Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Wake Up Independents: McCain’s No Moderate

By Jacob Rowbottom - posted Wednesday, 1 March 2000

With Super-Tuesday just days away the eyes of America’s media are firmly fixed to see who will run for President in November. With it now being almost a forgone conclusion that Al Gore will carry the Democrat’s torch, attention has shifted to the Republicans. If you asked who would be the Republican nomination a few months ago most people would have replied that Bush all but has it in the bag. But thanks to John McCain the Texas Governor has no such comforts anymore.

For both McCain and Bush, it is a tough contest – and it will get tougher soon as they fight it out over key states like New York and California. McCain gained momentum in New Hampshire, which in turn invigorated the Bush camp for their comeback in South Carolina. Yet McCain then recovered some of the lost ground with the victory in Michigan and Arizona. Part of the explanation for McCain’s success has been his appeal with independents (who can vote in open primaries). He may well need to change this strategy to win in the closed primaries coming up, but my concern is with his apparent popularity outside the GOP. There’s much talk of McCain being popular even with Democrats – which brings me to the simple question: Why? McCain may be a maverick but he’s no moderate. What is it that would make a Democrat support a man who has described himself as the true heir to the Reagan Republicans?

At the root of McCain’s appeal is his promotion of himself as a new kind of politician. A genuine guy who speaks his mind. Who is not just programmed with scripted soundbites. To hammer this point home he calls his campaign bus ‘the straight-talk express’. Rather than hide his personal flaws he flaunts them – joking about his fiery temper. The candour gives McCain a human touch, putting across the message that he understands ordinary people, has integrity and, above all, is honest.


The perception of McCain in this light is bolstered by some of his policies. He has made a name for himself as an advocate for reform of the campaign finance laws. He vows to break the iron triangle of special interests, lobbyists and lawmakers that have corrupted the democratic process. This places him at odds with the mainstream GOP opinion – where meddling with campaign finance laws could potentially cut off the blood stream that powers their grip on Washington. By supporting a policy that is seen to oppose his party’s interest, McCain advances himself as an independent thinker, a man of belief and an outsider in Washington.

To complement the new kind of politician you need to have a new kind of campaign. McCain has pledged not to take the low road of negative campaigning – claiming that the American people are sick of it, despite all the evidence that it still influences their opinions.

The media and politicos have bought McCain’s image. Hence many independents and Democrats have looked beyond normal party loyalties. Even those who say they wouldn’t vote for him admit they like him. This is the end result of a successful courtship of favourable media attention. But Democrats and independent moderates should not kid themselves – McCain is a right-winger.

It is easy to see how people fall for his charm. He seems like the kind of guy you could get along with, the sort you wouldn’t mind going for a drink with. But then again the kind of person most of us like to drink with are the last people we would ever want to hold the most powerful office in the world. Between the straight-talk and the jokes voters should remember his record. McCain has consistently spoken out against abortion rights; supports the death penalty; endorsed Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America; voted for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning; opposed legislation protecting gays from job discrimination; opposed gun control measures; promises to tear up the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia if they refuse to renegotiate it; and voted against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The list goes on, but the point is simple – McCain is no friend to Democrats or centrists.

If you look at McCain’s pledge to run a more positive campaign, it seems that the ‘straight talk express’ has made a bit of detour. In the Michigan primary the McCain campaign ran a push poll targeted to Catholic voters emphasising Bush’s recent visit to Bob Jones University (an institution known to have expressed anti-Catholic feelings). When reports of these strategic calls first emerged, McCain claimed they had nothing to with his campaign. However, it turned out that the Arizona Senator had approved these calls before they were made. Maybe McCain’s spin doctors will argue that this inconsistency shows he has all the qualities of Ronald Reagan, including the memory skills. But the fact of the matter is McCain is not a new kind of politician, and is just as willing to use negative tactics when it suits him.

Much of McCain’s popularity stems from the media’s love of insurgents. George W. Bush had been in the spotlight for too long as the front-runner. Six months ago it was assumed he would walk the nomination. They had plenty of time to see his inadequacies as a candidate, and demand more detail about his policies. Then along came McCain with his refreshing style and openness. For as long as he remained an outsider or an underdog, there was no harm in giving him favourable attention. Democrats and independents could safely admit to quite liking him for they knew he wouldn’t become President. The closeness in the current primaries should serve as a wake up call. Even though he criticises leaders of the religious right, McCain is a solid Republican – a McCain Presidency would be bad news for people in America and overseas.


McCain’s only actions that should please Democrats and independents are inadvertent. By staging such a bitter primary battle, McCain has helped to drain Bush’s much feared finances, and ensured that whichever candidate emerges will be poorer and weaker by the end of it. In turn this split within the GOP could pave the way for a Gore victory in November – a cause worthy of Democrats’ and independents’ support.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Jacob Rowbottom is a lecturer in law at the University of Cambridge and author of Democracy Distorted (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jacob Rowbottom
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy