Thursday, February 7, 2008

"I'm a Conservative. For Realsies."

So, here we are. Barring his untimely demise before the convention in St. Paul (which, I have to suspect, is why Romney is only "suspending" his campaign), Old Man McCain (hereafter, OMM) is going to be our nominee. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

I downed a half-bottle of Pepto and forced myself to watch OMM's speech at CPAC. It was a good enough speech. OMM tried his best to be humble instead of sanctimonious, to be good-humored instead of snearing, to be conciliatory instead of obstinate, and he sold the act fairly well. One has to wonder if the late start of his speech was not the result of overly-long introductions by Senators Allen and Coburn, but, rather, of his aides keeping him off the rostrum until he was sufficiently buzzed so he wouldn't give the crowd the bird if they booed him. (Word is that the CPAC people packed the hall with McCainiacs so any potential hecklers were in the back and out of earshot.)

After the speech, many commentators said such silly things as, "He hit it out of the park!" I have to wonder if the children of many of these commentators have an overdeveloped sense of self-esteem.
Commentator: What's this, sweetie?

3-year-old Child of Commentator: It's a doggy.

Commentator: Oh, yes. These four squiggly lines and this spiraly thing definitely look like a doggy. I don't know how I missed that before. You hit this doggy picture out of the park!

But I digress. It was a good enough speech. OMM did two really smart things:
  1. He pointed out the areas in which he is and has been a reliable conservative (for the most part). He has a great record against pork barrel spending, on life issues, on Iraq.
  2. He pointed out how scary many of the policy positions of the potential Democratic nominees are.
Where OMM still has to refine his pitch is in explaining all of the various and sundry ways that he has put his finger in the collective eye of conservatives over the past 7 years. To his credit, he didn't seem to be laboring under any illusion as to the specific issues that comprise the conservative complaint against him, and he enumerated many of them explicitly. The problem, in my eyes, is that his defense of these "departures" rarely rose above any of the material that he's already trotted out on the stump or in the debates. His defense usually takes one or more of the following tacts:
  1. I won't admit that I was wrong in the first instance, but I'll change my behavior now because you insist upon it, and that should be enough (e.g. "Securing the border", "Making the Bush tax cuts permanent").
  2. I may have strayed from conservative orthodoxy in the past, but I'm now being advised by people who haven't (e.g. Phil Gramm, Jack Kemp, Ted Olson, et al).
  3. I may have strayed from conservative orthodoxy in the past, I won't address whether I'll continue to do so in the future, but know that at least my positions are sincerely held (e.g. Free speech, global warming, Gitmo, etc.).
  4. Some mix of allusions to Reagan foot soldiering, ACU ratings, Vietnam, defending the country, loving the country, serving the county, etc.
Now, the problem with these various tacts is that if conservatives liked mushiness, they'd be liberals. Conservatives are to concrete as liberals are to peat bog. They don't want to hear peat-y pronouncements about Phil Gramm, they want to hear, "I was wrong to vote against the Bush tax cuts and to use liberal class warfare rhetoric to justify my votes, and I won't ever do it again. Cross my heart. No take-backs."

Until we hear some of that music coming out of OMM's mouth, he's not going to make the sale. For realsies.

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