Last week’s column expressing my “non-endorsement” of McCain, which laid out the best intellectual case I could make for him while first acknowledging that there are at least a few countervailing arguments, evoked quite a response from readers. Shorn of all the lengthy introductory paragraphs, here is that case again:
Here is why John McCain should be the next president of the United States:
There is something special about this country. The United States is exceptional. We are blessed by the good Lord, and in turn we have done more, far more, than any other people to spread freedom across the globe, and prosperity across the globe, and human rights across this great good Earth. We are a particularly good people — and John McCain understands all this and believes it with every fiber of his being, down to his very marrow, in a way that is deeply spiritual in nature. There is nothing fake about McCain’s belief in American Exceptionalism. His belief in this is as genuine, and as deeply felt, as is a son’s love for his father. He will defend this country, fight for this country, with every last breath in his body.
And McCain has a record of making the right calls, again and again, when it comes to securing the American national interest around the world. He was right to back Ronald Reagan to the hilt in the greatest foreign challenge of the past 60 years, namely the victorious effort to win the Cold War despite the strenuous and at times vicious opposition of the American Left. But he was right to oppose Reagan when Reagan, with all good intentions, decided to station Marines in Lebanon. McCain broke with his entire party, and warned that the Marines would be sitting ducks, and voted against the deployment. Tragically, McCain was right: More than 200 Americans died in Lebanon in a suicide truck bombing about a month after McCain’s warning.
McCain was right to support — and Joe Biden was wrong to oppose — the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1991. McCain was right to support intervention in Kosovo later that decade: It worked. He was right to support a stronger military and greater numbers of personnel when Bill Clinton was cutting it. He was right to fight against wasteful weapons systems, and against corruption in military contracting. He was right to fight a specific boondoggle involving an Air Force tanker; he brought corruption to light (the perpetrators both in the Air Force and at the contractor went to jail) and saved the public $6 billion.
McCain was right to say that Saddam Hussein could be overthrown fairly quickly, with little loss of American life. He was right to say that Hussein was a terrible threat. But he was right, very early on, well before anybody else in the Senate, to say that it would take more troops and a different strategy to secure the peace after we had won the war. He broke with President Bush to say so, way back in 2003, and he was right.
John McCain has suffered for his country in a way only a tiny slice of the population ever has. The story is well known — not just that he suffered in Vietcong captivity, but that he turned down early release in a profound expression of solidarity with his fellow prisoners. Yet McCain had the grace, when the time was right, to hold out an olive branch to the Vietnamese a couple of decades later when they showed a movement toward greater economic freedom.
John McCain is committed to reaching beyond party labels. Whether always right or wrong to do so, he really cares about doing what he thinks is right no matter whose political ox is gored. Barack Obama may talk a bipartisan game, but he never has actually played on that field. The reality, meanwhile, is that sometimes it helps conservative ends to work with people from the other party. Ronald Reagan knew this. Ronald Reagan knew how to bring Democratic congressmen his way — for tax cuts and for defense improvements and for spending discipline. McCain, because of his long record of bipartisanship, can do likewise — especially when it comes to spending. McCain has promised to veto any bill, any bill at all, that contains purely local-interest earmarks — and with a veto, he can make it stick, even against a Democratic Congress. Eventually, once he makes it stick a few times, he can start bringing Democratic “Blue Dogs” his way on spending. Just watch it happen: Yes, it will.
This bears repeating: No candidate for president since Barry Goldwater has been as committed to spending discipline across the board as John McCain is. His entire record for 25 years gives evidence of that reality. Reagan came close to the Goldwater/McCain level of commitment, but McCain has kept up that fight, a lonely fight, for a quarter century. For limited-government conservatives — actually, that’s a redundancy — this McCainite stubbornness should be cause for far deeper appreciation than it has received.
McCain also has the right instincts on the key issue of the judiciary. It may not be at the top of his list of importance, but he does, unambiguously, favor the appointment of judges who carefully construe the actual text of the Constitution and laws and are willing to be bound by those texts no matter what their own policy preferences. McCain’s judicial nominees would be far more likely, by light years, than would be Obama’s nominees, to maintain the Constitution’s balance between national and state governments, and its restrictions on Congress’s powers. His judges would be less likely to make decisions based on their preferred policy results — but, because the Constitution is written as it is, a close adherence to the text would result in less hostility to religion, less hostility to honest police action, less hostility to private property, and less hostility to local community standards than would the radically liberal judges of the sort Obama favors.
Also, John McCain is an individualist. He believes in private action. He believes that individuals can live their lives responsibly without government acting as nanny and overseer and ultimate decision-maker on virtually every aspect of daily life. McCain trusts people with their own hard-earned money. McCain has never voted for a tax hike. McCain has supported almost every important tax-cut proposal for 25 years. Even on the two cuts he opposed, he stringently has supported keeping the lower level once it was set: It is a point of honor to him that American taxpayers should be able to count on lower tax rates once they are established and once they have begun to make plans based on those rates. McCain particularly understands that investors — pensioners, 401(k) holders, homeowners — are the engine of the economy, and that American investors right now are at a huge disadvantage to the entire rest of the developed world because our investment taxes are higher. McCain will cut investment taxes, and that’s a very good thing for everybody.
Finally, there can be no doubt, none whatsoever, that John McCain will brook no corruption in his administration. Woe be to the appointee who would risk sullying McCain’s vaunted honor by crooked deals and self-serving actions. It is likely that no administration in history will be so concerned with maintaining high ethical standards as a McCain administration would. And it will be blessed relief to have an administration where not even a hint of scandal will be even whispered by honest observers.
So there you have it: John McCain as a patriot firmly rooted in the American traditions of free enterprise, limited government, strong defense, personal accountability, and a decent respect for the cultural standards of the broad middle of the American public. Those are the constituent elements of American exceptionalism — and to his great credit, John McCain is an American exceptionalist, and an exceptional American.
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