JOHN MCCAIN'S STRIDENT opposition to drilling in ANWR provides a belated opportunity for clarity. Republicans would be better off viewing McCain as a Scoop Jackson Democrat living under the Republican "big tent." They should consider any typical Republican positions he takes aside from his unstinting correctness on national security issues a bonus. Especially if McCain should become president, this mindset could help millions of Republicans retain their sanity over the ensuing four years.
The preceding isn't intended as a slam on McCain, nor is it intended to suggest that he is somehow being disingenuous by being a member of the Republican party. The modern Democratic party has no room for Scoop Jackson Democrats. Democratic regulars chased the last of that breed, Joe Lieberman, from the party in 2006.
Interestingly, Republicans would universally welcome Lieberman's presence in the party. Some even feel he would make an ideal nominee for vice president. If the party would so eagerly embrace Lieberman, wouldn't it make sense for party regulars to overlook McCain's various heresies? After all, by any objective measure, John McCain is a much more conservative politician than Joe Lieberman.
And yet there's something about McCain, isn't there? Yes, I'm a Romney guy and have been since 1994, but it's not just supporters of McCain's opponents who often find McCain irksome. McCain has an uncanny ability to drive virtually all conservatives nuts.
Sometimes, like when he voted against the Bush tax cuts, it almost seemed like McCain was being contrarian just for the sake of being contrarian. It seems as if McCain has a need to remind the Republican party, including the voters whose support he now seeks, that he will remain his own man and never allow party loyalty or political expediency to co-opt him.
There's an obvious nobility in this path. But sometimes, McCain's disdain for conservative positions takes on an almost childish air. In expressing his opposition to drilling in ANWR, McCain felt compelled to compare ANWR to the Grand Canyon. This is the kind of irritating moral preening that McCain should probably refrain from if he wants enough Republican votes to get the party's nomination.
The Grand Canyon is a national treasure, while ANWR is a frozen chunk of ice in one of the world's most remote spots. Nevertheless, McCain's message is clear: Only a Philistine would consider violating the Grand Canyon. Because ANWR is the equivalent of the Grand Canyon, only Philistines would support its despoliation for something so quotidian as the tapping of oil resources. The problem with this line of thinking is that the vast majority of Republicans find themselves on the Philistine side of this debate.
National Review's Jonah Goldberg visited ANWR several years ago when the debate on Arctic Drilling was at its peak. He reported:
The whole area is really just a Rorschach test for the imagination. There's little doubt that for much of human history most reasonable people would have considered this spot the definition of the word "godforsaken."
Even ANWR fetishists concede that in the winter, with its complete darkness and 70-below-zero temperatures--not counting wind chill--this is no paradise.
But then, it's no paradise in the summertime either . . . Once the temperature rises above 40 degrees, torrents of insects emerge to dash through the winged portion of their life cycle before the winter returns. Perhaps because they are in such a hurry, they don't take much time to be kind to the caribou; the swarms can kill calves and even adults.
There's little doubt that John McCain really believes what he says about ANWR. One of John McCain's virtues is that you can pretty much believe everything that comes out of his mouth. The fact that McCain's conviction is so unquestionable is one of the things that makes this otherwise trivial matter disturbing.
You have to wonder, Where did McCain come up with his conclusion that ANWR is the same as the Grand Canyon? What did he see that Jonah Goldberg missed? Did the senator's previous immersion in the balmy Arizona climate make ANWR's 70-below-zero temperatures feel like an invigorating change of pace? Or perhaps it was warmer out, but the bugs weren't biting the day the Senator hit ANWR.
Then again, has John McCain ever been to ANWR? We've inquired of the McCain campaign three separate times in the past day whether McCain knows of ANWR's epic beauty from first hand experience. Regardless of whether or not the senator has ever been there, his comments on ANWR reside somewhere on a continuum between laughable blustering and ignorant blustering.