Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stealth Candidate

An interesting possibility to consider: How would conservatives feel about a candidate who ran somewhat as a centrist, then tacked much harder to the right once elected? We complain about liberals doing that, especially in the age of Obama, arguing that it isn't fully honest, not quite the straight bat, to pretend to be one thing for campaign purposes, then become another after election. What if the shoe were on the other foot?

We are used to all candidates tacking to the center a bit, partly to allay the fears of independents who fear bringing in an extremist. But presidents have been about as advertised in my lifetime. Carter looked more conservative when he ran in 76, but much of his move to the left came after his term was up; Reagan never hid his conservatism, and if anything, was a bit more moderate than his campaign rhetoric; Bush 41, much the same; Clinton's campaign strength was as an anti-conservative, which implied a liberalism that was never fully there; Bush 43 ran as a somewhat more conservative version of his father, and governed less conservatively than that; Obama tried to position himself to the center on some issues, and some folks apparently bought that, but it was pretty clear from early in the campaign that he was a man of the left. He has turned out to be a man of the further left, with the occasional centrist surprise, so there is perhaps a fair accusation of deception.

But what if McCain, known to be conservative in some ways but center-right in many others, turned hard right after being elected? He might explain with some fairness that the economic situation was dire enough that mild conservatism was insufficient, or might joke that Vice-President Palin was more persuasive than expected, but wouldn't there be much complaint for the left that he had run a false-flag campaign? And wouldn't they be at least partly correct?

This is not an entirely hypothetical question, because that is exactly what is happening in the UK just now. David Cameron ran as a safer, milder version of Toryism, suggesting that he would attempt to move the country rightward in a cautious, steady fashion. But with the economic crisis, he has become not merely a Tory of old, another Thatcher, but going well beyond that, and quickly. In a style that echoes some Rahm Emanuel, he is determined not to let this crisis go to waste, and is aiming high.

Perhaps the times require it, and I certainly approve of his policies, as little as I know in depth. But we should always wonder what we would do if the shoe were on the other foot, not only in politics, but in every aspect of our living. Here's a chance to rethink what we really mean and what we really think is fair and what is deceitful.

I don't yet know my answer.

1 comment:

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