A Nation of Sacrificers: McCain’s Love of What is Not America

by | Oct 27, 2008 | POLITICS

One thing that is often implied, if not made explicit, about this election is that John McCain–like George Bush–really loves his country. Of course he makes mistakes in particular areas, the apologists claim, but these are the forgivable errors of a true patriot. McCain’s values and principles are fundamentally sound, it follows, he just errs […]

One thing that is often implied, if not made explicit, about this election is that John McCain–like George Bush–really loves his country. Of course he makes mistakes in particular areas, the apologists claim, but these are the forgivable errors of a true patriot. McCain’s values and principles are fundamentally sound, it follows, he just errs in the practice. Given his good principles, we are told, he can “learn” to better apply them. If we advocate for his election on principle, we can then guide him in better applying these principles in practice.

 This argument has been made about Bush for eight years. Now we are hearing the same thing about McCain: elect him, and he will somehow “learn.” Elect him, and he can “learn” to repudiate his socialist economic plans, his plans to keep American troops fighting for others, etc. etc.
This is nonsense for at least three reasons.

First, why should a 72-year-old man suddenly learn to repudiate that which he has advocated for the past 35 years? What motive would lead him to do this? There is none. He will continue with what he has automatized and practiced for decades. McCain wants an economic plan that differs only in detail from that of Obama, because he agrees in principle with Obama.

Second, even if McCain did (somehow) have an epiphany of insight (a light in the sky?), why should he reject the very means he used to achieve the presidency? Why should the very success of his efforts lead him to reject those efforts and the altruistic principles at their foundation? He will have a mandate–both in the electorate, and in his own mind–to continue, and to expand, the program that got him elected.

Third, and more deeply: to love a thing is to know and love its nature. McCain sees America as the land of service, where our goodness is measured by our willingness to sacrifice. Is this America‘s nature? If it is, then McCain loves his country, and we should support his plans to increase the sacrificial, socialist economic policies that he has advocated. But let us not fool ourselves about what we are supporting: a socialist vision of America that differs profoundly from its constitutional principles.

This is not America’s essence. America’s purpose is not a “more perfect” welfare state, but rather a more perfect union of free individuals. Let us then recognize that McCain neither knows nor loves America. He loves an image that is the very antithesis of America. As president he will “learn” to more strongly apply his “love” by shaping America into the image of his values: a nation of sacrificers.

Let us consider the Republicans more broadly, over the past two generations. What have the leading Republicans actually learned since Goldwater? On a policy level the answer is to quit worrying and love the welfare state. They claim not to oppose it, but to better manage it. The essence of their plan is: “my gang will do a better job.”

But on top of this pragmatism, they also want to be moral, and that means to be compassionate with our wealth. This is their guiding management principle: to redistribute wealth while purporting to cut taxes. To be successful the Republicans have learned to love the welfare state.

Meanwhile the Democrats are learning to love God. Each has learned: there is no electoral success without religious socialism, or, if this makes you uncomfortable, socialistic religion.

John David Lewis (website) is a Visiting Professor of Political Science, Duke University. He has been a Senior Research Scholar in History and Classics at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, and an Anthem Fellow.

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