Straddling the fence

mccain speakingWe know presidential wannabe Rudy Giuliani is trying to get religion. Is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)?

Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, McCain was grilled by Tim Russert, who tried to establish a McCain embrace of the “religious right.” McCain did his best to say his past tiffs with right-of-center religious leaders were simply politics and he does not hold a grudge. Apparently the religious leaders don’t either. But McCain also refused to associate with the politics of those leaders, particularly Jerry Falwell’s:

MR. RUSSERT: But Senator, when you were on here in 2000, I asked you about Jerry Falwell, and this is what you said.

(Videotape, March 5, 2000):

SEN. McCAIN: Governor Bush swung far to the right and sought out the base support of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. That’s — those aren’t the ideas that I think are good for the Republican Party.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think that Jerry Falwell’s ideas are now good for the Republican Party?

fence straddlingSEN. McCAIN: I believe that the Christ — quote, “Christian right,” has a major role to play in the Republican Party. One reason is, is because they’re so active, and their, and their followers are. And I believe they have a right to be a part of our party. I don’t have to agree with everything they stand for, nor do I have to agree with everything that’s on the liberal side of the Republican Party. If we have to agree on every issue, we’re not a Republican Party. I believe in open and honest debate. Was I unhappy in, in, in the year 2000 that I lost the primary and there were some attacks on me that I thought was unfair? Of course. Do I — should I get over it? Should I serve — can I serve the people of Arizona best by looking back in anger or moving forward?

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?

SEN. McCAIN: No, I don’t. I think that Jerry Falwell can explain to you his views on this program when you have him on.

Seconds later, McCain excused his address at Falwell’s Liberty University graduation ceremony as no different than speaking at “the New College or Ohio State University” and said addressing a student body doesn’t mean that he agrees with their politics.

McCain is making a careful distinction, which reporters should note (the AP handled the story quite well here). He is not aligning himself with Falwell’s policies, but he is strongly courting Falwell’s support. And apparently courting the support is enough for Falwell, at least at this point. Russert’s insistence on getting McCain to admit support for outlawing gay marriage and abortion kept him from missing the big picture: that Falwell finds McCain’s politics acceptable.

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  • Daniel

    The McCain happy dance with Evangelicals is a fascinating one to watch. While obviously he can’t get elected without courting religious conservatives who have a disproportionate impact on Republican primaries, his dance alienates moderates and Democrats who somehow believe he is a moderate.

    McCain has been masterful at depicting himself as a moderate while actually being an ideological conservative. In some ways, courting religious conservatives at least affirms who he is as a politician and leader. But it will also make those squisy moderates and Democrats that he was never one of the “them.”

    Guiliani has a lot less to lose by courting Evangelicals. There is no question he’s a moderate or even a liberal. He doesn’t really lose moderate voters by courting reilgious conservatives because his record on behalf of liberal causes–like abortion rights and gays–don’t go away.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    McCain gravitates poltically to wherever the camera and the spotlight are. Yes, he’s a media darling, but he’s still a Republican. The media like his “maverick” style because it cuts against the conservative flow (same with Russ Feingold who is so far to the left that the media embraces him).

    Funny those two names keep coming up together….

    If McCain is nominated by the Republicans, expect McCain to be grilled by the media on issues it is leaving him alone on right now. He won’t be the “media darling” then–it’ll be Hill Clinton running for her “third” term in the White House.

  • Discman

    It’s fun to watch McCain’s attempt to ingratiate himself with the Religious Right, but even more fun to watch the Left try to use a standard campaign tactic as evidence of deep betrayal. They need a reason to turn on McCain, having lauded him as nearly “one of their own” during the 2000 campaign, because nothing can stand in the way of their prospects for regaining the presidency in 2008. Not even their favorite Republican.

    Meanwhile, the Right has to answer for its own critiques of McCain. Hugh Hewitt continues to castigate McCain, as does Rush Limbaugh. They’ve been merciless and have gone after the senator for years. I wonder what sort of dance they, and other McCain critics on the Right, will have to do if McCain gets the nomination, and it’s a McCain vs. Hillary battle royal for the presidency. Methinks all of those McCain “betrayals” will be water under the bridge.

  • Ken

    You dance with them what brung ya. Men like Falwell know that if they help bring someone like McCain to the White House, they will have a seat at the table. If they get all huffy and stand on their ideology, it’ll be “who’s Falwell?” when they call on President McCain. And, of course, if it’s President Clinton, then all of their ideological purity will stay in their red precincts at least until ’12.

    Now this is just Politics 101, familiar to everyone reading this. In my view, there is no actual religious content to the story; perhaps I should say no “theological” content. It’s entertaining of course, but only as politics, not as religion.

    One sideline question: does the mainstream media run stories about old grudges among Democrats and their religious supporters, analogous to this story? Surely there do, but I can’t think of any.

  • dpulliam

    Ken, I believe you’re right. There is very little theology in this story, rather, it’s religion being used for power.

  • Michael

    The media writes about Democrats and their grudges with the pro-choice movement and organized labor. They are the political equiviilent, for Democrats, of religious conservatives. Disproportionate power in the primaries, the ability to turn out voters, and a virtual veto power within the party.

  • DL

    McCain’s positions on gun control-the gang of 14-campaign finance and amnesty -plus a weak verbal support for the pro-life side, will keep a lot of conservatives home in the next election. Voting in liberal lites, will only stop when the RINOs are tossed out -If it takes a Hillary – so be it!
    Those who see that as foolish, don’t understand that a bit of arsinic repeated, will kill you just as dead as a bullet.

  • Stephen A.

    DL, way to go! Agreed.

    And the most dangerous place you can stand is between John McCain and a camera.

    Anyone that dependent on the media is in for a rude awakening. They like to tear people down, just as much as they like building them up.