If you don't know who Thad McCotter is, don't worry; you will soon. The next GOP candidate debate is scheduled for August 11, and it's safe to say that McCotter's presence in the lineup will get a lot of folks' attention. Let's put it this way: he's not only the tallest guy in the room, but the brainiest. Also, the wittiest -- as anyone who's seen any of his frequent appearances on FOX's "RedEye" knows.
When I first heard the name Thaddeus McCotter several years ago, I pictured an older Southern gentleman, white-haired, with spectacles and an old-fashioned pocketwatch in his vest, complete with a fob... Colonel Sanders without the bowtie. Whoa. I was way off base. Turns out the five-term Michigan Congressman is lean and tall, relatively young, athletic (football and baseball), and the lead guitarist in a Congressional rock-n-roll band, the "Second Amendments."
Formerly the head of the Republican Policy Committee -- the #4 GOP leadership position in the House -- McCotter represents Michigan's 11th district, which includes western and northwestern suburbs of Detroit. A Detroit native, McCotter is highly sensitive to the automotive industry which employs (or has employed) many of his constituents. This may explain several pro-union votes cast by McCotter that many GOP primary voters, myself included, may find troubling.
However, since there is no perfect candidate ("perfect" being defined as: "agrees with me 100% on every issue"), I have a one-free-pass policy: I give each candidate a "Get Out of Jail Free" card on one issue. I figure that's as close to perfect as you're ever going to get in an imperfect world -- and in the particularly imperfect world of politics. And that's just on the issues. The perfect candidate also needs to be someone who can win.
Let me tell you how close to perfect McCotter is. He has the sheer intellectual firepower of Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann's passion for the Constitution, the even temperament of Tim Pawlenty, the moral compass of Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain's can-do American spirit. All that, plus a great sense of humor.
On the issues, McCotter is pro-life, pro-Israel, anti-Obamacare; he advocates lower taxes, reduced spending, small government, a strong defense, energy independence and Paul Ryan's budget plan. He believes in responsible stewardship of natural resources but doesn't buy the global warming hoax. The most recent piece of legislation he's introduced is H.R. 2261, a bill to cut off United States contributions to the United Nations if if the U.N. goes through with recognizing an independent Palestinian "state" as planned this fall.
Actually, most of the GOP candidates share those views. I don't understand conservative pundits who complain about the lineup of Republican candidates. I happen to think we suffer from "an embarrassment of riches." Our candidates -- those who have announced and the potential ones waiting in the wings -- are fabulous, in my opinion, both in their stands on the issues and in their personal skills and experience. If anything, the problem is one of choosing between many excellent and virtuous people.
So what makes McCotter stand out? At least two very major things. First, he has a profound vision of the Big Picture -- and, crucially, the ability to articulate it -- that is reminiscent of G.K. Chesterton. Second, he has thought through, and deeply cares about, some hugely important issues that I don't see anyone else in the GOP addressing:
1. the very real challenges posed by globalization (jobs go to where labor is cheapest, even if that means prison and slave labor);
2. the fact that Communist China is really and truly Communist, can not be trusted, and indeed is taking hostile action against us politically, economically, technologically and militarily;
3. the fact that both for economic and for military security, we need a manufacturing base in this country;
4. the crucial importance of “intermediating institutions" to the social fabric -- churches, parent-teacher organizations, Kiwanis clubs, softball leagues, Boy Scouts, small-town chambers of commerce, etc. -- without which society is hollowed out, reduced to isolated and vulnerable individuals on one end and an intrusive, overreaching government on the other. It is these intermediating institutions that help keep families and communities strong, strong enough to neither desire nor create an opening for the "nanny state."
This last point is what Catholic social teaching calls "subsidiarity" -- the principle that "human affairs are best handled at the lowest possible level, closest to the affected persons." In other words, if a need can be met by one's family, then the school or community should not interfere. If the local community can meet the need, then the state or its agencies should stay the heck out of the picture.
