While the liberal establishment may be conflicted over whether it wants Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee, there's no doubt which Republican it favors.
John McCain is the liberal elite's go-to guy in the GOP. They believe he'll be there for them when they need him.
That was the essential message of last week's New York Times editorial endorsing McCain for the Republican nomination.
"With a record of working across the aisle to develop sound bipartisan legislation, he would offer a choice to a broader range of Americans than the rest of the Republican field," said the Times. "We have shuddered at McCain's occasional, tactical pander to the right because he has demonstrated that he has the character to stand on principle."
What the Times is saying here is that it does not take McCain's conservative campaign-season rhetoric seriously. No, they're convinced the man on the Straight Talk Express is railroading Republican primary voters.
Long experience has taught the Times to read McCain's sign language. No matter what contortions McCain undergoes to shape this language, its message is reassuringly constant from the left's point of view. It says: I am no threat to the liberal agenda.
Two Senate votes taken a day apart are illustrative. On June 7, 2006, McCain voted against a cloture motion that would have allowed the full Senate to vote yes or no on the Federal Marriage Amendment. Then, on June 8, 2006, he voted for a cloture motion that would have allowed the full Senate to vote yes or no on the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which would have allowed Native Hawaiians to create a race-based separate nation within the United States.
In both instances, McCain voted with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and against most Senate Republicans.
McCain professed deep support for the underlying purpose of the marriage amendment, he just opposed allowing colleagues to vote on it. Conversely, he expressed deep opposition to the underlying purpose of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act -- he just supported allowing colleagues to vote on it. Each time, McCain gave rhetoric to the right and material cooperation to the left.
In the process, he demonstrated radical inconsistency in his willingness to defend federalism, a principal he says is at the core of his beliefs.
The marriage amendment was designed to prevent unelected judges from overruling state legislatures and voters and manufacturing by judicial decree a right to same-sex marriage, such as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did in 2003.
In a statement submitted to the Congressional Record, McCain acknowledged this and other extra-legislative challenges to traditional marriage, but said: "I do not agree that all the above circumstances have made it necessary to usurp from the states, by means of an amendment to the federal Constitution, their traditional role in regulating marriage. I'm reluctant to abandon the federalism that is part of the essence of conservative political thought in this country."
On one day -- June 7 -- so great was his commitment to federalism he could not allow the Senate to even vote on an amendment that would require a two-thirds majority in both houses and then ratification by three-fourths of the states before it could become law.
On another day -- June 8 -- McCain's commitment to federalism was a bit more flexible. Now the threat to state's rights was an effort to create a new nation out of one segment of the population of one state of the union.
"I have serious reservations about the wisdom of this legislation," McCain said on the Senate floor. "I am sure that the sponsors have good intentions, but I cannot turn away from the fact this bill would lead to the creation of a new nation based exclusively -- not primarily, not in part, but exclusively -- on race. In fact, any person with even a drop of Hawaiian blood would qualify to vote on the establishment of this new, legislatively created entity that would then negotiate with the Federal government of the United States and the state of Hawaii on potentially unlimited topics."
Nonetheless, McCain voted for cloture on this bill -- which, after all, he had already shepherded through the Indian Affairs Committee, which he then chaired. The cloture vote failed with 56 votes, just four short of the needed 60. Unlike the marriage amendment, this bill would become law with simple majority votes in both houses and the president's signature. (It won just such a vote in the House in October, and has been reintroduced in the Democrat-controlled Senate.)
McCain's deference to what liberal's wanted trumped his vaunted deference to federalism. When push comes to shove, would it be any different if he becomes president?