Bill Bennett: Don't Forget the Conservative Side of John McCain

Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett said Friday that John McCain was a "real conservative" and criticized those who have deemphasized that point following the senator's death.

Bennett, who ran the Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1988, noted on Fox News that the media, politicians, and others have praised McCain, who died last weekend at the age of 81, for his bipartisanship on a range of issues, from immigration to education. What these voices have not acknowledged this week, Bennett added, is that McCain had a conservative record on both foreign and domestic policy.

"[What] I don't see emphasized this week is John McCain the conservative, the warrior, the guy who was always for military funding, always for projecting American power overseas, the guy who never gave up on the Iraq War, supported it all the way," Bennett said. "I think we need a little more balance on that. There was a real conservative John McCain."

Fox News host Bret Baier then noted how the media criticized McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign for holding conservative positions.

Bennett, now a conservative commentator who hosts a podcast, said that many people "are whiting out a lot of John McCain's experience in life."

Bennett also reflected on his experiences with McCain, saying he "loves" the late senator, who he called a "wonderful guy." The former secretary of education then cast doubt on the idea that bipartisanship in itself is something that ought to earn McCain plaudits.

"Bipartisanship in itself, for which he is being exalted this week it seems to me, is not a good in itself," Bennett said. "Bipartisanship is good if it's a good bill."

He then said that some of McCain’s lauded bipartisan efforts—such as the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, some of whose provisions the Supreme Court later struck down on constitutional grounds—did not work out.

In addition to commending McCain's military service and conservatism, Bennett praised the senator's sense of humor.

"When he was asked about Woodstock, remember, they said, 'What is your opinion of Woodstock?' He said, 'I don't recall much about it. I was tied up at the time.' Indeed he was, literally," Bennett recalled.

McCain, who is currently lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, was a prisoner of war in Vietnam from 1967 to 1973.

Published under: John McCain