Many conservatives have said Sen. John McCain is not conservative enough to suit them. Some of McCain's defenders have not only disagreed but have impugned his critics, hypocritically blaming them for divisiveness.
But intramural bickering isn't the issue. What's important is that conservatives have an intellectually honest and open discussion about GOP presidential contenders.
It's disappointing to watch good conservatives demean themselves by trying to present McCain as something he's not. No matter how much they spin, they can't fool conservatives familiar with McCain's record. McCain's detractors are not the ones having to stretch and massage the facts in order to turn McCain -- overnight -- into a Reagan conservative.
McCain is not only not conservative enough; he has also has built a reputation as a maverick by stabbing his party in the back -- not in furtherance of conservative principles but by betraying them. McCain delights in sticking it to his colleagues while winning accolades from the mainstream liberal media.
Former senator Rick Santorum, whose conservative credentials are beyond question, said, "I don't agree with (McCain) on hardly any issues." Santorum told radio host Mark Levin, "I just have to tell you, as a leader, as someone who had to put these coalitions together, it was always hard and we very rarely on domestic policy had any help from the senator from Arizona." Santorum said McCain has been damaging to conservative causes and would be no friend to conservatives in the White House.
McCain's defenders -- in the McCainian spirit of chilling political speech -- forbid us from criticizing him because he is a war hero. That's irresponsible nonsense. Voters and analysts have an obligation to assess McCain's suitability for the presidency. To consider and verbalize the negatives is not to demean his service or sacrifice.
We can recognize and honor McCain's indescribably grueling POW experiences without taking the leap of arguing they automatically qualify him as an ideal commander in chief. His qualifications should be evaluated on the merits, not on sentimental appeals to his service.
Understandably, I suppose, pundits often glibly assert that one of McCain's many advantages is his character -- a character that was molded by the hardships he endured. McCain's captivity undeniably involved more character building than anything most of us will ever experience. But to say he is a rugged, battle-tested hero does not mean he is incapable of prevarication, opportunism, demagoguery or other mischief. Nor does it immunize him from scrutiny concerning the credible claim that he lacks the temperament to be president.