McCain, The Anti-Wingnut™? Ehhhh...Not So Much
It's pretty ironic that the religious right's hissy fit over the filibuster compromise and various campaign statements from 2000 have earned McCain a reputation as a champion of secular governance. Should he decide to run in 2008, such cachet could carry him a long way with moderates and conservative Dems. But it doesn't appear to be true, despite popular misconceptions on both sides of the theocratic divide.
Nonetheless, the meme has gained quite a bit of traction; I've even seen McCain hailed as a "maverick" intent on wresting control of the GOP away from the evangelicals. I can only assume this is due to the scuttle over the filibuster and the "Justice Sunday" set being none too pleased with the showdown-averting compromise. When McCain added his name to the list, Frank Pavone of the National Right to Life Committee was quoted as saying, "It is unfortunate that Senator McCain has joined those senators who are trying to prevent godly men and women nominated by their president and supported by a majority of senators from serving on our nation's courts."
Apparently, if the only tool you have is a persecution complex, you tend to see every problem as a lion. It's certainly more engaging than the actual rationale among the "Gang of 14" - preserving the tradition of comity in the Senate. McCain even went so far as to realize the GOP wouldn't hold the majority forever and might later regret the decision to go nuclear. Whatever myriad reasons the senators may have had, none of them indicated that the decision had anything to do with faith. Many of them, including McCain, expressed their desire for all of shrubya's nominees to be confirmed.
As is their wont, the religious right took the compromise as a personal insult to and attack on their faith, facts notwithstanding. Since McCain's participation dovetailed nicely with another misconception - that he had spoken out against fundagelicals in the 2000 primaries - the rightest wing of the right focused their ire on him. Which probably encouraged the "McCain is secular myth" that began in 2000. I suspect a lot of people saw the animosity from the right and assumed the feeling was mutual.
But that's just wishful thinking on the part of moderates and centrists. This mistaken belief seems to stem from a speech McCain made in Virginia Beach, in which he denounced several "self-appointed leaders" of the religious movement.
But those who purport to be defenders of our party, but who in reality have lost confidence in the Republican message are attacking me, they are people who have turned good causes into businesses.
...I am a pro-life, pro-family, fiscal conservative, and advocate of a strong defense. And yet, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate. They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don't pander to them, because I don't ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message.
...The union bosses who have subordinated the interests of working families to their own ambitions, to their desire to preserve their own political power at all costs are mirror images of Pat Robertson. Just as we embrace working people, we embrace the fine members of the religious conservative community. But that does not mean that we will pander to their self-appointed leaders.
...I recognize and celebrate that our country is founded upon Judeo-Christian values1. But political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value. The political tactics of division and slander are not our values.
They are corrupting influences on religion and politics and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country.
Do read the whole speech; McCain makes many excellent points and rightly decries the role of special interest groups and money in modern politics. This well-warranted disdain for Washington's money and power games - not theopolitical disputes - is the proper context for McCain's criticisms of Robertson and Falwell. Sadly, this broader point, that mixing religion, business and politics often degrades all institutions involved2, is overshadowed by the more dramatic notion of perceived religious persecution.
I guess distinctions between a group's goals and values vs. its modus operandi are just a little too "nuanced" for soundbyte-before-the-commercial-break material. "McCain criticizes regligious right" works much better. And a meme is born. But McCain's differences with the American Taliban are process-oriented; he disagrees with their methodology, not their ideology. He is quite comfortable among those he euphemistically refers to as "social conservatives."
Let me be clear, evangelical leaders are changing America for the better. Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship, is saving men from a lifetime behind bars by bringing them the good news of redemption. James Dobson, who does not support me, has devoted his life to rebuilding America's families. Others are leading the fight against pornography, cultural decline and for life. I stand with them.
...Apparently, Republican reformers, Independent reformers or Democratic reformers, any group that might, like the Reagan Democrats of twenty years ago, be attracted to our cause of conservative reform and national greatness, are too great a threat to the Washington status quo.
That surprises me, since the essence of evangelism is to seek converts...My friends, we are building a new Republican majority, a majority to serve the values that have long defined our party and made our country great. Social conservatives should flock to our banner.
... Why should you fear a candidate who would sign without hesitation a partial birth abortion ban or who would work tirelessly with anyone to improve adoption and foster care choices for those who might be considering the taking of unborn life. Why should you fear a candidate who shares your values?
Those are his own words; he has no problem with their ideology. He even supports the teaching of intelligent design. And he fully supports their desire to influence politics, despite the disdain for state-sanctioned religion inherent in the first amendment.
STEPHANOPOULOS:And do you agree with your former colleague, the senator John Danforth, that the religious conservatives now have too much sway inside your party?
MCCAIN: If people feel the religious conservatives have too much sway within our party, then they should get more active and regain their influence. The religious conservatives have every right to affect the policies and programs and candidates of our party.
They have every right to it and I respect it.
So to my friends who say that there's too much influence by the religious right -- and I don't -- I'd say, "Well, then get busy and regain your influence in the party."
And they &hearts McCain, too, or at least they did until the filibuster compromise. He has consistently earned high marks from religious interest groups.
Senator McCain supported the interests of the Family Research Council 67 percent in 2004.
2004 Senator McCain supported the interests of the Christian Coalition 83 percent in 2004.
2004 Senator McCain supported the interests of the Christian Action Network 79 percent during their legislative career up until 2004.
2003-2004 Senator McCain supported the interests of the Concerned Women for America 100 percent in 2003-2004.
Yes, that Concerned Women for America: the flag corps for the Wingnut™ Brigade. CWA's purpose in life is to "bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy." Separation of church and state means nothing to these people; they'd like nothing more than to roll social issues back at least several decades and demand no less than an overturn of Roe v Wade.
I'm willing to give McCain props where they're due and he actually makes some excellent points in that speech; do read the whole thing. But don't look to him to turn the tide on turning back the clock; he's just tinkering with the weights and pulleys.
1 - No, John...no it wasn't; but that's another tirade altogether
2 - Yeah...just look at the GOP, haha!