Our country, right or wrong... but may she always be in the right.
-- Toast attributed to Capt. Stephen Decatur, USN
A great many conservatives, Scragged included, are not fans of John McCain. Our differences with him on specific policies are deep and wide, but you must search far and wide to find a conservative who does not respect the Senator's patriotism. It is not every day that a candidate for President offers not only honorable service defending our nation, but a tale of heroism and fortitude in an enemy POW camp that is the stuff of legend.
No, we may question the depth of Barack Obama's understanding of and love for his country, and certainly Michelle Obama has given grounds to wonder, but regarding John McCain there is no doubt: he loves America, quite literally, more than life itself.
This makes certain of his political positions all the more curious; how is it that a man who would sacrifice everything for his nation chooses not merely to support, but to adamantly demand, policies that would destroy it? The Kyoto-plus carbon regulations he supports would destroy our capitalistic, free-enterprise system, and thus our economy. Unlimited immigration is destroying the livelihoods of our lower classes and is well on the way to destroying the unique and distinct culture that is the American Way. McCain's steadfast erosion of the First Amendment under the guise of campaign-finance "reform" has increased the strength of the wealthy in politics, not reduced it as he intended.
John McCain is clearly a good man. He's not a perfect man, but who is? He is no fool. He is willing, on occasion, to change his mind when the facts change.
So, why the contradictions? We have pondered this question long and hard over the many months of this campaign, more intensely as McCain's star has risen. And we have a thought:
John McCain loves his country too much.
How can this be? As conservatives, patriotism is a core value, as American as apple pie. Objectively speaking, the United States is the greatest national force for good the world has ever known. Why shouldn't we love it with all our hearts?
We should, but we also need to face reality. The left often accuses the right of ignoring America's flaws; occasionally they have a point. McCain is not making this mistake. Instead, he is so deeply intimate with America's tremendous strengths, that he seems unable to grasp its critical weaknesses.
By way of comparison, how many times do you read of a husband or son with a beloved but ailing wife or mother who cannot bear to recognize the gravity of her illness? "You'll feel better tomorrow." "She'll be back on her feet in no time." It's one thing to be encouraging; it's another thing entirely to live in self-delusion.
Sometimes, excessive adoration and refusal to face the facts can lead to unwise decisions. If you aren't willing or able to accept and understand that the person you love has gangrene in her foot, you will have a deeply difficult time supporting its amputation - but if it isn't amputated, she'll die. Remembering someone or something as they were at their best is kindly, but doesn't help make wise decisions today.
Looked at in this light, John McCain's contrary positions suddenly snap into clearer focus and begin to make sense.
America is a nation of immigrants. It always has been. Many people would go on to complete that phrase, "and it always will be," but there are different kinds of immigrants. Immigrants differ not just in their ethnicity and origin, but in their purpose and goals.
In the past, most people came to America because they were persecuted in their homeland such that they had to leave. Coming to America was fraught with peril - many died of disease in the crowded ships and many ships sank.
The Pilgrims came because their religious beliefs and practices were against the law in England, likewise the Quakers. Jews, of course, have almost always been oppressed most everywhere except America. The Irish fled a tremendous famine exacerbated by predatory English overlords.
All down the years, the vast majority of immigrants weren't just coming to America, they were leaving something deeply unpleasant, and to which they had no serious desire to return - taking a grave risk to escape something they felt was an even greater hazard. That gave rise to the saying, "The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way."
It's in the nature of humankind to seek community. Immigrants frequently found homes near fellow-immigrants; New York of 100 years ago had Little Italy, Chinatown, Greektown, and on and on down the list of nations; city-dwellers knew who lived on which street. You would even find situations in which the residents of an entire Italian village had relocated to a single tenement building; all were still near each other, but halfway 'round the world.
These earlier immigrants were cut off from the larger community of Italy, Ireland, or wherever. With at best bittersweet memories of the "old country," ties grew weaker over the years. Surrounded by a vibrant and growing culture of "Americanism," most immigrants - and certainly their descendants - chose to become Americans in their hearts.
Today, Irish-Americans are Irish on St. Patrick's Day - and the rest of the year, they are Americans. Chinese-Americans are Chinese on Chinese New Year - and the rest of the year, they are Americans.
Mexicans, in contrast, don't restrict themselves to Cinco de Mayo. Why not? Because they are not leaving Mexico. Yes, they are seeking better economic opportunities here, but they are not fleeing some repugnant aspect of the "old country" that made life miserable other than poverty.
What's more, they are not cut off from their wider community; not only do they live in all-Hispanic communities far larger than the immigrant streets of old, their natal land is a mere phone call or plane flight away. The Mexican government actually encourages its citizens in the United States to retain their ties to Mexico, allowing them to vote absentee, and facilitating communications in every way possible.
Recent Mexican immigrants to the United States, in the main, do not have any antipathy to Mexico; they simply like the pay here better, that's all. The amount of their earnings they send home to Mexico demonstrates their commitment to maintaining their ties there.
Once upon a time, the purpose of public schools was to inculcate a love for America into all students. Even if the first-generation immigrants retained a love for their homeland, their children would be disconnected from it. This worked well until the 1960s; but thanks to the upheavals of far leftism, our schools now emphasize a "Blame America First" attitude that is as far from patriotism as can be imagined. Is it any wonder that today's immigrants are not assimilating as they used to do, when "assimilation" has become a dirty word?
