Monday, July 07, 2008

End of an Era?

On the day marking U.S. independence from Great Britain, former Senator Jesse Helms passed away at the age of 86. Helms, the well-known Republican politician, has been the ultra-conservative enemy of the Democratic party since he came to the Senate in 1973. Many have hailed him as one of the fathers of the modern conservative movement, with his beliefs about such things as racial segregation. There is no doubt that this man made a deep impact on U.S. politics in his time. However, one question remains: will his legacy live on without him?

The conservative movement has suffered a small blow with his passing as did the Moral Majority with the death of Jerry Falwell last spring. Helms was certainly a leader in conservative American politics but I find it hard to believe that his death will mark the fall of the conservative movement. However, it seems that this, in combination with other events, may inspire a transformation in the more conservative branches of the Republican party. With McCain we already see hints of this transformation. Through this nominee we see that while the commitment to some positions is not likely to change, such as the right to life and support for military funding, Republicans may be more willing to shift positions than they have in past. The McCain campaign is departing from the policies of the Bush administration. In the effort to speak to the moderate voter, who is the main focus of this election year, McCain has tried to push his message closer to the middle and farther away from far-right, conservative message of previous Republicans.

But he hasn't done this just for the election. For years, McCain took a lot of flak for taking on positions that were sometimes more popular with Democrats and extremely moderate Republicans, even serving as an ally to the opposing party on certain issues. So what does this mean when we consider that he is the GOP nominee for the White House? Could this be signaling a fundamental shift in the conservative agenda? As with all things political, this remains uncertain but having McCain as the leader of the Republican party would certainly suggest that not only does the GOP believe McCain to be best able to win against the Democrats, but he is also the best person to share the Republican message with the American people. And, though some actions, like meeting with famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham and his son, reveal the political necessity of sticking to some old approaches, the general message McCain speaks about is somewhat less conservative than usual, suggesting that the Republican party may in fact be ready for a new shift, however slight it may be.


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