McCain & "Common Sense Conservatism"
In a pair of speeches to conservative audiences on Thursday, Senator McCain laid out an agenda of what he's calling "common sense conservatism." National Journal's Marc Ambinder has some good coverage and analysis of the speeches, and Adam Nagourney from the NYT also weighs in. You can read McCain's speech to the Federalist Society here and the one to GOPAC here.
McCain argues in both speeches that the Republicans lost their House and Senate majorities not because voters disagreed with the party's governing philosophy. "On the contrary, I think they rejected us because they felt we had come to value our incumbency over our principles, and partisanship, from both parties, was no longer a contest of ideas, but an ever cruder and uncivil brawl over the spoils of power."
"Hypocrisy, my friends, is the most obvious of political sins. And the people will punish it. We were elected to reduce the size of government and enlarge the sphere of free and private initiative. Then we lavished money, in a time of war, on thousands of projects of dubious, if any, public value. We responded to a problem facing some Americans by providing every retired American with a prescription drug benefit, and adding another trillion dollars to a bankrupt entitlement. We increased the size of government in the false hope that we could bribe the public into keeping us in office. And the people punished us. We lost our principles and our majority. And there is no way to recover our majority without recovering our principles first.
A century ago, Teddy Roosevelt took on the special interests. Let the party of Teddy Roosevelt take the lead in cleaning up Washington today. Let's start with pork barrel spending and corporate welfare; eliminate all earmarks; pass the line item veto; employ honest budget accounting; and end emergency spending bills for non emergencies as a way around budget limits. Let's ban all gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, and keep lobbyists off the floors of the House and Senate.
... To keep our nation prosperous, strong and growing we have to rethink, reform and reinvent: the way we educate our children; train our workers; deliver health care services; support retirees; fuel our transportation network; stimulate research and development; and harness new technologies. Let that challenge be the new Republican calling. Let's invite a genuine contest of ideas within our party and with the other party."
In the speech to the Federalist Society, McCain noted "The genius of our founding fathers wasn't that they were better people than those who came before them; it's that they realized precisely that they did not have a greater claim to virtue, and that the people who followed them weren't likely to be any more virtuous than they were. That critical insight led them to realize something important about power: if its exercise isn't limited, it will become absolute. Because power always tries to expand. It's a law of nature, of human nature."
After a discussion about judges (in which he proclaims his pride at being part of the Gang of 14), McCain says "Of course, to paraphrase Mr. Madison, if angels wrote laws, we wouldn't need judges at all. Unfortunately, angels don't write laws; Congress does. And we're called a lot of things, but no one would mistake us for angels. Too frequently, we write laws that are unclear, we vote on laws we haven't adequately debated, and sometimes, I am sad to report, we vote on laws we haven't even read. When we pass laws like that, we leave too much to the discretion of our federal judges. We fail in our role to ensure that the judiciary's scope is limited. As we debate reforms to the practices and procedures of Congress, I hope, particularly we Republicans, will take an honest look at how we fail to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities when we write laws that invite judicial activism and misinterpretation."
Reform, limited government and a true contest of ideas. Sounds pretty commonsensical to me.