Magazine article The American Prospect

Big Bad John

Magazine article The American Prospect

Big Bad John

Article excerpt

LET ME BEGIN BY ADMITTING THAT IF FORTUNE decrees that the next president of the United States must be another conservative Republican, I'd certainly rather it be John McCain than George Allen, Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich, or most of the other current right-wing heartthrobs.

But have no illusions: McCain is a very, conservative Republican who has now embarked on the project of reaffirming his position as the rightful heir to Barry Gold-water's politics as well as his Senate seat. Last month, for example, McCain voted to extend the very tax cuts that he had once voted against, a move that tax-cut strategist Larry, Hunter correctly described to The Washington Times as "a further morphing of McCain into George W. Bush."

So, with this homecoming, we bring to an end one of the most fascinating eras in American politics: the five years during which McCain, with the help of an adoring press, essentially defined and controlled the concept of "bipartisanship." Consider that there have been two ways to get anything done since Bush became president: The the way of the Hastert Rule and the way of McCain. The Hastert Rule is an explicit operating principle of the House of Representatives that holds that nothing can reach the House floor unless it has support of a majority among Republicans alone. Combined with other practices, it has effectively ruled out most bipartisan deals and has rendered Democrats irrelevant.

The only exceptions to one-party rule have come from McCain, most notably with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and with last year's amendment banning torture. McCain's role in the unsuccessful deal on climate change is also worth noting. Bipartisanship has been a scarce resource in recent Congresses, and McCain effectively cornered the market.

This is--was--quite an achievement. With the possible exception of Henry Clay, "The Great Compromiser," has there ever been an American politician who has managed to hold and exercise informal power in this particular way? Back when I worked in the Senate, which sometimes seems as distant as the era of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, there were always multiple senators and representatives who were likely to be involved in any bipartisan deal. Republican senators like Senators John Chafee, John Danforth, and Dave Durenberger were sure to find seats at any bipartisan table, and even conservatives like Pete Domenici of New Mexico could be brought into coalitions, such as his alliance with Paul Wellstone on mental health. …

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