Friday, April 25, 2008

McCain Mounts Caring Conservative Social Agenda

Over the past few days, John McCain has taken his campaign to the hardscrabble corners of the deep south to showcase his agenda of caring conservatism.

In "
On McCain Tour, a Promise to Find ‘Forgotten’ America," the New York Times notes:
Senator John McCain opened a weeklong tour of the nation’s “forgotten places” in the Alabama Black Belt on Monday by acknowledging the challenge he faced in appealing to African-Americans and admitting that “I am aware of the fact that there will be many people who will not vote for me....”

But in a speech delivered against the backdrop of one of the great symbols of the civil rights movement, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, promised to hear voters’ concerns and be “the president of all the people,” including those who supported his competitors.

McCain's realistic in his assessment, as much of the black community continues to be mired in a politics social policy largesse rather than personal responsibility.

Yet considering the failures of the Johnson adminisration's war on poverty (there's been little improvement in the poverty rate since the 1970s), McCain's correct to adopt na educational and market-based approach to facilitate upward mobility among the nation's poor.

Time calls this a "caring conservative" agenda that will move away from Democratic big government themes:

Rather than promise much new federal money to address poverty, he spoke of "controlling spending" and scrubbing federal agencies for waste. Rather than announce any major anti-poverty initiatives, he proposed a three-month holiday from the gasoline tax, some subsidies for rural Internet providers and a doubling of the tax credit for families with dependent children. Rather than follow in the footsteps of Lyndon Johnson, he praised the nobility of Johnson's cause but then pointed out the failures of the "War on Poverty" effort.

"He proclaimed that large government bureaucracies and government was going to solve the problem," McCain said of Johnson. "Government didn't." When asked if he could promise that he would not cut the discretionary federal programs that help the impoverished communities he visited, McCain answered carefully. "I can't guarantee that every single program will be kept in place," he said. "But I can guarantee that every program that's viable, and that's achieving the purpose for which it is intended will be kept in place...."

McCain has said his major economic emphasis will focus on stimulating the economy by continuing President Bush's tax cuts, slashing the corporate tax rate and reducing wasteful federal spending, which he said would be accomplished by banning Congressional earmarks and reviewing efficiency of the cabinet-level agencies. He says he expects these policies, including a continuation of a lower capital gains tax rate, to help the economy grow, benefiting those at the bottom of the ladder as much as those higher up.

By contrast, both Democratic candidates have focused more of their policy prescriptions on measures to provide direct government support for the poor, including tax credits targeted for low-income workers, new spending on early childhood education, a higher minimum wage, and health insurance options available to all Americans. Obama and Clinton say they would pay for these plans by allowing President Bush's tax cuts to expire, and possibly raising the Capital Gains tax, moves that would have a greater impact on the wealthy than the poor.

In the coming days, McCain says he plans to deliver an address discussing some of the policy lessons of his trip through struggling parts of the country. He said he was impressed with the importance of Community Development Block Grants, which provide federal funds for infrastructure work. He also said he had seen the importance of allowing local communities to play a major role in deciding how to spend federal aid. He has also promised to return to many of the communities he visited.
McCain has a significant, complicated challenge before him in selling this message.

The left, for example,
is hammering McCain's visit to New Orleans, where the candidate faulted the Bush administration's response to the Katrina disaster.

Yet, while McCain focused on the Bush administration exclusively, the presumptive GOP nominee should further develop the theme of state and local responsiblity in the welfare of the poor.

Recall Bob Williams' message on
Democratic Party's failure in Louisiana in 2005:

Many in the media are turning their eyes toward the federal government, rather than considering the culpability of city and state officials. I am fully aware of the challenges of having a quick and responsive emergency response to a major disaster. And there is definitely a time for accountability; but what isn't fair is to dump on the federal officials and avoid those most responsible--local and state officials who failed to do their job as the first responders. The plain fact is, lives were needlessly lost in New Orleans due to the failure of Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the city's mayor, Ray Nagin.
Recall, too, that Louisiana's voters elected Republican Bobby Jindal to the statehouse in 2006, a vote that signifies the rejection of Louisiana's ineffective Democratic Party leadership in times of crisis.

McCain must continue to make the case that the GOP agenda offers a better vision of hope and uplift than the failed Democratic Party social welfare policies of the last forty years.