McCain and Kirk: The Myth of Republican Moderation
By Steve Sheffey
Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley observed at the turn of the last century that “A man expicts to be illicted Prisidint iv th’ United States, Hinnissy, f’r th’ fine qualities that th’ r-rest iv us use on’y to keep out iv th’ pinitinchry.” Yes, John McCain is pro-Israel. But that is the minimum we should expect from our elected officials; it is hardly sufficient, especially when their opponents are also pro-Israel. Suggesting that we should vote for McCain because he is pro-Israel is like suggesting we should vote for McCain because he likes apple pie and loved his mother. Israel enjoys strong, deep bi-partisan support. Let’s look at where McCain stands on issues where Americans are divided.
John McCain is not a moderate unless the term “moderate” now includes someone who believes that “Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned.”
John McCain is not a moderate unless the term “moderate” now includes someone who believes that “gun control is a proven failure in fighting crime,” who “opposes holding gun manufacturers liable for crimes committed by third parties using a firearm,” who “opposes restrictions on so-called ‘assault rifles’,” and who believes “that banning ammunition is just another way to undermine Second Amendment rights.”
These are not statements allegedly made by McCain’s supporters that I heard 14th hand, nor are they taken out of context. They are there for all to see on McCain’s own website. He’s proud of these positions. They play well among Republicans. No surprise there, but what is surprising is that so many people think McCain is a “moderate.”
John McCain is not a moderate unless the term “moderate” now includes someone who says that a candidate's Christian faith is "an important characteristic" for a president, that he would prefer a Christian president, and that the "Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."
You might expect such nonsense from Mike Huckabee, but these are John McCain’s own words, and we should take him at his word. After all, McCain has told us many times that he is a straight-talker.
Maybe by GOP standards McCain is a moderate. But our country has swung dangerously to the right if McCain’s views on reproductive freedom, gun control, and the role of religion in America are mainstream.
But there is more to the myth of Republican moderation than John McCain. Some Republican Congressmen, especially Republicans representing purple or blue-leaning districts, try to wear the mantle of moderation, but it doesn’t fit. For example, Mark Kirk (R-IL) is a self-described Republican “moderate” who endorsed John McCain early in McCain’s candidacy. Kirk is one of only seven Republicans who represent districts that John Kerry carried in 2004. He’s out of step with his district, and his only hope for re-election is convincing voters that he is a “moderate.”
Like McCain, Kirk is pro-Israel. It’s not clear if Kirk shares all of McCain’s views on gun control, but when Kirk allowed the ban on assault weapons to lapse, his rationale for refusing to stand up to the gun lobby was “the NRA is more powerful than al-Qaeda.” That’s not my idea of independent, thoughtful leadership. Kirk has voted both ways on tort immunity for gun dealers and manufacturers, so it’s not clear whether Kirk supports McCain on that issue.
I don’t know if Kirk agrees with McCain’s views on the role of Christianity, but I do know that in 2006 Kirk voted in favor of the federal government acquiring a 29-foot tall cross on Mt. Soledad, near San Diego, after a federal judge ruled that the cross could not stand in the municipal park because it violated a state constitutional prohibition on the governmental endorsement of any one religion. In December 2007, Kirk voted in favor of a House resolution acknowledging and supporting the "role played by Christianity in the founding of the United States." Kirk also voted for the Terry Schiavo Act, which required the forcible insertion of a feeding tube into a woman who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years against the wishes of her husband.
Oddly enough, the same people who seemed so concerned about the views of some of Barack Obama’s supporters have not called upon Kirk to denounce McCain’s views on the role of religion in government. Moreover, in the past when Senator McCain referred to himself as an Episcopalian they did not call upon him to quit the Episcopalian church because of its documented anti-Israel activities. They are right not to question McCain’s own religion, but wrong not to question McCain’s views on the role of religion in government.
It is likely that Kirk disagrees with McCain on reproductive choice, which illustrates another myth of Republican moderation. Yes, there are some Republicans, like Mark Kirk, who may hold “moderate” (read “Democratic”) views on some issues. But they have no qualms about supporting people like John McCain or former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who have used and would use their positions of power to thwart the very agenda Kirk claims to support.
The week after Kirk was re-elected in 2006, he voted to elect Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to the post of Republican Policy Committee Chairman. Issa had previously referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” and called for the U.N. to re-draw Israel’s borders. Does Kirk agree with Issa on Israel? Doubtful. But he voted for him anyway (fortunately, Kirk’s fellow Republicans rejected Issa by a 2-1 margin), and that vote is consistent with Kirk’s efforts to put Republicans whose agenda is not ours in positions of power.
Kirk may claim to have moderate positions, but he supports candidates—and a political party—whose agenda belies those positions. The single most important vote a Congressman casts is for Speaker of the House, and Kirk will vote Republican (which most likely means Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)). That’s not good if you care about reproductive choice, gun control, or separation of church and state. Our Republican friends are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts, and the fact is that while the parties and the candidates might not differ on Israel, there are real differences on other issues that should concern all of us. Support for Israel is the minimum we should expect from our candidates—it does not excuse being wrong on so many other issues.