Hillary Clinton More Conservative Than McCain?

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I never agreed with the argument made by James Dobson, Joe Carter, and others that Hillary Clinton would be preferable to Rudy Giuliani on pro-life grounds. The idea wasn't that she would do things as president that pro-lifers would be happy with. That's clearly false. As pro-choice as Giuliani is, she is much more committed to that cause, and he is at best lukewarm about it while retaining a much more conservative view on judicial matters, which would certainly have some impact on the future of Roe v. Wade.

No, the argument was that having a pro-choice president means (1) the party is pro-choice and (2) that there must be a pro-life party for the pro-life movement to succeed. (1) is shown false because no one thinks the Republican party is the party of guest worker programs and Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court just because President Bush wanted both. It's clear that (2) is also problematic given there was no civil rights party in the mid-1960s; significant numbers of members of both parties opposed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-1965. Also, significant numbers of members of both parties opposed the Bush plan on immigration (albeit for different reasons). Party support doesn't necessarily go to a president on every issue, and often movements span parties while facing serious opposition from many influential members of both parties. I could easily see something like that happening with a pro-choice Republican president (or a pro-life Democrat if that were to happen).

So the argument at least recognized that Giuliani might be better for pro-life concerns in the short term. The claim was that the movement would be killed long-term by not having a pro-life party. I don't think this kind of argument succeeds, but it's at least honest about the relative positions of the candidates. Compare, now, Ann Coulter's completely ridiculous argument against John McCain. She's not focused completely or even mostly on abortion. This is about general conservatism. Otherwise it sounds on the surface to be a similar argument. Her premises are analogous. John McCain would make the Republican party too liberal, and having a too-liberal GOP would mean GOP goals are sacrificed long-term. But there's a key difference. Even aside from the problems with each premise along the lines of the original Giuliani argument, Coulter makes one claim that's just completely ridiculous about the factual basis of this to begin with. She claims that Hillary Clinton is more conservative than John McCain.

How could anyone possibly think such a thing? If we judge foreign policy by the standard view within each party, McCain is to the left of the GOP on a few issues but mostly with them, and Clinton is to the right of the GOP on a few issues but mostly with them. He favors staying in Iraq and trying to stabilize the situation a lot more, citing the success of the so-called surge as evidence that progress can be made. She's insisting that troop withdrawal needs to begin as soon as she takes the presidency. He thinks we need more troops in Iraq. He's an absolutist against torture (and insistent on calling certain techniques torture that other Republicans are hesitant to describe as torture). But certainly that position isn't a liberal-conservative one. An argument can even be made that it's liberal to soften our resistance to such techniques. It's moral conservatism to oppose them, one might argue. He's also consistently voted to renew Patriot Act and similar provisions, and she's sometimes done so and sometimes not.

On social issues, there's no comparison. She's not at this point endorsing gay marriage, but she didn't want it banned on the federal level. She and McCain both want something like civil unions. He's not to the left of her there. There's no question when it comes to abortion. If she were to become a single-issue candidate, abortion would be it. Her view is as extreme as it gets. She's never been willing to allow any restriction on abortion for any reason. He gets almost full support from right-to-life groups except when the issue is campaign finance. On actual abortion issues, he scores almost perfect on his voting record. His one weakness has been stem cell issues, and his view there was the Bill Frist view that using stem cells from embryos that were already going to be killed would be ok, a view I have defended on pro-life grounds. But McCain doesn't even hold this view anymore. He's since been convinced that there are now alternative methods to pursuing stem cell research with non-embryonic cells so that there's no need even to use the cells from destroyed embryos. In other words, his view is basically the standard GOP view on the issue. [Update: This isn't as clear as I'd thought, but he seems to be moving in that direction. See here for more detail.] Hillary Clinton's is the standard view of her party that we ought to manufacture human embryos in order to destroy them.

On immigration, he's certainly to the left of his party but no moreso than the current president, and no one's arguing that he's to the left of Hillary Clinton. The fact is that her view on the matter is no more conservative than his. I'm not convinced that their views are the same. I suspect she's more to the left on the issue than he is. But I don't see any indication that he's left of her. The same is true of any economic issue I'm aware of. He supports vouchers, and she opposes them. He's left of his party in getting 50% ratings by environmentalist groups, but she gets close to 90%. He supported Medicare prescription drug expansion, but so did she. She doesn't support universal health care anymore, but her plan is no more conservative than what he supports. The Chamber of Commerce gives him a 72% rating and her a 35% rating. He's a free-trader, which is usally seen as a conservative issue. She got 50% support from a free trade group one year and 17% the previous year. She opposes any privatizing of social security. He favors partial privatization. She gets 58% on balanced budget issues. He gets 95%.

On other issues, she generally supports the ACLU (ranging from 60% to 80% over three years), and he generally opposes them. She gets a 100% rating from the Brady Campaign and an F from the NRA. He gets 14% from Brady and a C+ from the NRA.You can look at the comparison yourself here. I think it's pretty clear that he's more conservative than she is on most issues, often considerably so, and even when he's not he's no more liberal than she is. This goes not just for all three major areas (economic, social, and foreign policy) but for all the sub-questions within each area. There's no question that Ann Coulter is either completely unwilling to look at the facts or flat-out lying. McCain has certainly not been my favorite candidate throughout this primary, but I can't see how anyone would think he's to the left of Hillary Clinton even on one issue, never mind as a whole. So those who hate McCain can go ahead and try to present the argument against him in the form of the argument above against Giuliani. I'd still dispute it on the same grounds I gave against the Giuliani version. But it's neither hopelessly ignorant nor insidiously malicious, and Coulter's argument is at least one of those.

Now it's a separate question whether conservatives should vote for McCain in their primaries. I hope to treat that question in a future post (and I especially hope to do so before my own primary next Tuesday). I don't ultimately think conservatives should oppose McCain in the general election even with the more substantial argument analogous to the anti-Giuliani argument, but it seems completely silly to me to oppose him in the general election on the ground that he's more liberal than Hillary Clinton. That claim is utterly ridiculous, and if Ann Coulter had not already lost all my respect this would have finished her off.

1 Comments

Wow. I was also flabbergasted by Coulter's claims regarding McCain/Clinton. Great post. I think I'm actually going to vote for McCain in the primaries. Oregon has a late primary so I have some time to think about it, though. It comes down to who do I think is most likely to beat the opposition, not necessarily who I like best (Huckabee).

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