Jonathan Rauch, writing in The Atlantic, makes the case that John McCain should be understood not as a conservative heretic but as an old-school Burkean conservative at a time when much of the GOP may have come unmoored from those traditional roots.
I think there’s a lot of truth to this analysis (though I don’t really think it can account for everything McCain did early in the Bush administration — a lot of the positions he staked out for a couple of years there seem explicable primarily as driven by anti-Bush pique that he eventually got over) but it neglects the whole topic of foreign policy. Which is fine — the other issues are important, too. But foreign policy questions are McCain’s passion, he’s chosen to put them at the center of his campaign, and there’s really nothing at all Burkean about McCain’s take on them. The “our country is democratic, democracy is awesome, therefore we should try to conquer the entire world in the name of spreading democracy” syllogism at the core of McCain “Enduring Peace Built on Freedom” is straight out of the French Revolution.