Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why McCain: The Nitty Gritty

I've been supporting McCain since the end of May of 2007. I've caught a great deal of flak over my preference and spent most of my time supporting a candidate who appeared doomed as his campaign nearly died as the year progressed. I was shocked by the comeback and elated at the same time. I've heard a lot of people jump on board because he is electable in recent weeks, but my support goes far deeper than the match-up polls that show him as the toughest GOP candidate for the Dems to beat as that can easily change in the upcoming months...


Inheriting a War:

First and foremost, the issue on my mind are the conflicts we are currently engaged in. There simply is no other candidate who has been involved in foreign policy issues as intensely and extensively as John McCain in the Senate and on the Armed Services Committee. While some bash his early education as being inadequate, it is hard to dismiss his hands-on education in actually dealing with foreign affairs for decades.

The conflicts we're fighting and the crucial foreign relations between not only our allies, but also our strategic allies and enemies will require someone who doesn't just rely on experts at the State Department but someone with a well rounded understanding of the issues to make the best decisions on the information that they're given when a decision must be made.

Perhaps if we were in state of peace, with few threats to stability around the world that could affect us, then a smart candidate will have the luxury of playing catch up. But the current wars, conflicts, and dangers aren't going to go on break while the next President tries to catch up on decades of foreign policy issues.

We have no choice but to switch horses mid-stream in this election... term limits (among other things) have our current horse stuck in the mud. That doesn't mean we should jump on to an untrained horse that we'll have to train in the middle of the stream to get across before we drown. We want that trained horse that already knows how to get across that stream.

I cannot knock any of the other candidates for lack of service or lack of family serving, it is a volunteer military under civilian control for a reason, but I can certainly trumpet the fact that McCain has learned first hand the costs of war and knows first hand not only the personal sacrifice but also the sacrifice of families of military service members during conflicts as he has children who have/are serving.

He will put his principles before politics when it comes to war as his unpopular but needed support of the surge has shown.

But the Commander in Chief is not the only Role of the President. On other executive powers I believe that McCain is also the best of the bunch.


Appointing Supreme Court Justices:

Probably the second most critical issue for me as a Constitutionalist are appointments to the Supreme Court, far more than any actual legislation they may or may not support. And as much as some fear that he'll use McCain-Feingold as some sort of litmus test for Justices, it hardly appears this is, or every will be the case. He has supported strict constructionist in the past and today, regardless of whether he felt they support any of his pet projects, as the National Review points out:

McCain called [John Roberts and Sam Alito] “two of the finest justices ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court.”

As McCain made a point of telling the audience in Columbia, “there may be as many as three vacancies on the United States Supreme Court” in the next presidential term. “It’s going to be a very, very important responsibility of the next president.”

His judges, he implied would be in the mold of Thomas, Alito and Roberts and, he vowed, “would strictly interpret the Constitution.”

Anyone who's known me long enough knows that Clarence Thomas is a personal hero of mine and knows that above almost anything else I will vote for a President that gets the best judicial nominees to get us closer to the limited central government described in the Constitution.

But there is the role of the president in legislation. Here McCain has some issue but he also shines in other areas.


Fiscal Conservatism:

Personally I think all of the GOP candidates are bit weak in fiscal conservatism, but I lean a bit libertarian on limiting the central government. And though Paul may be the best option on this particular issue, Paul really blows on more important issues of foreign trade and defense (among other elect-ability issues).

McCain is notorious for his battle against pork barrel spending. Claiming, verified by factcheck.org, that he has never pushed for pork barrel spending for his own State and even the National Review pointed out that he "has always been strong on the issue of containing pork-barrel spending" even while complaining about his votes on the Bush tax cuts.

McCain has been ripped on extensively for his tax votes during Bush's first term. You'll rarely hear too many complaints outside of his first term as there is little outside of an increase in federal cigarette taxes to complain about. The tax watchdog group, Americans for Tax Reform, gave McCain a lifetime rating of 82.7%, just slightly under the choice of many strong conservatives, Fred Thompson, who weighed in at 83.75% (democrats generally weighed in at single digits).

And the evil monkey on McCain's back? The Bush tax votes? Not so much. McCain proposed and supported an alternative set of tax cuts to Bush's at the time and was willing to support the Bush tax cuts with spending cuts. So he was never against tax cuts, just for tax cuts that benefited the middle class more than the upper class, and would have supported all of the above with reasonable spending cuts.

If that's not the definition of a fiscal conservative I don't know what is. Unfortunately many in the GOP seemed to believe they could "starve the beast" with tax cuts. That limiting federal revenue would somehow reduce spending from lack of funds to spend... which we learned only resulted in more federal borrowing with increases spending, and the associated deficits and debt that came with it.

McCain is both sides of fiscal conservatism... tax cuts and spending cuts. We need to give this man the veto pen.


Pragmatism in Environmentalism:

Two words: nuclear power. McCain is huge proponent of nuclear power and ending the nonsensical de facto prohibition on nuclear power expansion in the United States.

Four words: reasonable global warming stance. I know this issue drives many conservatives up the wall but one must look at how McCain frames the discussion. First off he readily admits that the scientists pushing this issue may be wrong with his "but what if we're wrong" explanation. The worst part of having a reasonable, key word reasonable, environmental policy is ensuring a cleaner future for the next generation. Unlike Democrats who are trying to capitalize on this issue and pass irresponsible legislation and push unthinkably backwards treaties like Kyoto, McCain's description of protecting the environment falls more in line with the reasonable standards and evolution of policy as the Bush Administration yet doesn't turn off many independent and moderate voters who think Republicans are just sticking their fingers in their ears on the scientific data.

