A POOR SHOWING
Lets look at what happened in Iowa: with forty percent, the Bush forces are trumpeting this as a “record” run against a crowded field but the only “record” is in the amount of money and effort expended to obtain such a meager result. With the biggest war chest ever, the Bush camp faces a field of no less than three conservative candidates Yet still, even with the threat from the Right minimized and the entire party machinery of elected officials and their flunkies working overtime, they only managed to get 40 percent of the vote. The turnout was the lowest in years. And now the Fortunate Son rolls into New Hampshire, not so much campaigning as claiming his birthright.IOWA AFTERMATH
But that contrarian state did not pay fealty to his father, and is unlikely to recognize his royal prerogatives. To add to Bushs 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 than two-to-one.
LEFT VERSUS ULTRA-LEFT
The 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: whats 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.
ON THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS
It is almost pathetic how the Republican spinmeisters are hailing their conquering hero just as he stands on the edge of the abyss. John 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 “hes 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 Podhoretzs self-delusion takes us out of the realm of politics and into the field of psychopathology and we dont 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.
Likening McCain to Eugene McCarthy, John Anderson, and Gary Hart, Podhoretz posits that the McCain insurgency will fail
“because 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.”
Podheretz 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, didnt they? McCarthy, Anderson, Hart, all were sainted by the liberal media and found wanting:
“They 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. “
FUDGING AND FUMING
Podhoretz 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 Dubyas stance on the issues, from abortion to foreign policy. Fudging and fuming is what Bush and his advisors know how to do best.
THE McCAIN PERSONA
Bush 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: “Youve 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.”
McCAIN THE MILITARIST
Yes, 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
“Whats up with Weekly Standard editor and publisher Bill Kristol, who cant appear on enough TV shows saying that Bushs candidacy is in deep trouble? Kristol is plainly backing McCain. . . . Ever since McCain, almost alone at the beginning, took over President Clintons role as the United States commander-in-chief during the war with Slobodan Milosevic, Kristols 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 rightcampaign finance reform and the antitobacco efforthis internationalism won Kristol over.”
How 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 McCains 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.
The riches of empire beckon, and McCain answers, openly advocating what the Bush campaigns 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.”
AUDITIONING FOR THE PART
Dubyas 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 TRs case the Morgan interests).
THE ALSO-RANS OF THE RIGHT
The 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.
KEYES IS THE KEY
Only 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:
“MS. 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?
“MR. 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.
“I 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?
“MR. KEYES: Well, I think that’s what I just said.
“I 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.”
A DOOMED CRUSADE
AND A NOBLE ONE
Keyes 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.
THE KEYES DIFFERENCE
But if Keyes can make a difference, it is in countering McCains 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 he belongs.
WHY ISNT HE ON THE SHORT LIST?
I cant 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 camps 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 doesnt take them until November 2000 is safely in the past.