Carol Platt Liebau: The McCain/Falwell Detente

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The McCain/Falwell Detente

Byron York writes today about the rapprochement between Senator McCain and Jerry Falwell. Quite astutely (as always), he points out that it's a situation dictated by mutual need. Just as John McCain needs Jerry Falwell's imprimatur to help him make inroads into the Christian conservative base, Rev. Falwell needs Sen. McCain in order to demonstrate that he still has political relevance.

But here's the problem. Both Sen. McCain and Rev. Falwell's calculations seem to assume that Rev. Falwell holds a lot of sway over Christian conservatives today -- even though the piece accurately points out that Rev. Falwell's influence has been much diminished. For one thing, in the internet age, it's easier for ordinary people to keep abreast of politicians and their activities on their own. And therefore, the "gatekeeping" function on the dissemination of information that activists like Rev. Falwell used to fill (in essence, "we're keeping track of the politicians because you can't/don't want to") is no longer nearly as vital. People have the ability to become thoroughly and quickly informed largely on their own.

And although Rev. Falwell's denunciation would doubtless be enough to sink Sen. McCain with many Christian conservatives, to me it's far from clear that any detente will be enough to win a significant number of Christian conservatives over to the McCain banner.

After all, it's always easier to wreck a candidacy through negative appraisals than to guarantee its success through positive ones. The problem for both men is that a lot of Christian conservatives already know about John McCain -- it's not as though he's just now being introduced to the Christian community. They've watched him operate for years, thanks to no small part to the voluminous press coverage that the Senator seems to court. That coverage has told them enough to make many Christian conservatives deeply suspicious of a McCain candidacy, for the same reason that some on the left are relatively receptive to it.


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