It’s been a long, lonely month of repeatedly not making the endorsements I technically promised to make on the first of the year. Fortunately for planet Earth, this ordeal is at an end, and I have decided to endorse
for the Republican nomination and
for the Democratic nomination.
I am aware that powerful arguments have been filed against both of these choices…
For some Republicans, Barack Obama is more dangerous to the GOP in the long term and even the short term than Hillary Clinton. Obama appears to be capable of prompting and securing a nationwide realignment, doing for liberalism what Reagan is widely acknowledged to have done for conservatism. Obama is widely expected to govern consistently to the left of Clinton, who is willing to govern however is necessary to remain in power and gravitates naturally toward Nixonian centrism while biding time for the launch of the occasional centerpiece ideological power play. And Obama, of course, is racking up strong liberal endorsements from major liberal figures, whereas Clinton is racking up the endorsements of Clinton goons and minions. Finally, Obama is deemed irresponsible on military affairs, whereas Clinton is not predicted to do anything stupid like evacuate Iraq in 24 hours, invade Pakistan, or let Iran get away with nuclear weapons.
As for Romney, the oppo talking points are chiseled gravely across the conventional wisdom. Anti-Romney Republicans say, most importantly, that he can’t beat Hillary Clinton in a general election, and imply that he could only beat Obama insofar as Southerners would rather pick a Mormon who’s furiously pandering to their every interest than a half-black cosmopolitan shopping a forced-busing version of political desegregation. More broadly, Romney is considered by his opponents and skeptics as a Republican Clinton — friendly with the base only as much as being elected requires, expertly programmed, stiff, unafraid to bury past contradictions in a present avalanche of subsequent contradictions, comfortable with petty politics if success is on the line, arrogantly unwilling to cave if public opinion goes sour, artificially popular, artificially public, and pretending to be an establishment figure that really he’s not. On foreign policy, one portion of Republicans seem suspicious of his Iraq policy, the other uncomfortable with his position on waterboarding. Repeatedly, some argue that the only support Romney can get has to be bought, and that if he had McCain’s resources (for example), he’d have finished behind Rudy.
Nonetheless, I am moved not only to make un-endorsements of Clinton and McCain, but positive endorsements of Obama and Romney. For starters, when I envision a Clinton-McCain race, I envision a ghastly replay of 1996. I am not alone in expecting this. But when I envision an Obama-McCain race, I envision something even ghastlier — a referendum on Iraq and nothing but, in which the GOP coalition hangs together only by the tenacious grip its constituent parts maintain on the idea that anyone who opposed the war and opposes its indefinite prolongation is a wussyface traitor.
Clinton, on her own, is an unacceptable nominee from any perspective. The reasons for this have been well-rehearsed, especially this past week, and I see no need to review them in detail. They distill down to a single point, which is that the fatal problem with Hillary Clinton is that she is Hillary Clinton. Were she some other person — virtually any other person — all of her doom-laden baggage would drop away. Hillary Clinton does not merit further promotion in the political power structure of this country. And that’s that.
McCain, on the other hand, is a respectable citizen and sometimes inspiring freethinker. In my gut, for instance, I know he’s right on amnesty, and, in the medium-term, Republicans have got to realize how important it is that the large numbers of Mexican immigrants roaming around the US become citizens. Unfortunately, most fans of amnesty are also fans of a robust, eternal guest worker program, which, in my judgment, is anathema to the whole principle of amnesty — citizenship. The less that one’s physical presence in the US is tied to American citizenship, the less sovereign the US becomes. Tides of mobile laborers without a political link to the polity in which they work are inimical to good governance, and they augur the day, fast approaching, when leftists will demand the vote for noncitizens and deal American sovereignty its deathblow. The point of all this is that McCain’s immigration stance is part of a pattern — heart in right place, conscience firm, policy prescriptions uneven and larded with error. McCain is right on torture but dogmatically excessive on Iraq and unafraid to bludgeon his political opponents with exaggerations and even lies on that issue. McCain’s campaign-finance reform policy is unappealing. I think it’s very wrong to force McCain to promise he’d appoint only ‘Roberts and Alito clones’, but I don’t know what sort of judges he’d appoint and am inclined to think they’d be unlike the ones I’d appoint. As for his personal quirks, McCain is a mixed bag. His legendary temper and his advanced age are not bonuses, but they don’t trouble me as much as his inclination to use the power of Washington to advance his agenda. Spending cuts are vital, and his support for them is admirable. But McCain’s approach to governance strikes me as having been steeped inside the beltway for a long time. Being a maverick is of little good if the tools one uses to seek one’s goals are pulled from an eminently orthodox toolkit.
