McCain: Not Right for the Right

There is plenty to admire about Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) His bravery under torture in Vietnam demands the deepest respect. His eternal vigilance against absurd and costly government boondoggles is unsurpassed. And he forcefully backed President Bush’s military surge, such that a largely pacified and increasingly functional Iraq lately has drifted from the front pages.

But plenty more about McCain argues against his presidential bid. McCain diligently has stymied conservative, free-market policies. While he generally is appropriately hawkish overseas, he is dangerously soft on captured terrorists. And, thanks to the McCain Uncertainty Principle, it often is anyone’s guess whether he will support the Right or sandbag its efforts.

McCain famously opposed President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. “No,” he told Fox News’ Rich Lowry last December 28, those votes were not mistakes. Rather than simply disinfect Washington’s cash-for-favors culture, McCain-Feingold muzzles free speech within two months of Election Day — precisely when speech should be freest. Last summer’s permissive McCain-Kennedy bill turbocharged conservative rage over illegal immigration.

But McCain’s legislative rap sheet is longer and laden with lesser-known apostasies:

*As barrels of oil oscillate between $90 and $100, and rising energy prices make driving, flying, and heating costlier, GOP voters should know that McCain rejected drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at least four times. Had April 2002 legislation prevailed “to reduce dependence on foreign sources of crude oil and energy…and to promote national security,” an area the size of Washington-Dulles Airport would augment Earth’s petroleum supply. Instead, McCain joined Hillary Clinton and John Edwards to defeat this measure. Thus, U.S. wallets are lighter, the economy is running out of gas, and America pumps increasing billions into OPEC — some of which fuels car bombs.

*The McCain-Lieberman bill would combat alleged “global warming” by making power producers pay to exceed government-imposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions. The John Locke Foundation’s Roy Cordato cited a July 2007 Environmental Protection Agency letter to McCain measuring McCain-Lieberman’s de facto energy tax:

“The present value of the cumulative reduction in real GDP for the 2012-2030 period ranges from $660 billion to $2.1 trillion,” EPA calculates.

*McCain voted to extend President Bush’s ’01 and ’03 tax cuts and now wants them permanent. Still, among Republicans, only he and Lincoln Chaffee — Rhode Island’s defeated arch-RINO — originally spurned them. As McCain told NBC’s Tim Russert in April 2004: “I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthiest Americans.”

*McCain opposed the Death Tax’s repeal in 2002. Also, he backed former Senator Tom Daschle’s (D.-S.D.) 1998 motion to waive the Budget Act and approve Big Tobacco’s Master Settlement Agreement that included a $1.10-per-pack cigarette-tax hike.

*McCain vocally resists waterboarding, even though that interrogation technique finally elicited intelligence from taciturn al-Qaeda leaders and September 11 conspirators Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Their revelations helped U.S. officials capture and imprison at least 10 hardened Islamo-fascist terrorists — including the architects of the deadly U.S.S. Cole and Bali nightclub bombings — who collectively had murdered 3,216 and wounded 8,795.

“The way Senator McCain has equated waterboarding with torture, the way he seems to equate it with what was done to him in the Hanoi Hilton — to me, it hurts us in the eyes of the world,” New York Congressman Peter King tells me. “It shows, really, a lack of familiarity with just how tough this enemy is.”

“I strongly supported John McCain in 2000,” adds the House Homeland Security Committee’s ranking Republican. But “what John McCain has said about Guantanamo and waterboarding made me stand with Rudy Giuliani.”

It would be bad enough if McCain merely voted against key conservative and free-market priorities. But as he did regarding military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees in fall 2006, he erupted from nowhere and ambushed Republicans.

“I served 12 years with him, six years…as one of the leaders of the Senate,” former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) told radio host Mark Levin January 10. “John McCain was not only against us, but leading the charge on the other side.” Santorum ominously warned: “There’s nothing worse than having a Democratic Congress and a Republican president who would act like a Democrat in matters that are important to conservatives.”