LYNCHBURG, Va. — American military hero and Arizona Sen. John McCain will deliver the Commencement message at Liberty University on May 13, at 9:30 a.m., in the Liberty University Vines Center. In addition, renowned Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer will speak during the University’s baccalaureate service on May 12, at 7:00 p.m., in the main sanctuary of the Thomas Road Baptist Church. ....Boy, that's some nice How Would Jesus Spin there.
While Sen. McCain and Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell have had their share of political differences through the years, the two men share a common respect for each other and have become good friends in their efforts to preserve what they see as common values. This will mark his first ever appearance at Liberty University.
"Political differences?" Back in February 2000 when he was seeking the Republican nomination, McCain denounced Falwell -- along with his friend the hurricane mover and assassination enthusiast Pat Robertson -- as "agents of intolerance" on the religious right. Not only that, but he compared those two to Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton, which to conservatives is akin to comparing them to a gay communist pederast.
This wasn't an off-the-cuff slip. A few weeks later, McCain delivered a broadside to the divisiveness of the Religious Right: "The politics of division and slander are not our values," he said. "They are corrupting influences on religion and politics and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country."
I was impressed by those words and thought McCain was a man of principle. Heck, I even crossed over to vote for the guy in the Republican primary because he seemed to possess a rare quality in the modern GOP -- sanity. But now that McCain is positioning himself for the GOP nomination, he's decided to flip-flop and cast his lot with the Mayberry Mullahs.
It's a craven political move, and one that should badly tarnish McCain's carefully crafted images as both a "maverick" and an independent. A maverick doesn't jump through the hoops in Falwell's fiefdom, and an independent doesn't give a stamp of support to the guiding forces of the party's theocratic wing. It's been coming for a while, I suppose. He's been spooning with Bush for years now and now it's time for him to start cuddling up to Falwell too. And, it seems, the elfin magic of Gary Bauer at the same time. Sweet!
The oddest thing about all this is that it seems like political suicide. The Religious Right has lots of other candidates they'll rally around this next election -- Brownback, Frist, Allen, etc. -- and they won't rush to McCain unless he first outflanks them elsewhere in the primaries and emerges as a front-runner. But if he's puckering up for Pat Robertson, his outsider image won't work, and he'll never get there. What gives?
(Thanks to Josh Marshall for the Liberty announcement.)
Update: I swear I hadn't seen this when I scribbled this post from my undisclosed location, but the excellent E. J. Dionne is sounding the same themes in his latest column:
it's a more dangerous strategy than it seems. McCain's central appeal, even to people who disagree with him, has always been his willingness to do the nonpolitical thing -- for example, to defend Kerry that day in 2004 simply because he thought the attacks on Kerry were wrong.Woohoo! I am so smart! S-M-R-T!
If McCain spends the next two years obviously positioning himself to win Republican primary votes, he will start to look like just another politician. Once lost, a maverick's image is hard to earn back.