Is speech McCain's problem with conservatives?

Posted: Mar 08, 2007 12:00 AM
Is speech McCain's problem with conservatives?

John McCain is a national hero and a pro-life, budget hawk, strong on defense conservative senator. But he could very well lose the Republican presidential nomination because conservatives who agree with him on life, government spending and national defense oppose his candidacy. Some will even give a lot of money to the 527 groups he enabled through McCain-Feingold. Those groups will then set out to bury him.

His opponents in the election, some only recent converts to conservative principles, enjoy standing ovations from conservative audiences when they rail against him.

It's an odd situation for a leader of McCain's stature. Especially when you factor in the enormous amount of time he spent campaigning for Republican candidates during the 2006 midterm elections. In fact, McCain backed my candidacy for Ohio governor during a hard fought primary.

So how did he get here? Some may say it's because his conservative credentials are thin. But that's not fair. McCain has been consistently pro-life and enjoys high marks from both the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste.

The real reason is because many in the conservative movement believe that McCain, through his signature campaign finance reform legislation, actively set out to silence their speech. The irony is that McCain-Feingold actually supercharges their speech during this pre-election sorting period because they can give unlimited money to 527 groups who can shape the race. It also neuters the one entity in the body politic that could have saved his nomination - the political party.

For more than two hundred years, from the very beginnings of our federal system, political parties have played an integral and important part in the political life of the nation. The two-party system began to evolve during the Washington administration with the flowering philosophical debate between forces aligned with John Adams verses those aligned with Thomas Jefferson.

Since this early time, political parties have served as large crucibles into which flowed a multiplicity of ideas and from which came a generalized set of political principles. These principles, while altering some with time and circumstance, became the foundations on which candidates ran for public office and a tool by which the public could evaluate their performance in office.

Now, this leavening impact has been taken away in the name of "cleaning up the system." In the name of eliminating "soft money," McCain-Feingold reforms have federalized the entire political process to an extent political parties can no longer carry out their traditional functions. This has led to the proliferation of special interest money flooding the airwaves and filling the message gap left by the restrictions on political parties.

Political parties are no longer a significant source of candidate campaign support. In fact, for federal candidates, their party committees cannot give them direct campaign support such as TV time unless the party sets up an independent expenditure operation and avoids any coordination with the candidate. This makes every candidate a free agent. More importantly, it makes every special interest as powerful as the political party.

Campaign reforms have done nothing to prevent legal and ethical lapses by federal politicians. Neither have they lessened the impact of money on politics. Nearly every presidential contender has opted out of the public funding program.

Reforms have, however, weakened the traditional role of the political parties and the consensus building the party fosters. One result is seen in the irony attendant to Democrats yelling about exorbitant government spending while Republicans federalize both education and political parties.

Limited government and free speech for political parties-sounds like reasonable positions for any Republican conservative. Too bad both have been felled at the hands of just such Republicans. There must be change, though it may already be too late for John McCain.