McCain really lost what little respect I had for him when he started knocking Mitt Romney for not having lived a life of “public service.” Romney, you see, spent his life in the shameful pursuit of building an honest business, and he succeeded in spades, creating a billion dollar consulting empire.
To me, Republicans used to have one natural constituency: people that were rich or trying to become rich, or, at the very least, people that took some pride in pulling their own weight. If they didn’t have their neighbor’s money, they didn’t want the government to steal it for them becuase they knew they had not earned it. Republicans may recognize the need for a social safety net, but would rather not partake of one for themselves. This streak is the old fashioned American “rugged individualism,” and McCain is quite notably the first anti-business Republican since sometime Bull Moose, Teddy Roosevelt, to whom McCain is often compared.
While I am skeptical of off-shoring and impenetrably complex financial arrangments with 27 classes of stock designed to conceal a company’s financial picture, I still have a sentimental respect for people trying to make a buck along the lines of Calvin Coolidge’s insight that the “business of America is business.”
McCain’s class warfare rhetoric is crowned with a call for national service and sacrifice at the national level that is quite un-American in its particulars. Gene Healy captures its essential creepiness rather nicely:
John McCain provided an answer in a little-noticed article in the Washington Monthly, written shortly after 9/11. In it, McCain called for a quasi-militarized domestic national service corps as a way to address a “spiritual crisis in our national culture.” What Senator McCain envisioned was, well, rather creepy–a sort of jackbooted Politics of Meaning.
McCain praised City Year, an AmeriCorps initiative operating in 13 cities: “City Year members wear uniforms, work in teams, learn public speaking skills, and gather together for daily calisthenics, often in highly public places such as in front of city hall.” He also endorsed the National Civilian Community Corps, “a service program consciously structured along military lines,” in which enrollees “not only wear uniforms and work in teams… but actually live together in barracks on former military bases.” McCain calls for expanding these two initiatives and “spread[ing] their group-cohesion techniques to other AmeriCorps programs.”
“Group cohesion” and calisthenics in front of city hall reflect a version of patriotism, to be sure, albeit one that seems more North Korean than American. But all in all, the article provides further evidence of Welch’s claim that McCain has an essentially “militaristic conception of citizenship.”