There is nothing inherently wrong with being elderly; the elderly have a great deal of useful life experience and wisdom. His age ought not disqualify McCain from the Oval Office any more than it did Reagan, but age can be a handicap if you don't realize just how much certain fundamental things have changed over your lifetime.
Senator McCain's position on immigration is right, humane, and decent - for 1950, when he last dealt with it on a personal level in school. If our public schools today were like they were then, and our immigrants today were like they were then, we'd be perfectly able to accept them and absorb them.
The reason McCain cannot seem to accept and understand the fury American voters show at illegal immigration is that he remembers the immigrants of his youth. They wanted to be Americans. They were taught how to be American in school and they wanted to learn the language instead of insisting on being taught in some other tongue.
Perhaps he has not been paying attention to La Raza, whose treasonous goal is to reclaim the Southwest for Mexico. Maybe he has not seen the flags flown at pro-illegal-immigrant marches and protests - hint, not the Stars and Stripes.
For whatever reason, John McCain apparently does not understand the current weakness of American culture and the fact that there's no longer any heater under our melting pot. He sees the America of his younger days and so he makes his mistake.
If McCain had the policies to crank up the burner beneath the melting pot again - to demand that immigrants obey our laws or be immediately expelled, to require English in all government transactions, and to uproot the pervasive anti-Americanism that infests our schools, then his position of indulgence to aliens would not be so bad. It might even be right, but he's got the cart before the horse because he doesn't realize how far America has fallen in this regard.
John McCain's position on environmental issues appears to be very close to that of Obama and his fellow extreme anticapitalist leftists. In result, indeed it would be, but the underlying reasoning that seems to come through his speeches appears to be a little different.
In his absolute confidence that American can "fix this problem," McCain is a throwback to the optimistic, pro-technology first half of the last century. In those days, nothing was insurmountable for American ingenuity and the "can-do" spirit. Something not working? We'll send in our engineers and straighten it out!
John McCain's plan to tax pollution to death is most interesting in that, 80 years ago, something similar might have actually worked. Inventors, tinkerers, fiddlers, and factories of all sorts abounded. What's more, all manner of technological development could spring up into production and distribution almost overnight.
We still can do this in computer software, but when it comes to things that must be built, our industrial base is dying. There are many reasons for this - product liability lawsuits, anti-construction local authorities, too many government regulations and controls - but the manufacturing side of our economy is not nearly as flexible or as widespread as it used to be.
Our best and brightest once went into engineering, in the physical sense; now, they go into finance, law, or if engineering, then the software variety. Software is all very well and goodness knows computers have made our lives better in countless ways; but software won't power a car.
The burden of government has hampered America's ability to advance. Not crippled; certainly not stopped; but equally certainly, there is a toll. A look at the historical data shows that government's share of our economy has doubled over John McCain's lifetime. His views of what can be done were fixed back when we had more liberty of private resources with which to do it.
As with immigration, in the larger sense John McCain's view is not preposterous; his talk of a prize for the invention of a storage battery shows his faith in American ingenuity, and we believe that it's a good idea. The difficulty is that he cannot see past his own assumptions. If he were able and willing to set our energies free of the crushing burden of government encrustations that have collected over the intervening decades, he'd have a point, but deregulation to a Ron Pauline degree has to come first.
We see the same phenomenon in his drive towards campaign-finance reform, but in a different way. America has always encouraged wealth but has never felt comfortable with aristocracy. The wealthy have their comforts, naturally, and can expect their views to be heard with respect in the corridors of power.
What is intolerable to Americans is for the wealthy to impose their goals on the poor without regard to the desires of the voters. It is this fear - one which would have found sympathy with many of our Founders - that motivates McCain's desire to "remove money from politics."
The problem is, you can't remove money from politics. By the very nature of how one goes about being elected to office, someone has to pay the bills. There simply is no way around it.
To have all campaigns publicly financed would not solve the problem, it would only move it to a different place - instead of the wealthy, or individuals, or corporations, or unions, or whomever deciding what candidate shall receive what, it would be bureaucrats. How would that help?
Once upon a time, the words "public servant" were not just an empty phrase. Government employees knew and understood that they were there to serve the public, and at least attempted to. What's more, there were fewer of them and their reach and power was much diminished compared to today.
Today, does anyone think putting bureaucrats in charge of campaign finance would "clean it up"? Federal involvement sure hasn't worked for for schools or air travel security.
On this point, McCain's mistake is the error of Utopianism. Yes, it would be nice if each person had exactly the same voice, but in a democracy where people are free to earn different amounts of money depending on differing endowments of luck and pluck, that is simply impossible. There will always be some with a louder voice than others - America offers freedom of the press to every man who owns a press.
The Internet has helped democratize news to an extent never before seen in history, a development not welcomed in the least by the existing mainstream media. Regulating campaign finance makes as much sense as regulating the media: it sounds like a good idea, and if you had a perfect judge to interpret the law it might actually work - but we don't, and it won't.
Sen. McCain is a man born to a different age. This isn't a bad thing; so was Reagan. To be a positive force for the country he loves so infinitely, he needs to understand what has changed between then and now; why it has changed; how that is bad; and how to put things back to rights.
Otherwise, he risks making our problems worse. Not through lack of patriotism or of love for his country; but through the opposite. The results would be just as bad either way.