Only three things make Arizona Sen. John McCain recognizable as a Republican these days:
• He continues to stand out as a critic of congressional pork-barrel plundering, true to the GOP’s all-but-abandoned claim to being the fiscally responsible party.
• He remains hawkish on most defense and foreign policy matters.
• And an upper case R can be found next to his name in news stories.
Beyond that, for all intents and purposes, the once “conservative” McCain has drifted into the liberal camp and today has more in common with most Democrats than most Republicans. McCain early on seemed a Barry Goldwater conservative. But something happened after his brush with the Keating Five scandal in the 1980s.
Like a Boy Scout trying to win back merit badges from a liberal media, the senator began lurching leftward. More recently, the lurches seem to have something to do with frustrated presidential ambitions and an addiction to the spotlight.
The most famous (or infamous) of McCain’s heresies was his co-authoring of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, an unprecedented assault on free speech traveling under the guise of cleaning up politics.
He’s also lately been pushing a bill that would force the United States to drastically slash industrial emissions, in a roundabout way to force compliance with a Kyoto Treaty that has never been ratified for good reasons.
McCain last week led a group of 14 Senate “centrists” who derailed a much needed showdown over stalled judicial nominees. And he’s been leading the charge for federal involvement in regulating the use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports — showing that he recognizes no limits to government power.
We’re not arguing that slavishness to a party’s platform is always admirable. Even politicians should reserve the right to change their minds when circumstances warrant.
But watching McCain drift away from his conservative moorings and embrace blatantly statist positions on a host of issues, in what appears to be a calculated attempt to chase the media spotlight, has been discouraging.
The honorable thing for McCain to do would be to change party affiliation. But then he would just be a run-with-the-herd Democrat, rather than a “maverick” Republican — the moniker that made him a media darling.
He seems much more interested in turning the Republican “big tent” into a circus, with himself as ring master.