ST. PAUL – In the eighth year of Republican dominance of the executive branch of the federal government, after an extended period in which Republicans also controlled the legislative branch of the same federal government, the party’s nominee for president told its convention, “We need to change the way government does almost everything: from the way we protect our security to the way we compete in the world economy; from the way we respond to disasters to the way we fuel our transportation network; from the way we train our workers to the way we educate our children.”
Never in recent American history has the candidate of a party seeking to maintain its hold on the presidency seen its candidate so aggressively dismiss the legacy of the incumbent commander-in-chief and his allies.
John McCain, the man George Bush so brutally beat for the Republican nomination in 2000, accepted that nomination in 2008 by declaring himself to be at war with Bush and Bushism.
“I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party,” McCain told the Republican National Convention Thursday night. “We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Senator (Barack) Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. We lost their trust, when we valued our power over our principles.”
“We’re going to change that,” McCain promised the delegates and alternates who had just chosen him to lead the fight to keep the White House in the hands of their party. “We’re going to recover the people’s trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.”
Of course, McCain had to say this.
George Bush is a dramatically unpopular president, with an approval rating as low as that attained by Richard Nixon in the depths of the Watergate scandal. And the Republican party has become so riddled with corruption that, at a convention that has been graced with the presence of Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and others party leaders who have been forced from office under clouds of scandal, McCain felt required to announce that, “I’ve fought corruption, and it didn’t matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans.”
To an even greater extent than his newly-minted running-mate, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin – who introduced herself as a battler against crooked Republicans — McCain referenced his own record as “a maverick,” declaring that, “I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.”
The whole anti-Republican Republican ruse might have succeeded, were it not for the fact that McCain’s rhetoric was at odds not merely with his own voting record – 90 percent with Bush – and his own Bush-on-steroids agenda.
Even as he was pledging to “change the way government does almost everything,” the senator from Arizona announced his commitment to much, much more of the same.
He pledged to maintain endless occupations of distant lands that empty the U.S. Treasury of precious resources that might pay for infrastructue renewal, housing and job creations initiatives for hurting Americans.
He outlined trade and tax policies that would extend, rather than alter a failed economic status quo.
He reintroduced flawed proposals for health care, education and entitlement reforms that Americans have wisely rejected.
And he threatened to achieve “energy independence” by declaring:
“We will drill…”
McCain’s rhetoric was that of a liberated man declaring his independence from his party’s failed president and corrupt Congresses.
But his platform was that of Republican candidate who, for all of his talk of reform, offers the crudest continuity to a country that is crying out for change.