The Big Mac comes back

By Dan Streib

The chant “Mac is back” seemed so hollow to certain members of the conservative punditry when chanted in New Hampshire. Some swore that Arizona senator John McCain would be the political equivalent of a one-hit wonder – winning only a few later states after New Hampshire. But in the race for the Republican nomination this year, some pundits may have finally learned something.

However, let’s be hopeful that they did not learn the misguided mainstream media lesson of expecting the unexpected (Paul v. Kucinich, anyone?). Rather, it would be pleasant to find them expecting – now here’s a thought – that the most qualified leader might just rake in the most victories. That leader was and is John McCain.

The Vietnam vet and Arizona senator has received a lot of flak from conservatives over his “maverick” positions. These critiques ranged from George F. Will’s skepticism of McCain’s stance on campaign finance reform and ideas on immigration, to Tom DeLay’s absurd “I’d-vote-for-Hillary-over-McCain” rant. From the intellectual to the nearly unintelligible, the far right is not fond of McCain and his center-right following. If he wins the nomination, can he win the hearts of these conservative conservatives – a potential general election base?

Well … as a self-proclaimed McCainiac (yes, that’s an endorsement), I’m going to say something that, as far as I can tell, no one else has said: A McCain presidency will be conservative enough for most conservatives, and yet will please many a moderate and even a few Democrats. Before that seemingly contradictory statement sets in, I’m going to try to squeeze in the rest of my column and knock down any proponents of conventional wisdom who are willing to try and stand in my way.

Seats on the Supreme Court, which can make a big difference for social conservative and campaign finance reform activists will be at stake. Given his personal investment of time in the McCain-Feingold legislation, his conflict with “values-voters” in 2000, and his work-across-the-aisle tendencies, conservatives are skeptical about whether McCain would appoint judges who share their views. He was even quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “(Justice Alito) wears his conservatism on his sleeve.” Since the conservative movement has so much riding on these judges, how can McCain be trusted?

It’s simple, really. He says he’ll nominate strict constructionists. More importantly, he says he would not let his personal politics on specific issues get in the way of his decision making process. Viola, we have a strict constructionist judge from a supposedly loose constructionist candidate.

Furthermore, he’s responding to voters concerns about immigration by focusing on his long-held goal of attempting to control the borders – but he’ll do that now before trying to create a path to citizenship. Does this sound too good to be true for conservatives? Well, it actually is true, and it’s good.

If you follow McCain’s politics long enough, you’ll realize three things: he’s a pragmatic compromiser in practice, a relatively conservative idealist in principle, and he does what he thinks is right.

With McCain’s honor and dignity, it’s totally plausible (nay probable) that he’ll nominate judges the right way – with principle and not politics in mind. And although his pragmatism shows through in the Senate and immigration reform, as a powerful president he can take a tougher stance on many issues.

So why then, do moderates and some Democrats adore him? He’s honest and straightforward. He knows when to compromise, yet he doesn’t flinch from taking an unpopular stand. He’s a man of his words, and his opponents across the aisle respect that.

In fact, polls indicate he won Florida on Tuesday due to a trait that’s closely related to his distinctive sense of honor and trust: leadership. To those on the far right: your most sacred issues are as safe with McCain as with anyone – and McCain is electable.

With leadership surpassing that of some of our nation’s best presidents, it’s time for the conservative elite to follow their party’s lead, and the nation’s, by hopping on the Straight Talk Express. In doing so, they will be uttering the classic rebuttal to any and all conventional wisdom: Mac is back.

Dan is a sophomore in political science who tried spending his late-night credits at Antonio’s. It didn’t work.