Why Not McCain?

There is something mysterious, not to say perverse, about the attitude of many conservatives toward John McCain. It is commonplace, for example, to hear talk radio callers refer to McCain as a “liberal.” This is ridiculous; whatever he is, and whichever positions you may disagree with him on, McCain is no liberal. He is a pro-life spending hawk; more important, he is a hawk, period.
As I’ve said before, I like all of the leading Republican Presidential candidates. I’m willing to look past Rudy Guiliani’s advocacy of government-funded abortions and his endorsement of Mario Cuomo. I’m willing to ignore life-long hunter Mitt Romney’s peregrinations on the social issues. And I’m also willing to discount McCain-Feingold and McCain’s skepticism about tax cuts, not because these issues aren’t important, but because no candidate is perfect (i.e., agrees with me all the time) and because other issues–like national security–are more important.
Most conservatives share my indulgence toward Giuliani and Romney, but, for some reason, hold McCain to an entirely different standard. In today’s Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg writes, “Conservatives, don’t ignore McCain”:

McCain’s been a consistent pro-lifer (which distinguishes him from pretty much everyone else in the race so far). Until recently, Giuliani argued passionately for partial-birth abortion as a constitutional right. McCain has voted to confirm every conservative Supreme Court nominee, including Robert Bork. He voted “guilty” in Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. He campaigned for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, even after Bush beat him.
Giuliani’s chief selling point seems to be that he’ll have “what it takes” to be tough in the war on terror. That may well be the case. But Giuliani’s foreign policy experience is, at best, limited. Meanwhile, McCain’s experience is deeper than the rest of the field’s combined. There’s no evidence that Giuliani is more of a hawk than McCain, who has spent the last four years arguing that Bush needs to be more aggressive in Iraq and who argued for a troop “surge” years before anyone used the word.
After 9/11, Giuliani earned his reputation for showing his sensitive side. After 9/11, McCain said to our enemies, “May God have mercy on you, because we won’t.”

McCain’s “maverick” tendencies have long annoyed many Republicans, including me. But his willingness to go against the tide is being manifested now, more than ever, in his principled support for our effort to succeed in Iraq. Tomorrow night, McCain will deliver what he calls “a major address at the Virginia Military Institute on the war in Iraq, the consequences of failure, and the reasons for very cautious optimism.” You can watch the speech at John McCain.com. If victory in the war on terror is your number one political priority, McCain deserves a close look.
One more thing: McCain rarely talks about his own Vietnam era heroism, and he would be the last person to criticize the British hostages for their less than inspiring performance over the last couple of weeks. But that story can only remind us of the extraordinary courage and integrity that McCain showed under the most trying conditions possible. McCain’s courage doesn’t entitle him to be President, of course, but I think it does entitle him to a respectful hearing from conservatives. At a minimum, we should stop calling him a liberal.
UPDATE: I don’t agree with most of the sentiments expressed, but if you want to see what an uphill battle McCain has with large elements of the party’s base, check out the comments on this post at the Forum.
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