Oct 25 2008

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John McCain for President

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For long time readers, it will come as no surprise that this journal supports Senator John McCain for the presidency.

During his more than forty years of public service, Senator McCain has demonstrated the type of personal courage, iron will and honor that are essential components of presidential leadership. Moreover, he has a long record as a national-interest leader, who has chosen country before self, working with principle and pragmatism.

It is this kind of tested leadership that America requires during these dangerous times.

On so many consequential issues of our day, John McCain has been out ahead of the pack.

McCain was the enemy of pork barrel spending and budget deficits well before it became a chic issue for the nation at large. He pursued abusers of the public trust by investigating the cozy ties between lobbyists and lawmakers, including Jack Abramoff, even as the publicity from the investigation was sure to harm GOP prospects in the 2006 election.

McCain was a key co-sponsor with liberal Democrat Russ Feingold of legislation, still hotly debated for its impact on first amendment rights, which attempted to limit the impact of campaign contributions on legislative outcomes. On this, and his bipartisan support for global warming legislation and immigration reform, McCain took on his own Party and joined with responsible Democrats seeking change for the national interest.

On the Iraq War, McCain criticized the Bush administration and Secretary Rumsfeld in particular, for a de facto attrition strategy without a goal. He lobbied hard for the eventual Bush policy to double down on Iraq by sending in more forces at a time when the Washington political consensus considered the war lost and the troop presence a waste.

Working in a bipartisan fashion with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, McCain stoutly defended the Surge of troops and fought off all attempts by the Democratic leadership to withdraw the forces or interfere with implementation of the successful Surge strategy. He did this while leading the charge against interrogation methods that could be construed as torture.

McCain’s support for immigration reform and the Surge in Iraq occurred during the Republican primaries. He lost conservative support for his candidacy due to his position on immigration, and lost moderate, independent voters disenchanted with the Iraq war.  His campaign cratered and he was given up for the political dead.

When presented with the conflict between his policy goals and his political chances, McCain summarized his sense of honor and duty by saying, “I’d rather lose an election than lose a war.”

McCain’s first presidential decision, the choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, was a good one.

In the nearly two months since the selection was made, the second guessing has been fierce and the emerging stereotype of Palin is anything but flattering. But the choice was solid on a number of levels.

By bringing a woman on the ticket, McCain captured some of the excitement and idealism that had until then, been the sole providence of Obama and the Democrats. In tandem, McCain made a choice that would energize the Republican base and challenge the conventional wisdom of feminism in the 21st century. He reached out generationally to a potential new leadership for the Republican party.

Critics from both parties may snicker, but does anyone really believe that Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty would regularly attract crowds of 20-30,000?  Palin also brings (much maligned or ignored) practical experience to the job, both as a reformer and an executive. She has spent more time in her job as governor than Obama has spent actually working in the Senate. By time in service alone, she is more qualified to be president.

Palin has been lambasted for poor performances in early interviews, though she has come into her own since. Despite the evolution, there remains a consensus view that the governor lacks intelligence or skill, a view that is so completely at odds with her record and performances, and generally unfair when compared to her supposedly more experienced rival, Joe Biden.

The caricatures aside, McCain made a dynamic, game changing choice worthy of a president.

All these positive notices are not intended to put the McCain campaign above reproach.

Too often over the past eighteen months, the campaign has seemed more like a posse than a national organization. It has struggled mightily in that time to find a structure that fits a candidate who bridles at tight organization and clear lines of responsibility, and never really succeeded.

The near-death experience in the primaries seemed to have embedded a tactical view of survival and news cycles among longstanding senior leadership, instead of a strategic view of winning a national election. Despite a long record of dealing with crisis, during the campaign, McCain’s has shown an impulsiveness and impatience more reminiscent of Sonny Corleone than the calm countenance of his father, Vito in the timeless “Godfather.” But weighed against his record, these episodes are but a footnote, far from a governing method indicative of erratic leadership that Democrats try to portray.