Thad McCotter "gets" all this on a deep, instinctual level -- and that's another reason his thinking reminds me of G.K. Chesterton, who was probably the most able exponent in the English language of the concept of subsidiarity. Many of our conservative candidates are "pro-family" -- but precious few (Santorum is the only other one I can think of) explicitly recognize the crucial principle of subsidiarity, without which the bones of a pro-family stance have no flesh.
McCotter asserts that too many of us on the political right, losing sight of subsidiarity, have become almost as ideological as our enemies on the left. We have gotten suckered into the ideology of "creative destruction," which is not true conservatism at all. Here's how McCotter explains it in his book, Seize Freedom!: "Creative destruction" is
the ideology that led "conservatives" to falsely think materialist panaceas -- notably the chimera of "free trade" -- would solve all problems between peoples. Enrapt by this deceit, the heralds of "creative destruction" (for everyone but themselves) placed a greater value on saving five dollars on an imported shirt from a sweatshop than on defending the inherent dignity of individuals; than on ensuring fair competition and jobs for American manufacturers and workers; than on securing the national security of the United States from predatory nations like Communist China; and, yes, than on preserving the moral foundations of American culture, which secures and sustains our free-market prosperity.
I like and trust Thad McCotter because he espouses the basic, common-sense truth that I first heard articulated by Mike Huckabee back in 2008: To be secure and to remain free, our country absolutely must be self-sufficient in three things -- food, energy and defense. Did you know that we have been outsourcing various defense-systems components? Not to mention that we import many of the machine tools that we need for manufacturing the components that we do still make here. Unlike any of the other candidates, Thad McCotter prioritizes not just "jobs" in the abstract, but specifically the necessity for America to restore its manufacturing base, which he calls our "Arsenal of Democracy."
As for the "food" leg of the three-legged food-energy-defense stool, you will notice that McCotter is the only Republican candidate who mentions farmers. (He even put that electric guitar of his to use playing at a Farm Aid concert.) McCotter believes that the information-and-services economy so beloved by the liberal elites is no stable economy at all. A healthy, secure America, he says, is a nation of factories, and (significantly to this heartlander) "a nation of farms."
As an admirer of E.F. Schumacher, Wendell Berry, and G.K. Chesterton, I love it that McCotter believes these things to his marrow. But the scheming political activist in me that wants to win elections rejoices that McCotter's combination of conservative social values, strong-national-defense advocacy, and blue-collar (both factory and farm) sympathies will appeal to precisely those same working-class voters who enabled Ronald Reagan to win the White House, introducing the term "Reagan Democrats" to the American political lexicon.
McCotter can win those people in the middle who in 2008 bought the lie that Obama was a "moderate" and a "uniter." Those people, now disillusioned, are more than ready to vote for a Republican, provided that they feel that he or she understands their concerns. Most importantly, Thad McCotter will win them not by watering down conservatism, but by explaining it well enough to persuade people of the logic and rightness of conservatism. Just as Reagan did.
Congressman Pat Tiberi of Ohio says that McCotter represents an important part of the Reagan coalition that the GOP is going to have to win again to be a successful national party. "When my dad voted for Ronald Reagan, it was the first Republican he ever voted for," Tiberi says. "He was a Catholic, a union worker, an immigrant. We need to reach voters like that who share our values but identify with the Democrats for demographic reasons." McCotter, he says, "clearly and confidently communicates what he believes" in a way that "speaks to them."
All right, enough about Thad McCotter. Check him out for yourself. Here he is in Whitmore Lake, MI, announcing his candidacy at a July 4th weekend "Freedom Fest":
As you can see, Joshua Sharf got it right when he said, "McCotter takes his politics seriously, but not himself, a rare characteristic in a politician."
McCotter has a solid worldview, not just a set of talking points; a philosophy, not just a personal promotion strategy.
His book, Seize Freedom!, is available from Amazon; many of his speeches and interviews are online at YouTube; and the best profiles I've seen of the man are at American Spectator and the New York Daily News.
Check out his campaign website, McCotter 2012.
As for me, I'm counting down the days until the Iowa Straw Poll. McCotter's going to rock it -- in more ways than one.
Cross-posted at The Heartlander