I'm off the fence and for McCain
By Charles Bird Posted in 2008 — Comments (162) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
This will be my only front-page post in support of a Republican candidate for the nomination. John McCain has little to no chance of getting nominated, but I'm supporting him anyway. My reasons are backing him are a combination of things, having to do with my agreement with him on key issues and for what I see as shortcomings in the other candidates. The slate of candidates is imperfect, so my rationale was to go with the least imperfect one. My three main criteria for picking a president in this election cycle are national security, the economy, and integrity. As I see it, McCain is the most solid of the candidates in those categories, so let me go through them.
More below the fold...
National security. McCain has been stronger than the other candidates on this issue, in my opinion. I believe he is the most right on Iraq and national security. He rightfully criticized Bush and Rumsfeld for undermanning the war effort in Iraq and for our failing strategy, going against most of the other Republican Senators in particular and Republicans in general. Now that we are seeing clearer signs of success via more troops and a more workable strategy, we should give McCain credit for speaking out. We should also recognize that it was Bush who came around to McCain, not the other way around.
I think McCain is also right on the matter of coercive interrogations. Waterboarding, to name one technique, is illegal and it is torture. I'm confident that these methods work, but they're morally wrong and we shouldn't be using them unless there is a ticking time-bomb situation. Less importantly, I don't know how much intelligence we've garnered through such coercion, but I would have a hard time believing that the intelligence benefits received have exceeded the political costs paid, both domestically and internationally. It's a problem. My take is that we can win this War Against Militant Islamism without lowering our standards.
McCain was prisoner of war in Vietnam, and he was tortured, so his opinion about the practice carries a lot of weight with me. What's more, to this day he feels the effects that his captors levied on him. From Vanity Fair:
Like his friend Bob Dole, he tries to minimize his disabilities, but they are serious. He suffered severe injuries when his plane was shot down over North Vietnam 40 years ago; his right knee was broken when his seat was ejected from the cockpit, and both arms were broken in the crash. These injuries were compounded by the profound abuse he endured during five and a half years in captivity.
McCain seldom talks about the details of his torture by the North Vietnamese, but he has written about them in clinical depth. Despite the injuries he had already suffered, upon capture he was promptly bayoneted in the ankle and then beaten senseless. The North Vietnamese never set either of his broken arms. The only treatment of his broken knee involved cutting all the ligaments and cartilage, so that he never had more than 5 to 10 percent flexion during the entire time he was in prison. In 1968 he was offered early release, and when he refused, because others had been there longer, his captors went at him again; he suffered cracked ribs, teeth broken off at the gum line, and torture with ropes that lashed his arms behind his back and that were progressively tightened all through the night. Ultimately he taped a coerced confession.
McCain's right knee still has limited flexibility. Most of the time this is not too noticeable, but McCain mounts the steps onto planes with a herky-jerky gait. A climb up dozens of steps at the New Hampshire International Speedway, in Loudon, leaves him badly winded and sweating profusely. Because his broken arms were allowed to heal without ever being properly set, to this day McCain cannot raise his arms above his shoulders. He cannot attend to his own hair. An aide is often nearby with a comb and small can of hair spray.
McCain has difficulty putting on his suit jacket unassisted. Once, as we prepared to get out of a cramped airplane cabin in Burlington, Vermont, where McCain would be greeted by the governor, I turned my back for a moment, only to find him struggling. He could sense that his collar was all bunched up, and asked me matter-of-factly to help him straighten it out. I felt the pang that those around McCain feel whenever they realize the extent of his injuries. "You comb someone's hair once," his 2000 communications director, Dan Schnur, says, "and you never forget it."
Personally, I don't we should ever forget the sacrifices he made for his country and the injuries he sustained in defending it. When a man has been in such circumstances and vehemently rejects those methods used against him, I think we should listen.
The economy. McCain has a solid record on fiscal restraint and freer trade, both of which are conservative positions. Mike Huckabee's tepid support of free trade agreements is why I can't support him, for example. [Update: McCain's positions on taxes here. He opposed the Bush tax cuts for budgetary reasons, but he supports making them permanent because letting them lapse would be tantamount to a tax hike. There's plenty more information in the link.]
Integrity. McCain speaks his mind, and oft times it gets him in trouble. I strongly disapprove of McCain-Feingold, especially the gag order in the 60-day period prior to election day, but I think his intentions were in the right place. I wouldn't judge too harshly against McCain about the bill. After all, George W. Bush signed the damned legislation into law. McCain is conservative on social issues, but not boisterously so.
Why not the other candidates? Giuliani has public integrity, but I'm troubled by his personal integrity. I'd rather not have a president on his third marriage and I'd rather not have a president who personally donated money to Planned Parenthood. He made soothing noises about appointing conservative judges, but Giuliani is too left-leaning for my taste.
For Romney, I think he's weaker than McCain on national security. As for Fred Thompson, he's probably my number two choice. But last July, Thompson was bombarded with negative news stories and he barely answered any of the charges. For a media-familiar character, Thompson has not handled media situations well. Thompson has similar positions as McCain on national security, but McCain gets the nod because he has more experience.
Immigration. McCain turned off a good number of conservatives by his support of the immigration bill last summer (I was mildly in favor of it). McCain has said that he has learned his lesson and that he would support "enforcement first" provisions. I take him at his word, just as I take Giuliani at his word that he would appoint judges in mold of Roberts and Alito.
Gang of 14. Many conservatives were irked about the Gang of 14 (and still are), but I'm telling you, liberals hate it even more. The dKos crowd was neutralized by this agreement, and we have two new conservative judges on the bench today. The results speak for themselves.
McCain's drawbacks. If elected, he would be 73 on inauguration day. But hey, 73 is the new 63.
McCain's temper and temperament have been issues. In 2000, I sided with Bush because I thought he had a better temperament for the job than McCain. In retrospect, I think I overemphasized that attribute. Back then, I voted for Bush over McCain because Bush came across as the more conservative candidate. Boy, was I wrong. In the last seven years, the person who has clearly made more conservative choices was McCain, not Bush.
Anyway, I've been angry and irritated with McCain's various antics over the years, but I gave him a second look and found his positions on the important stuff more than acceptable. I think all other conservatives should take that second look as well.