iraq is abandoned, chaos and genocide take hold there, and the great expenditure of precious American blood and treasure there is rendered a waste. In four years, Iran can have a nuclear weapon. Both of these events will have wide ramifications. The nations of the Middle East and Far East can see a United States weakened and unreliable, and they will look elsewhere and to other means to defend their interests. Meanwhile, Iran, China, North Korea, Sudan, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Myanmar regime, Putin — I’m sorry, it’s a long list; I might have missed some — can be relied on to take advantage of our absence from the field to advance their own positions.
Because America will be perceived again to be a nation without a spine, a nation that chooses to lose, a nation that will not fight for its ideals. Is it the sixth or seventh time in the last four decades? Vietnam. Iran. Lebanon. Somalia. Al-Qaeda and Saddam in the 1990s. Our enemies know that list very well. It is their mantra, the weakness they see in us that strengthens them and keeps them going.
This retreat will be bigger and more devastating than any of those, because this time, there will be no disputing that they are correct. When the American right as well as the American left has chosen surrender to global enemies rather than set aside its domestic political fights, then America has no right to claim superpower status, and the American dream is at an end. We will become, like Europe, a sump of ideals.
Whatever else John McCain may or may not be, there is no denying that when it comes to a vigorous, sensible prosecution of a war that is fundamental to the continued existence of western ideals, the single most important issue of our day, he is committed and he is the only candidate still standing who can be relied on. He may be a severely flawed champion, but right now, he’s the only one willing and able to fight that battle. America needs him.
That means conservatives of all stripes, who pride themselves on being rational adults who have set aside childish things, need to begin acting the part.
Jules Crittenden blogs at Forward Movement.