that contrarian state did not pay fealty to his father, and
is unlikely to recognize his royal prerogatives. To add to
Bush’s woes, for all the warbling about his great "victory"
in Iowa, the irony is that one consequence of those caucuses
could well prove fatal to his campaign. The collapse of Bradley,
on the Democratic side, means that independents in New Hampshire,
who can vote in either party primary, will be voting in the
Republican column – and the
polls say that these voters are going for McCain by more
Buchanan bolt, and the disunity of the remaining right-wingers,
has allowed the Republican Establishment the almost unprecedented
luxury of an internal struggle, a primary within a primary
in which the Republican Center-Left (Bush) faces off against
the Republican Ultra-Left (McCain) in a struggle for dominance.
This is not a life-or-death struggle, an ideological fight
that is concerned with ideas and policies: this is why no
one can decipher the alleged differences between Bush and
McCain over arcane matters of tax policy. This is also why
the emphasis is on the candidates as personalities: what’s
being sold to the voters is not a platform, or even a loose
set of ideas, but a "narrative," a myth constructed to appeal
on a sub-intellectual level to the lowest common denominator.
THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS
is almost pathetic how the Republican spinmeisters are hailing
their conquering hero – just as he stands on the edge of the
Podhoretz, writing in the New York Post, absurdly
announced that "Bush won the Republican presidential nomination
last night in Iowa not because he received over 40 percent
of the votes there, but because John McCain received only
5 percent." Even as New Hampshire polls were putting McCain
as much as 11 points ahead, Podhoretz could still bring himself
to enthuse that "he’s basically toast." The possibility that
Bush could very well get creamed in New Hampshire does not
impress the unflappable Poddy. Although McCain did not even
campaign in Iowa, we are told that his 5 percent total "blows
his campaign out of the water." The monumental grandiosity
of Podhoretz’s self-delusion takes us out of the realm of
politics and into the field of psychopathology – and we don’t
want to go there. Suffice to say that such overweening arrogance
is akin to voluntary blindness – a handicap that the beleaguered
Bushians can ill afford.
McCain to Eugene McCarthy, John Anderson, and Gary Hart, Podhoretz
posits that the McCain insurgency will fail
its presumption has proved hollow – that there would be a
Populist Groundswell against Bush and toward the maverick
from Arizona in the Republican Party. Ain't gonna happen.
The thing about populist groundswells is they have to be present
everywhere, in every state, and not just on the New York
Times editorial page."
sneers at the very idea of a populist groundswell on behalf
of anyone or anything; impossible! Front-loading means
that the groundswell must be "present everywhere," in literally
"every state." The game is rigged, he is saying, in effect who cares about populism? And all those prophets
of populism failed, didn’t they? McCarthy, Anderson, Hart,
all were sainted by the liberal media – and found wanting:
die out not because they're brave, which is the common myth,
but because they're cowardly. They don't take real stands
on issues, they fudge, they fume, and when they're finally
asked, Where's the beef? (as Walter Mondale demanded of Gary
Hart in 1984), they're sunk, because there really is no beef.
may think he is describing the McCain campaign, but to anyone
existing outside the Podhoretzian delusional system
in which up is down and looming defeat means victory – he
seems to summing up his own candidate, for this resembles
nothing so much as Dubya’s stance on the issues, from abortion
to foreign policy. Fudging and fuming is what Bush and his
advisors know how to do best.
is a born equivocator; McCain, on the other hand, is a forceful
personality who has indeed begun to focus on an ideological
theme, one that is intimately linked to his public persona
of the Vietnam war hero and epitome of the military virtues.
Veterans among his supporters come to New Hampshire meetings
dressed in full military regalia, and he starts off meetings
by asking them to stand up. The audience always cheers. They
are then regaled with his views on "the feckless photo op
foreign policy" of the Clinton administration, which he avers
did not intervene in Kosovo fast enough or effectively enough.
The fear of civilian casualties and public opinion should
not have stopped the President from unleashing the full extent
of US military might on Yugoslavia: "You’ve got to be driven
by principles and not polls," he
says, "and that is what I promise to do as President of
the United States."
but what principle will guide President McCain? What
principle makes him so eager to send the Marines into Belgrade,
and to hell with public opinion, and dreams of increasing
a US military budget already bigger than that of all other
nations in the world combined? He is running TV ads that proclaim
"there is only one man running for President who knows the
military and understands the world." Aside from such arcane
issues as campaign reform and the tax code, McCain seeks to
differentiate himself from Bush in the foreign policy realm,
and this is clearly meant to be a major theme: the principle
of militarism, and global interventionism. This is precisely
what attracts neoconservatives such as William Kristol, editor
of the Weekly Standard. Mugger,
writing in the New York Press, wants to know
up with Weekly Standard editor and publisher Bill Kristol,
who can’t appear on enough TV shows saying that Bush’s candidacy
is in deep trouble? Kristol is plainly backing McCain. . .
. Ever since McCain, almost alone at the beginning, took over
President Clinton’s role as the United States’ commander-in-chief
during the war with Slobodan Milosevic, Kristol’s had a soft
spot for the con man from Arizona. Never mind that McCain
was a champion of two pieces of legislation that are anathema
to the right—campaign finance reform and the antitobacco effort—his
internationalism won Kristol over."
charmingly naïve of Mugger to think that such things
as the defense of the First Amendment and the defense of smokers
– two of the most unpopular and beleaguered causes on earth
– matter to neocon ideologues like Kristol and the rest of
the "global democracy" crowd. Kristol, after all, hankers
after what he calls "benevolent global hegemony" as the goal
of a frankly imperial foreign policy. During the Kosovo war
he, virtually alone on the Right, unconditionally and totally
supported the war, praising McCain’s hawkishness to the skies.
