Thursday, October 16, 2008

Everything in moderation

Rich Rodriguez is suffering through his first season as head football coach at the University of Michigan -- and I do mean suffering. And for West Virginia fans, that's just fine.

After Coach Rodriguez announced last December that he was leaving Morgantown for Ann Arbor -- in what Mountaineers considered dishonorable fashion -- things got ugly. His lawn was trashed, his assistants' families harassed, and worse.

Many WVU fans remain bitter even now, almost a year later. Stewart Mandel of
said it best:
"Don't you see what you've become, West Virginia? You're the psychotic ex-girlfriend."
That metaphor doesn't sit well with my Morgantown missus, but it's apropos nonetheless. It's also a fair characterization of hard-core conservatives' attitude toward Sen. John McCain.

The American electorate is overwhelmingly moderate -- very few voters, even committed partisans, live at the extremes. According to
Pew, 36% of Americans identify themselves as Democrats and just 27% say they're Republicans. Extreme conservatives, a loud-but-small ideological minority, have failed to put forth a viable candidate because, to be blunt about it, a pure conservative isn't electable.

This time their booby prize was getting stuck with the moderate, aisle-spanning McCain -- and they're pissed. Sen. McCain never has been satisfactorily conservative. He collaborates with the liberal-evil enemy, even (gasp) Ted Kennedy. He doesn't walk around with a KJV under his arm.

In short, John McCain is just wrong -- but he's all they've got, so these humorless ideologues have spent the last ten months stalking him like they're some jilted lover who's run short of meds.

Whenever The Real McCain appears, right-wing enforcers come out of their burrows to slap him around. They parse every syllable, correcting him when he strays to the left of righteousness. They insist on rhetoric that caters to true believers but pulls him out of the electable mainstream. They give him support grudgingly, never letting him forget that he's their man only because he's not Barack Obama.

If Sen. McCain has been erratic over the course of the campaign (and that he has), it's a direct reflection of the tug-of-war between his inherently moderate political nature and the more conservative forces that keep yanking him to the right. He hasn't defined himself consistently to voters because a fractious faction has been busy remaking him in its image.

Should Sen. McCain win this election, it'll be no thanks to that faction. If he loses, however, he'd best embrace his own complicity -- after all, he's the candidate. He's the one who ignored his instincts and kept trying to make nice with the stalker.

See, even a moderate can have a spine. Sen. McCain simply lost his.