This has definitely been Senator John McCain’s shining moment (for some) — but does this mean he is the Senate’s “real leader”?
David Broder, often called “the Dean of commentators” (does that mean he screams? APOLOGIES but we can’t resisting making a joke about anyone — and I mean it or my name isn’t Jeff Gannon), thinks so.
Highly respected, always thoughtful, incredibly influential in his impact on the newsmedia and the formulation of the Washington elite’s “conventional wisdom,” Broder’s latest Washington Post column basically says McCain seized the reins of a horse that Harry Reid and Bill Frist could or would not control:
The Monday night agreement to avert a showdown vote over judicial filibusters not only spared the Senate from a potentially ruinous clash, but also certified John McCain as the real leader of that body.
In contrast to Majority Leader Bill Frist, who was unable to negotiate a compromise with Minority Leader Harry Reid or hold his Republicans in line to clear the way for all of President Bush’s nominees to be confirmed, McCain looks like the man who achieved his objectives.
If — as many expect — McCain and Frist find themselves rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, the gap in their performance will be remembered.
The only problem here is: McCain (who this writer happily supported in the past, even registering for a brief while as a Republican to vote for McCain in the California primary) won a battle but may have lost his war.
Unless he opts for a third party candidacy (honestly: an unrealistic option in American politics) he is dead meat in the GOP primaries for the 2008 nomination. If the party nominates a moderate (which is unlikely) it would more probably be Rudy Guiliani. But many conservatives hate McCain and social conservatives hate him more than those other conservatives.
Carol Devine-Molin, writing on GOP USA, had this reaction to the compromise:”Senator John McCain claims that this compromise with Senate Democrats was in the “finest traditions of the Senate.” Personally, I’m sickened. That characterization is sure to sicken most grassroots Republicans as well. We know when we’ve been knifed in the back.”
It’s hard to project a scenario where McCain could win the GOP nomination, if he chooses to run…unless there was a split in the social conservative vote. More of Broder:
To be sure, McCain was only one of 14 senators — seven from each party — who forged an agreement to clear three of the roadblocked circuit court nominees at once, shelve two others, and reserve the option of future filibusters only for “exceptional circumstances.” And the deal forged in McCain’s office probably would not have been possible without the support of such Senate elders as Republican John Warner and Democrat Robert Byrd.
But no one else in the negotiating group has McCain’s national stature, and no one else is a likely presidential contender three years from now. So, while such would-be candidates as George Allen of Virginia and Sam Brownback of Kansas lined up behind Frist, McCain took the harder road and helped organize the bipartisan effort that averted the looming crisis.
He did that knowing he would incur the wrath of the conservative activists who want no barriers placed before their favorites for possible vacancies on the Supreme Court. But contrary to myth, the heroes of the far right rarely win presidential nominations — as witness the fate of Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson, among others.
The problem is not just the far right. McCain has a problem with some members of his party on the right in general…even though he essentially is a conservative who is not beloved or trusted (especially after campaigning energetically for George Bush in 2004) by many on the left.
Until now McCain has been noted mainly for the battles he has fought — with sporadic success — for campaign finance reform and against pork-barrel spending. Those fights have endeared him to special constituencies while antagonizing many of his colleagues.
This week he placed himself at the nexus of a debate central to the institutional life of the Senate. This was an ad hoc coalition, forged around one question, but the cadre of supporters he found in both parties is large enough — if it remains cohesive — to be a shaping force on many other legislative issues.
The success of the “Gang of 14” was a rare and welcome triumph over the antagonisms that have been so deeply rooted in the political generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, when the nation was torn by conflicts over civil rights, women’s rights, abortion and, most of all, Vietnam.
Broder then goes into some detail about McCain’s character. Fair enough. The problem, though, is that this could be short lived if Frist, social conservative groups, and President George Bush pull out all stops to make political mincemeat of the fragile political compromise forged Monday. And there are already suggestions that they may intend to do just that. The GOP leadership may just decide to try and shove all of Bush’s nominees through. And Bush could decide to pick some future confrontation-inducing nominee to push the envelope. Frist in particular is going to have very little room to maneuver since the party’s social evangelicals are already demanding an end to the Senate Cease Fire ASAP.
The net result of all this could be that both McCain and Frist are already badly damaged political goods.
McCain, now figuring mightily in the story line of the moderates seizing control and restoring some order in the Senate, could find the Nuclear Freeze unfrozen by political forces and figures who feel a nuclear meltdown is needed for their agenda and the country’s.
In a way, McCain is “old school” politics — someone who tries to aggregate interests, rather than aggravate and polarize them. And the sheer act of him trying to aggregate interests aggravates his foes.
McCain is really not a leader by reason of numbers or political clout.
Even with allegations from foes that he has a bad temper, he has become a leader by reason of his desire to ease tensions and unify.
He has become a leader by reason of his reason…a commodity that may not the most beloved quality in 21st Century American politics. But at this particular, precise time, Americans are getting a taste of what it might be like if it was.
Copyright 2005 The Moderate Voice