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Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2000 / 18 Adar I, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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McCain's Majority --
THE REPUBLICANS now face a terrible choice. Option A: They can dump George W. Bush, who has demonstrated that he is unable to win a majority of votes except among the party's most conservative members--which is to say, he cannot win the general election against Al Gore. Tossing the loser overboard with nary a backward glance (call it uncompassionate conservatism), the Republicans can place their faith in John McCain, a candidate who has demonstrated an extraordinary appeal to voters across most of the spectrum, which is to say, a candidate who can beat Gore like the cheap, tinny gong that he is and sail into the White House the leader of a new majority party and a new majority (essentially conservative) politics. Or Option B: They can stick with the Bush boy and say hello to the Gore years.

Being Republicans, they instinctively yearn for B. In their minds, Republicans would like to win. In their hearts, they'd rather be right. And to be right is, for a true Republican, to be a proud member of a scorned, mocked, embattled minority. This is definitional. The true Republican knows that someone who is liked by the masses (or by the media) simply cannot be one of them. And there is no question that McCain is liked by the masses (and the media, for that matter).

In Tuesday's record-turnout Michigan primary, 18 percent of the voters were Democrats and 35 percent were independents. The Democrats broke 8 to 1 for McCain over Bush, and the independents went for McCain nearly 3 to 1. Twenty-nine percent of the vote came from first-time Republican primary voters, and McCain beat Bush by at least 16 percentage points with these GOP primary virgins. A third of the voters came from union households, and here again McCain beat Bush handily. He also beat Bush among self-identified moderates and liberals. The only voters who strongly supported Bush in Michigan, as in South Carolina and New Hampshire, were the conservatives--the true, right-in-their-hearts Republicans.

Thus, as McCain and Bush enter a series of primaries where crossover voting is not allowed, Bush is nicely poised to win the Republican nomination and lose the election, while McCain is well situated to win the election with his plurality-built "McCain majority," but will not get a chance to do so--unless the Republicans fight against their natural perversity and choose to be popular.

The Bush campaign is urging Republicans to stay true to the faith of misanthropy. Bush's failed Michigan campaign chairman, Gov. John Engler, warns that these new GOP voters are mischief-making Democrats crossing over just to hurt Bush and that they will never vote for McCain or any other Republican in the general election.

Engler's view fails to understand the magnitude of what McCain has wrought. Engler should read the most original political analysis published in years, an article by Walter Russell Mead titled "The Jacksonian Tradition," which appeared in the winter issue of the National Interest.

Mead argues that America's defining mass political faith is and long has been Jacksonianism, which competes with the elite Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian and Wilsonian religions.
Jacksonianism, writes Mead, "is less an intellectual or political movement than an expression of the social, cultural and religious values of a large portion of the American public." It functions fundamentally apart from party structures--"it is neither an ideology nor a self-conscious movement with a clear historical direction or a political table of organization." But it is continually capable of confounding the established political order and creating a new order, as Jacksonian leaders reach outside party lines to gather the masses around the Jacksonian code, the closest thing we have to a national sense of who we are and what we should be.

In modern Jacksonianism--Crabgrass Jacksonianism, Mead calls it--"the homeowner on his modest suburban lawn [is] the hero of the American story," and he or she lives by a code rooted in an "unfashionable concept: honor." The core principles of this code are self-reliance, equality, individualism and courage. A figure who can stir America's Jacksonian heart must embody these principles. And he must come along at a moment when the heart is ready to be stirred: "Jacksonians tolerate a certain amount of government perversion, but when it becomes unbearable, they look to a popular hero to restore government to its proper functions." Does any of this ring a bell?

"Jacksonian America," writes Mead, "has produced--and looks set to continue to produce--one political leader and movement after another." Exactly so. The McCain majority is the new Jacksonian majority, ready to be born--if McCain's party will only allow it.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
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06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
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06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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