Kristol even threatened to leave the GOP if it turned "isolationist."
McCain got extra points for taking the lead in smearing Pat
Buchanan, and celebrating the exit of a large part of the
conservative movement from the GOP. Bush stayed on the sidelines,
fudging and fuming and that was the end as far as the
militant wing of the neocons were concerned.
riches of empire beckon, and McCain answers, openly advocating
what the Bush campaign’s foreign policy advisors having been
saying in speeches for years – in the obscurity of private
seminars. But here is a candidate proclaiming it openly, boldly:
as one local
New Hampshire newspaper put it, "McCain gave a synopsis
of the Russian situation which amounts to one word, ‘oil.’
‘Oil has gone from $9 a barrel to almost $29 a barrel. Putin
needs to overthrow the Chechen rebels’ attempt for independence
because they want the access to the next door region of Georgia
which has the oil.’"
FOR THE PART
backers are vitally interested in the price of oil, and this
is a pitch to them that he, McCain, will do a much better
job of securing their interests – by defining the "national
interest" to coincide with certain corporate interests. By
mobilizing the people in a populist crusade to restore "national
greatness" – a favorite Weekly Standard theme – McCain
is the neocons’ dream candidate, a kind of Teddy Roosevelt
for the new millennium – blustering, bullying, bellicose,
and fully beholden to big business (in TR’s case the Morgan
ALSO-RANS OF THE RIGHT
conservative opposition, or what remains of it, is largely
powerless, as badly divided and weakened by ideological constraints
as the candidates are. Forbes is simply a machine on automatic,
whose strangely robotic manner and expressionless eyes recall
the worst science fiction movies of the 1950s – you know,
the ones in which passionless
aliens have taken over human bodies and are intent on taking
over the earth. Ideologically, Forbes has nothing to hang
his hat on, except the flat tax panacea he has been flogging
since time immemorial. He can only blink, uncomprehendingly,
and smile weakly, as McCain flexes his robust internationalism.
Bauer, too, is disarmed before such a display of machismo:
he can only meekly add that he, too, wants to bash China.
Coming from him it is not very convincing.
IS THE KEY
Keyes could stand up to this blustering ignorance. Here, after
all, is a man who, during the debates, had the following
exchange with one of his interlocutors:
BROWN: Mr. Keyes, America intervened in Kosovo when it became
apparent that innocent civilians were being slaughtered. Now
the same is happening in Chechnya. What should the United
States do about Russia's military crackdown on Chechnya?
KEYES: Well, first of all, I think the first part of your
statement is not true.
Over the course of the last several months, we've learned
a lot of information that suggests that the propaganda that
was unhappily spread throughout the media about atrocities
in Kosovo was greatly exaggerated. The Pentagon has admitted;
news sources have admitted it; teams have been
in now and have discovered that a lot of these things did
not have foundation.
think that that was a propaganda war. I think we were manipulated
into supporting a violation of a fundamental principle of
nonaggression, and that our aggression in that case was actually
more dangerous than what was happening in Kosovo itself. And
at the end of the day, I think we have to be very careful
when we start invoking some abstract notions of globalism
and global sovereignty in order to violate fundamental principles
of national sovereignty, which in fact are very important
to safeguarding the regional peace around the world. . . .
MS. BROWN: So do we ignore what's happening in Chechnya? Or
do you advocate, if certainly not engaging troops, something
like withholding loans from the International Monetary Fund?
KEYES: Well, I think that's what I just said.
think it's important that we distinguish between a policy
of globalist interventionism that has us acting as the policeman
of the world and that I think will foment violence and fear
and resentment everywhere, and a policy that basically says
look, we're not going to try to control your country, but
we will control our own actions; we will control our own associations;
we will control our own trade."
DOOMED CRUSADE –
AND A NOBLE ONE
is on a noble crusade to take back the GOP from the Rockefeller
Republicans who have long since regained control of their
old vehicle. When he and his followers realize that the game
is rigged, that between "front-loading" and other institutional
barriers to a populist groundswell, the Establishment is invulnerable
in its partisan fortress, they will have to make a decision:
whether or not to bend their knee to the Anointed One, or
else carry on their insurgency elsewhere – in the Reform Party,
as I speculated in my
last column. In the meantime, however, it is interesting
– and heartbreaking – to watch the martyrdom of yet another
conservative champion of our Old Right heritage. The chorus
of jeers and sneers is already starting, and if he succeeds
in duplicating his success in New Hampshire the knives will
really come out.
if Keyes can make a difference, it is in countering McCain’s
mindless militarism. If McCain seeks to distinguish himself
as a militant internationalist, then Keyes can distinguish
himself as the champion of peace. This is where his emphasis
on a return to morality can be very effectively dramatized.
As the bandwagon of the War Party moves unobstructed through
the GOP, will Keyes be the one to stand in its way? This a
role worth playing, a cause worth fighting for, and an opportunity
to shine that could catapult Keyes into the spotlight, where
ISN’T HE ON THE SHORT LIST?
can’t end without adding that, in the world as it ought to
be, in the Republican Party as it should have been, the Republican
frontrunner would already be dropping hints that a man like
Keyes is on the short list for the Vice Presidential nomination.
For a campaign that is desperately trying to convince everyone
how "inclusive" they are, the Bush camp’s silence on this
subject is deafening but not entirely baffling. For
the wide gulf between Keyes and Bush on the issues should,
in a rational world, put them in different parties: in substance,
as well as style, the two candidates are worlds apart. Sooner
or later, Keyes, and the remaining conservatives in the GOP,
will begin to realize this one can only hope that it
doesn’t take them until November 2000 is safely in the past.