A Political Operative's Mission Statement

Posted: Aug 16, 2007 10:03 AM

John McCain's blog coordinator, Patrick Hynes, is arguably the best in the business, but I have to take issue with him over his recent post (which reminds me a bit of Jerry MaGuire's Mission Statement).  

Among other things, Pat argues the conservative movement is nothing more than an identity group that no longer cares about ordinary people. 

According to Hynes:

American conservatism has devolved from a movement into an identity group. After my client Sen. John McCain decided not to attend this year Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) a great many of my friends demanded to know why. Now, these were my friends and I knew which of them did and did not support Sen. McCain (or were ever even likely to support Sen. McCain), so I countered their demands with a simple question: But you don’t like Sen. McCain and you have said you would never vote for him under any circumstances; why would you even want him here? Without exception the reply came back as some variation of the following: Because he needs us and if he expects us to support him he needs to come to us, we’re not going to go to him.

This is the language of an identity group, not a movement. This is the identical sentiment expressed by the NAACP when Bob Dole decided not to speak at their conference in 1996. My conservative friends were not the least bit interested in John McCain’s 24-year pro-life voting record or his stalwart fight again corrupting pork and profligate spending. No, they were interested in being shown respect.

Let's be clear; like any movement, some leaders of the conservative movement are more concerned about personal advancement than about advancing the movement.  So Pat's point is well taken.  But unfortunately, his lament is true of every organization or movement, and is not a legitimate reason to dismiss or undermine a cause. 

And while political operatives may view conservative leaders as gadflies who interfere when they try to go to the center, we need the conservative movement to hold candidates accountable -- even if that means sometimes upsetting our personal friends who work on campaigns. 

From day one, I argued that it was a huge mistake for McCain to skip CPAC.  He would have been treated respectfully, and it would have, in turn, extended an olive branch.  By skipping the event, he symbolically told many conservatives he wasn't even willing to humble himself enough to ask for their support.

It's also not surprising to me that a political operative who has been in the trenches for months, fighting for a candidate who has fizzled, would see the world from a bit of a pessimistic standpoint (my guess is the Romney folks think the conservative movement is trucking right along perfectly).

But it would be a mistake to merely dismiss Patrick's post as purely sour grapes.  It is healthy, from time to time, for members of any movement to step back and analyze what they believe in.   And so his post may help facilitate that discussion.