While Alan Keyes has done a spectacular job of articulating the conservative position in the Republican presidential debates, few people watch them. That’s why his percentage of the votes being cast is in single digits. When you set out to win an election you must seek out and hire experienced campaign strategists. If you can’t, or don’t do that, you aren’t going to win. It’s that simple. The adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” is as true in politics as it is everywhere else.

In contrast, John McCain sought seasoned veterans who helped him lay his groundwork. His campaign staff was thin and still is, compared to GOP frontrunner George W. Bush, but McCain hired some key people. As a result, what was supposed to be a quick cakewalk for George W. Bush, may turn out to be a marathon with a photo finish, if McCain can make it past Super Tuesday.

So who is John McCain and just how much difference is there between McCain and Bush? Is he conservative, moderate or even liberal, as some of the party faithful have suggested? The answer is he’s a lot like his Republican rival. You can’t put either one in an ideological box, but there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference in their core beliefs.

Then why this love affair between McCain and the left-of-center media? As Jonathan Chait explained in the Jan. 31 edition of The New Republic, it was “based on the media’s willful ignorance of McCain’s real beliefs.” The McCain record as cited by Chait and David Grann: “He received a zero rating from the liberal group, Americans for Democratic Action, and in 1996 he voted with his party 93 percent of the time. He voted to impeach President Clinton and supported every item in the Contract with America. He fought efforts to raise the minimum wage and opposed protections for gays and lesbians.” Chait sums McCain up as “an unconventional character with conventional, conservative views.”

If Chait is right, why the diatribe against McCain from so many conservative groups and highly respected religious leaders? He has led the fight to reform our campaign finance system and he likely would kill some extremely fat, sacred political cows. First attempts rarely are perfect, and McCain’s first attempt at reforming our campaign finance system was a humdinger. It would have prevented watchdog organizations, whether liberal or conservative, from publicizing the records of our elected representatives. That would have been a big mistake. The McCain Feingold bill, as originally written, would have been an incumbent protection act. Also, McCain’s first cut at preventing big money from controlling the political process overlooked unions. That too would have been a disaster.

Although his latest plan may not be the perfect solution, it is far removed from the original model, but many pro-life and pro-family groups still want us to believe that McCain is a traitor, intent on selling out his party. Their effort to tear down McCain and maximize his faults is matched only by their efforts to build up Bush and minimize his imperfections. This is disingenuous to say the least.

Everyone knows that money is power, and the big money tends to flow to those in power. Just a couple of weeks ago, a group of business leaders made a trip to Capitol Hill to tell congressional leaders to forget about China’s human rights abuse and slave labor camps. The warned that, if China wasn’t designated a permanent trading partner so it can be admitted to the World Trade Organization, they would withdraw their support — i.e. money.

A week later, on Feb. 15, House Majority Leader Dick Armey released a “Trade Expansion Contract with America” with three points. The third item was significant. It said, “We will extend permanent normal trade relations to the Chinese people. … We will bring this bill to the house floor at the earliest possible moment after the Administration presents a responsible package.” China was so confident that Clinton and these business leaders would succeed that it did not bother to wait for the vote before renewing its threats to take over Taiwan.

We know what has happened in the Clinton White House, but what has happened to the Republican Party? Those leaders gained their positions by promising to shrink government. They made a serious attempt their first year in power, but, after that, spending has gone up, up, up. One of the big reasons the American people haven’t been excited about tax cuts is that we are smart enough to know that unless there is a corresponding effort to downsize government, no tax cut can be permanent. Yes, the system corrupts. Every lawmaker knows it. They may not like it, but they understand how it works, and most have become somewhat comfortable with it.

However, the attacks against McCain coming from members of the Christian community, are in many ways the most dishonest and disturbing. The McCain campaign owned up to making phone calls to Catholic voters calling attention to the fact that Bush declined to criticize Bob Jones University’s policy on interracial dating during his appearance there. However, at the same time, the Bush campaign was benefiting from phone calls made by the Rev. Pat Robertson, who charged that one of McCain’s advisers, Warren Rudman, was a “vicious bigot.”