Also, the endorsement of McCain does not mean that his opponent is without merit.

Senator Obama is an impressive individual on a number of levels.

First, his poise and grace belies his 47 years.  He is clearly intelligent, dedicated and idealistic. His rhetorical gifts have allowed him to inspire a new generation to the political process.

He has adroitly managed a disciplined campaign that has consistently outperformed expectations. His fundraising and grass roots operations will be the benchmark for national elections for years to come, smashing all existing records.

He beat the best known and (until then) the best funded and the most favored Democrat for the nomination. And as the first minority nominee of a major Party, stands on the precipice of winning the presidency. He has potential to be for liberals and progressives, what Reagan was to conservatives.

Obama’s disqualification for office is that his promise belies his achievements.  He promises post-partisanship but has never taken on his own Party or reached across the aisle. He promises sweeping government reform, but has done little legislative work in the Senate or even in the Illinois Senate.  He speaks to the sensible middle, but his voting record is entirely liberal.

His policy program stripped of its rhetoric, redistributes wealth from rich to poor, tightens regulation and increases taxation on business, builds impediments to free trade and creates new and complex bureaucracies to manage health care and greenhouse gas emissions. It would exchange conservative lobbying interests for liberal ones, with the AFL-CIO at the top of the line.

In foreign policy, Obama offers a contradictory muddle of subordinated multilateralism and naïve unilateralism. The program would be more coherent if he simply stated that his foreign policy would be the opposite of whatever the Bush administration would supposedly do – hardly an effective policy at all.

On the most important foreign policy issue of our time – Iraq – Obama has been wrong, voting against the Surge that has restored order and will allow our troops to come home with honor.

Obama’s first presidential decision, his choice of Joe Biden as running mate, was successful, bringing Washington service and a long foreign policy record to the ticket.  However, Biden’s performance on the campaign trail has been uneven at best, with a seemingly endless stream of gaffes, any one of which makes Sarah Palin’s flubs pale in comparison.

Despite his foreign policy chops, Biden was wrong on Iraq too, proposing a partition that was roundly dismissed and opposing the Surge of troops that succeeded. As Palin is stronger than her public caricature, Biden is seemingly weaker than his.

Nevertheless, Obama is a comer in American politics. Had he chosen not to run this year, his greatest weaknesses would have dissolved with additional Senate experience.  While Obama is often compared to Reagan, Reagan had decades to think through his principles and how this informed a coherent conservative plan.  Additional seasoning might have done the same for Obama.

But simply put, four years in the Senate – two of those years on the campaign trail – simply does not qualify Obama for the highest office in the land with economic turbulence at home and danger and uncertainty abroad.

John McCain’s experience by contrast, in war and peace, and as a legislator of consequence, makes him an ideal choice captain the ship of state through difficult waters.

In closing, the mantra of this very long campaign has been “change.”

Both campaigns have laid out different versions of the change they will bring. The public’s desire for change from an unpopular president is palpable. But beyond that, perhaps the voters’ appetite is less than it appears.

This decade has been awash with change. Terrorist attacks, two wars, natural disasters.  Major legislation has reorganized our homeland defenses, how we educate our children and how we receive prescription drugs for seniors, how we tax individuals and businesses.

At one point, a complete overhaul of Social Security was on the table.

The decade has exposed corruption in Washington and corporate America. Legislative battles have been fought over foreign policy, individual rights and the definition of torture. As we are preoccupied in America, China and India are rising, mineral and fossil commodities are becoming scarce. The challenge of globalization continues.

If anything then, this has been a decade of massive change for the U.S., epic, exhausting change.

And with that logic, perhaps voters will look beyond change for its own sake, which they will get in either outcome, to the benefits derived from the choices offered by McCain and Obama this year. For a nation in need of a “time out,” an experienced, bipartisan hand in the presidency is much like a comfortable pair of shoes; sometimes, that’s the right change after a long hard day.

We’ll see.


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