You have to admire John McCain’s guts. Going to Virginia Beach, the home of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, to denounce the religious right is about as ballsy a move as we’re likely to see in Republican politics in this lifetime. It was a pungent, Sister Souljah moment. But once you get done being impressed by McCain’s cojones, you have to wonder a bit about his coherence. To denounce the “agents of intolerance” while standing next to Gary Bauer might be the act of a hero. It’s definitely not the act of an intellectual or moral purist.
“Political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value,” McCain said this morning. “The political tactics of division and slander are not our values.”
This was eloquently worded, as was the entire speech. But you might ask what kind of “intolerance” McCain is talking about. When it comes to the only variety that social conservatives express openly these days–intolerance of gays–Bauer is just as guilty as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, the two social conservatives McCain criticized by name. In fact, Bauer may be worse. Last October, Falwell invited Mel White, an openly gay minister who ghostwrote Falwell’s autobiography in the 1980s, to speak at his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. Bauer’s organization, the Family Research Council, decried the visit. In a statement issued at the time, the organization asserted that it “continues to have concerns about meetings of this nature.” In a similar vein, Bauer recently asserted that the decision by a Vermont court to allow gay marriage was “worse than terrorism.” Pat Robertson sounds tame by comparison. The worst thing he has said recently is that homosexuals are big in Scotland. The worst thing Falwell has said is that Tinky Winky looks like one of them.
The oddest moment in McCain’s speech was the blanket amnesty he granted to a few favored social conservatives in addition to Bauer. “Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship, is saving men from a lifetime behind bars by bringing them the good news of redemption,” McCain asserted. “James Dobson, who does not support me, has devoted his life to rebuilding America’s families.”
It’s clear why McCain exempted Dobson. Dobson has been Bauer’s mentor and sponsor. Dobson’s organization, Focus on the Family, has been the chief financial supporter of Bauer’s organization, the Family Research Council. Though there was something of a rift between Dobson and Bauer after Bauer declared his presidential candidacy, Bauer is eager to mend it. It’s a fair surmise that Bauer asked McCain to give Dobson a pass in his indictment as a personal favor. But in granting this favor, McCain undercut his otherwise compelling thesis. Dobson, whose efforts to “rebuild” families includes efforts to “cure” homosexuals, is even harder to defend than Bauer. A couple of years ago, Dobson threatened to lead a right-wing walkout from the Republican Party because Tom DeLay and Dick Armey are too moderate for his taste.
What’s more, Dobson has slandered McCain personally. When Bauer endorsed McCain, Dobson issued a nasty statement, attacking McCain in bitter and personal terms. “McCain … has sought and received enormous financial and political support from the Log Cabin Republicans and other homosexual activists,” Dobson said. “The senator is being touted by the media as a man of principle, yet he was involved with other women while married to his first wife, and was implicated in the so-called Keating scandal with four other senators. … The senator reportedly has a violent temper and can be extremely confrontational and profane when angry. These red flags about Senator McCain’s character are reminiscent of the man who now occupies the White House,” Dobson concluded. Robertson and Falwell have been both milder and more substantive in their criticisms of McCain.
This is not McCain’s first burst of selective outrage. All the time he has been blasting away at George W. for visiting Bob Jones University without protesting its policies, McCain has been giving a free ride to the man who was his most valuable ally in South Carolina, Rep. Lindsey Graham. Graham accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones himself. When Brit Hume pointed out this inconvenient fact while Graham was denouncing Bush’s visit to Bob Jones on Fox News Channel, Graham used the same defense Bush gave before he changed his mind and apologized to Cardinal O’Connor: Lots of other Republicans did the same thing before everyone suddenly woke up one day and decided it was unacceptable. “I was invited to go, I went, and I’ll accept responsibility for going,” Graham said. “People like Strom Thurmond and Bob Dole have gone.”
In other words, McCain’s problem isn’t with all “agents of intolerance” trying to exert influence within the Republican Party. It’s just with the agents of intolerance who don’t happen to be helpful John McCain.