While Bush was trying to distance himself from those phone calls, one of his strategists, Ralph Reed, was on my radio program repeating the same message, taking out of context some inflammatory comments Rudman made — not against Christians in general, but against those who were attacking Gen. Colin Powell. If Bush had been sincere, all he had to do was make one phone call to Robertson and the calls would have stopped.

Even more puzzling is how people of faith would distort McCain’s position on the issues, or criticize McCain for doing something and fail to mention that Bush had, or is, doing the same thing. A recent column by the Rev. Jerry Falwell entitled “McCain: Reagan’s Second Coming?” which appeared last Saturday in WorldNetDaily, is a case in point. Rev. Falwell suggested that McCain, who calls himself pro-life, should define the term because of some slip-ups McCain made early in the campaign.

The truth is that Bush was equally awkward on the life issue in the early going. However, Falwell left his readers with the impression that McCain does not favor the repeal of the Supreme Court abortion decision, Roe v. Wade.

McCain’s website clearly states, “Roe v. Wade should be overturned and we should endeavor to change cultural attitudes about abortion in favor of life.” In fact, McCain and Bush now have exactly the same position on abortion. They favor the overturn of Roe, but would allow abortions for rape and incest.

However, McCain has indicated that he would seek to have the pro-life plank in the Republican Platform rewritten to include these exceptions, another big mistake. George W. Bush correctly stated that the pro-life plank represents the ideal and should remain as it is, but is Bush trying to have it both ways?

Colleen Parro writes in the Feb. 18 RNC-Life fax, “Michigan Governor John Engler and Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating have made it clear that they want to change the language. Both are major Bush backers, and Engler is expected to chair the Platform Committee. Should Bush get the nomination, he may remain above the fray.”

Both candidates have come a long way on solidifying their positions on the life issue. However, I have not heard any of these religious leaders who are criticizing McCain press Bush on why he allowed a highway in Texas to be named after one of the state’s most notorious abortionists, Dr. John B. Coleman. This troubles me.

Dr. Falwell also quoted from a press release from Dr. James Dobson, which Dobson wrote to distance himself from Gary Bauer’s endorsement of McCain. “John McCain refuses to support education vouchers as a viable option to allow students to rise above our failing public schools.” Again, McCain’s website tells a different story: “I strongly support school choice. Competition breeds excellence in education, as it does in every other sector of our society. Unless lower and middle-income parents have the same opportunity wealthier families do — to send their children to the school that best meets their education needs — public education will continue down a road of mediocrity that is a dead end for our children.” In fact, McCain would start a voucher test program immediately. Bush wants to wait three years.

Falwell includes another quote from the Dobson press release: “McCain has accepted huge contributions from the gambling industry and apparently is comfortable with the proliferation of gambling in American society. He has also accepted large contributions from producers of alcohol.”

Ralph Reed says that Dr. Dobson’s letter was an implied endorsement of George W. Bush. I do not see it that way. Dr. Dobson did not mention George W. Bush nor did Rev. Falwell. However, in fairness to both candidates, if you check with The Center for Responsive Politics you will find that George W. Bush leads in money collected from casinos and gambling interests, $95,000 versus $69,000 for McCain. Bush also is far ahead of McCain in contributions from beer, wine and liquor PACs, $12,546 to $2,000.

On the issues, Rev. Falwell and Dr. Dobson may unwillingly have misrepresented McCain’s position and that is unfortunate. However, those serving as spokespersons for the Bush campaign continually point to things McCain may have said some time ago in what appears to be a deliberate effort to mislead us into believing that is his final position. This is disturbing to me. While I have major disagreements with each of the GOP frontrunners, and have not yet decided how I will cast my vote, this kind of thing makes me less likely, not more likely, to vote for George W. Bush.

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