I’ve laid out my thoughts on the appeal of Obama elsewhere. He could be a disaster, to the GOP and the country, but he could be not that bad or ineffective. I am certain that Clinton could tear apart the Republican party more effectively than Obama, whose dovish position on Iraq and old-school liberal support won’t cause conservatives and libertarians of all stripes to vengefully turn against one another after the general election to purge the party of Those Responsible. A Clinton victory would do exactly that. Obama’s therapeutic politics are worrisome. Politics should never be the forum in which we seek to transcend politics — a lesson John McCain would do well to remember. But there’s nothing wrong with using politics as a forum in which we transcend race — in fact, this is exactly the sort of thing politics is for. Citizenship is a state of equality, but even more importantly, a state of equal respect. Conservatives have hated the way liberals have spread an enforced doctrine of equal cultural respect over the past twenty years, integrating it into the academy, the business world, and schools. I have no quarrel with the proposition that respect is earned and neither all lifestyles nor all people are inherently worthy of any particular kind of respect other than that demanded by the law and basic civility (no spitting). I too am deathly tired of the idea that any old idiot or any identity faction must not only be tolerated but affirmed, embraced, accepted, and celebrated. But the best way to counter these pressures is not to degenerate into anarchistic individualism or a country-club siege mentality. We can run, not hide, to take one obvious example, from urban decay. The best way to standardize respect in this country is to standardize citizenship, and return to citizens the ability to administer their shared affairs together face to face. For all his liberalism, Obama is unique in his ability to inspire the desire for that kind of respect and real political participation. Astonishingly, he can get rooms full of liberals to chant “USA! USA!” and “Race doesn’t matter!” There is a profound desire in the culture today to escape from politics and citizenship — to enjoy the feeling of togetherness rather than do the hard work that makes togetherness worthwhile. Obama’s style and substance tempts and rewards this desire. But it also tempts and rewards its opposite. Hillary Clinton is death to true politics. No village will ever be able to administer its own affairs again if she has her way. Obama inspires people to not abandon politics to the experts, to recognize the goods of taking control of their own lives to common purpose. I may disagree with him on nearly all the issues, but I earnestly hope that the chance he presents, especially on the left, is seized before all the life of true citizen politics is drained away.
Finally, Mitt Romney. Romney has received the toughest breaks this campaign season, and the least sympathy. He has had to work, raise money, and spend it furiously for success — hardly the qualities associated with someone who feels entitled to buy an election. In my judgment, voiced here earlier and sporadically since the early days of the campaign, Romney is the candidate best suited to scrap the failures of the Bush administration and rebuild a Republican party suitable for continued existence. It is probably impossible to convey the depths of my familiar frustration with George W. Bush. Simply no other candidate in the race — Ron Paul excepted — is capable of bringing enough mental resources and policy-philosophical acumen to the table to halt, reverse, and rehabilitate the Republican legacy after Bush. This is because Romney is an unorthodox Republican and a late-blooming conservative. These are good things. I do not want out of a Republican candidate someone whose conservatism developed within the sadly lazy, self-congratulatory, decadent, and brittle yet bloated environment of mid-‘90s Washington, when conservatives were so flush with power and authority after such a Congressional dry spell that they became precisely what they hated. Romney is a desperately needed injection of outside blood into a movement that has become all too satisfied with producing doctrinaire answers first and patching up supporting evidence later. This is funny coming from the guy who seems to have pandered most in this campaign. But Romney has had to run in a crowded field for a confused and listless electorate that nonetheless loves a sitting President with almost nothing to recommend him. These are extraordinarily difficult conditions under which to secure a nomination that winds up being worth a damn. As awkward and silly as Romney’s repositionings have been, I think the man must be congratulated and rewarded for attempting to make it through the primary-season gauntlet without losing his soul to one or another embittered and desperate Republican sub-constituency. And indeed I think he has. Romney has not become ‘the evangelical candidate’ like Huckabee. He has not become the ‘America, dammit’ candidate like McCain. He is not the starving prisoner of the neocon establishment like Rudy. He is not the candidate of broken dreams like Thompson. He is no Ron Paul, for much good and some ill. Romney’s far too supportive of waterboarding, and when he’s pandered at his worst it’s always been in the context of voicing support for Bush. But how he could possibly receive the nomination without making these kinds of moves at critical times (like the Huckabee surge) is beyond me. And I have noted before that Romney moved immediately back to the position from which he’s most credible and competent as soon as he stabilized his campaign. In this mode — the guy who can turn around the Republican party — Romney is commanding. John McCain is not. Huckabee shows flashes of brilliance, but bogs himself down in inanities and sectionalism. I for one am enthused at the prospect of a Republican President who will not bring a fanatical and doctrinaire approach to extricating us from Iraq before we go bankrupt. I am enthused to see a Republican candidate capable of engaging Democrats on health care on the terrain that the American people have staked out for them — like it or not, they want coverage, and they want the government to figure out how. I am relieved to contemplate a Republican President who has not been bought and sold by one of its cadres of singleminded activists. I like his vitality, I like his independence, and I don’t give a damn that he’s Mormon. He’s not perfect. Given the opportunity, I would urge him to abandon waterboarding and be unafraid to repudiate the President as much as he truly desires. I think — when it comes to policy — that’s a lot. Romney’s honorable enough not to unload on Bush during the primaries, but when the general comes, I think he can and will break free, in a way no other candidate with a hope at being nominated could ever do. Making that break, and bringing it consistently, smartly, and effectively into the White House, seems to me to be the most important thing a Republican candidate can do. Indeed, after Bush, I believe it is a duty.
Crossposted at Postmodern Conservative.