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Jewish World Review March 6, 2000 /29 Adar I, 5760

Don Feder

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McCain divides and slanders -- WITH HIS NASTY ATTACK on Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Sen. John McCain has declared war on the religious right. McCain is not only too liberal to be the Republican nominee, he's also too contemptible.

His Monday speech in Virginia Beach may rank as the low point in an unusually dismal primary campaign. The man who styles himself the Prince of Political Purity grabbed a slime bucket and broad brush, and proceeded to tar Robertson and Falwell as demagogues and bigots.

"They distort my pro-life position and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don't pander to them, because I don't ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message," McCain inveighed.

After accusing the religious-right leaders of maligning his supporters (i.e., ex-Sen. Warren Rudman), McCain proceeded to smear the duo in a style worthy of Al Gore.

"Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be a Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the right," McCain declared.

The senator didn't explain how the latter are comparable to Farrakhan (who once called Judaism a "gutter religion") and Sharpton, who's inspired racial murder. Given McCain's megalomania, perhaps he really believes that to question John McCain is the moral equivalent of anti-Semitism and race hatred.

Warren Rudman, and McCain's ties to him, are fair game. The ex-senator is a close confidante of McCain's and chairman of his national campaign. The Arizonan has indicated that, if elected, he might appoint Rudman attorney general, which would give Rudman -- who helped inflict David Souter on the nation -- considerable input on Supreme Court nominations.

In his memoirs, Rudman called religious conservatives "would-be censors ... bigots and latter-day Elmer Gantrys." He both damned them and the horse they rode in on. "If someone told me in the 1960s that one day I would serve in a Republican Party that opposed abortion rights ... advocated prayer in the public schools, and talked about government-inspired family values, I would have thought he was crazy."

Rudman aside, there's more than enough to raise doubts about McCain's vaunted commitment to the unborn. True, as a senator, he has a solid pro-life voting record. What would you expect from someone who represents a conservative state like Arizona?

Yes, John, it was that bad
On the other hand, there are those casual comments, which McCain latter disavows, that suggest he doesn't really mean it.

Last August, the senator told The San Francisco Chronicle he "would not support the repeal of Roe vs. Wade" because that would force women to have dangerous, illegal abortions.

In January, in response to a hypothetical question -- if his 15-year-old daughter became pregnant, what then? -- the avowed pro-lifer said that while he'd urge her to have the child, ultimately, it was her decision (the classic pro-choice position). McCain later changed his mind, calling the matter a "family decision." Still, it's likely that his spontaneous opinions are the real John McCain; the rest is posturing.

The left, including McCain's adoring media cadre, are convinced of this. In a Dec. 15 Washington Post column, Richard Cohen wrote, "McCain's people whisper, Don't worry. He's not really anti-abortion."

Robertson and Falwell have done far more for the Republican Party than John McCain. The latter's contribution consists of pushing a reform that would cripple GOP fund raising while leaving the political power of organized labor intact.

The religious right -- started by Falwell with Moral Majority, mobilized by Robertson through the Christian Coalition -- has become a Republican mainstay. The movement provided most of the leaders and foot soldiers who carried the party to victory in three presidential elections in the 1980s and delivered control of Congress in 1994.

McCain says Robertson and Falwell are trying to exclude all but "card-carrying Republicans" from the GOP. But it was the religious right that brought millions of evangelical voters into the party. Just as Ronald Reagan attracted blue-collar Catholics, Falwell and Robertson helped deliver the Bible Belt vote.

"The politics of division and slander are not our values," McCain told his Virginia Beach audience, then proceeded to divide and slander. The irony was not lost on everyone.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate