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Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 1999 /29 Kislev, 5760

Don Feder

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John McCain: Agenda-challenged, media-beholden -- ACCORDING TO THE LATEST NEWSWEEK POLL, Sen. John McCain is now in a statistical dead heat with Gov. George Bush in New Hampshire. McCain has courage and charisma -- everything except an agenda.

From the get-go, Bush decided he didn't need conservatives and ran blindly toward the middle of the road. His platform (if it can be dignified as such) is puree of platitudes served on a bed of ambiguity.

By contrast, there's nothing flaccid about McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years as a guest of the Hanoi Hilton. There's also nothing that offers hope to those longing for a return to Reaganesque principles.

John McCain is the candidate of The New York Times editorial page and the "CBS Evening News." His key issues -- campaign-finance reform and anti-tobacco legislation -- are selected for their media appeal.

Concern about alienating his most ardent supporters causes McCain to regularly tack left on his ostensible conservative stands.

In August, he told The San Francisco Chronicle that, as president, he would not seek to overturn Roe vs. Wade. When reminded that this was a complete reversal of his position only a year earlier, the senator promptly reversed himself again -- not hard to do when your convictions are ephemeral.

In his 15 years in Washington, McCain established a generally conservative record-- about what you'd expect from a man who represents a very conservative state. But he never pushes conservative causes. His pro-forma votes are constantly undercut by media-appeasing rhetoric.

McCain has voted against gay marriage and efforts to add homosexuals to the class of protected persons for civil-rights purposes, but supported expanding hate-crimes laws to include sexual orientation

Then, to placate his media handlers, McCain criticizes his party for not reaching out to gays (if they're just another minority to be courted, why shouldn't they also be protected?) and recently met with the Log Cabin Club, a gay Republican group.

The senator is intoxicated by media acclaim. As president, what wouldn't he do to maintain their favorable opinion of him?

The McCain's guiding lights are honor and duty. While these are admirable virtues (especially after seven years of a man who has neither), they don't add up to a philosophy of government.

Dwight David Eisenhower, another military man, was our last president without a worldview. Ike did well in a non-ideological era. After four decades of the leftist assault on our national values, this isn't nearly enough.

We need a president who understands what's at stake in the culture war the way Ronald Reagan understood the stakes in the Cold War. McCain betrays no comprehension of the struggle that defines our age.

When asked what he'd do on a number of economic issues, McCain airily speaks of convening a panel of the "best minds" (a la Ross Perot) and letting them decide on a course of action.

We elect a man -- not a panel -- president. Voting for a president who intends to govern by committee (because, after almost two decades in Congress, he doesn't know where he stands on no-brainers like tax reform) is like choosing a mystery package from a grab bag.

McCain is a candidate without a program and a hawk without a compass. America needs to be defended, no less in the post-Cold War era. Like the man he would succeed, McCain can't seem to distinguish threats to America's security and vital interests from mere annoyances.

During the bombing of Belgrade, the senator fairly salivated for a ground offensive. The justice of our dubious cause aside, fighting the Yugoslav army on its terrain would have been a bloody business. How many Americans would have died to bestow statehood on a gang of narco-terrorists who are now merrily butchering the province's remaining Serbs?

If McCain would spill American blood over Kosovo, is there anything too trivial for his trigger-happy impulses?

To make all of this infinitely worse, John McCain is an authentic hero. It gives everything he does an aura of moral authority. Imagine how much more damage Bill Clinton would have done if he'd had credibility.

You don't question the courage of a decorated war hero. If that image were harnessed to the right causes, it would be a godsend.

Given McCain's issues hollowness, and affinity for the media's accolades, it makes him all the more dangerous.

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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©1999, Creators Syndicate