If you've read Bush's energy policy you'll find that McCain is pushing to continue the funding of alternative energy research to help get us less dependent on energy sources that are produced in a region full of our ideological enemies. He is not however so irrational on the subject that he pushes alternative energies at the sacrifice of free market principles.


War on Terror Issues:

Prisoner mistreatment. Some think McCain is too weak on this subject even though his demands for US policy are in line with current policy on military detainment of prisoners and he has openly stated he will do what is necessary to get information from a prisoner who has critical information on stopping an inevitable attack and take full responsibility for that decision. Such a position ensures we maintain the moral high ground and continue to stand as a beacon as the shining city on a hill to the world. Would such a public policy prohibit covert operations necessarily? Absolutely not. Many covert operations defy public policy as deemed required. This is the stuff that we'll never hear about in our lifetimes and I strongly doubt that McCain has any weakness when it comes to doing what is necessary even if his public statements about public policy seem overly idealistic to some.

Closing Camp X-ray. Prisoner of War detention centers have almost always been beyond the jurisdiction of any Article III court for Habeas petitions and criminal prosecution of combatants is general frowned upon by our treaty obligations. Closing Gitmo isn't only good policy, it's necessary if we're going to ensure that combatants we detain are kept out of our court system and kept in the jurisdiction of military control during a time of war. Until the Court make up ensures that combatants captured in war are outside of their jurisdiction to meddle, detentions will have to continue in foreign theaters in or near the area of conflict.

McCain's foreign policy experience in dealing with military issues in the Senate has encompassed every terror threat the United States has faced in recent years, long before 9/11, and how the U.S. military is equipped to respond to such threats and regimes that support these subnational militant groups.


Immigration:

This is a sore spot for many conservatives but mainly over the idea that McCain is somehow uninterested in securing the border. The compromise bill that many have painted as McCain simply capitulating to the Democrats was a compromise bill, not a capitulation bill that demanded border security be implemented prior to the reforms in the bill. Both issues were brought in the same bill to get conservatives on board with reforms by ensuring border security got priority and to get Democrats on board by ensuring such border security came with needed reforms.

The utter failure of immigration reformers to convince people that the border security provisions would actually be implemented as the bill stated (reasonable given the failure of the federal government to do so in the past) has led many reformers, McCain included, to support addressing the border security issue prior to any reform bill as opposed to packaged with one. Some consider this a flip-flop, but it would require ignoring what the bill actually said.

A multitude of conspiracy theories have emerged about him supporting open borders, which his record on the issue doesn't support... about him supporting a North American Union, which doesn't have support by any significant figure in our government, McCain included... about him supporting destroying US sovereignty and annexing the Unites States to Mexico, a completely unsupportable accusation... to him supposedly having secret deals to support open borders because some of his Hispanic contacts support far more extreme reforms than McCain has ever advocated, as if that was somehow proof of McCain's true viewpoints. Somehow this never applies to his far more conservative contacts, friends, and endorsers... but I digress.

Some will never vote for him because he won't deport all the illegals. None of the current GOP candidates has said this is feasible. The closest any other candidate has come is Romney who used to consider fines and paths to citizenship reasonable to address the illegal immigration issue, but as of late has only supported "amnesty" (as he calls it) for up to 20% of illegals while temporary permits for illegals matched with a policy of them getting in line outside of the U.S. for citizenship for the rest apparently. To date it doesn't appear he's gone on record on how temporary those permits would be, nor how he'd deal with the severe supply/demand issues driving the illegal labor market by those looking for temporary work, not permanent residence.

Somehow there are people out there who believe Romney is more trustworthy on the issue when he has changed his tune as the primary season drug on. The Chicago Tribune referred to him as a "toothless hunting dog" on the issue because his record, like on his gun supporting claims, turned out to be nearly empty compared to his current rhetoric. Some will never see McCain as anything but the devil on this issue because he was the face behind the proposals they despise... and they'll vote for people who've had or have similar policies just to spite that devil.

It causes some really vindictive and smearing comments to be made that are reminiscent of the "anybody but Bush" BDS hysteria in 2004. I can only hope the Tancredo crowd isn't in the majority on this issue and most can put other priorities ahead of something that is practically a non-issue given the other candidates' stances on it.


Campaign Finance Reform:

I didn't like it, but McCain, Thompson, Bush 43, and many others did like it, and so far the Supreme Court has generally left it untouched with the cases thus far. While some worry that the Court will never limit it, I believe it will, and I believe that McCain's standard for strict constructionists will ironically end up in its limitation. While some have pointed to it as a major assault on free speech, others have pointed to its sheer ineffectiveness at stopping any scrupulous campaign funding for causes. They can't both be right.

Some have gone further to say it was a direct assault on pro-life causes or gun rights causes. I'm sure there are some unions that feel the same way since they had to reorganize how their political wings were funded through voluntary donations for political causes, just as the NRA has. As a life member of the NRA and an activist for 2nd Amendment causes for longer than I can remember, McCain-Feingold was barely a blip on the radar as far as assaults on free speech or gun rights for me as an individual or the NRA as a whole, regardless of how much the leaders complained about it.

But speaking of guns...


The 2nd Amendment:

A big deal for me personally. And one of McCain's weaker points in my opinion. McCain was a proponent of gun locks being required to be sold along with firearms. A law that made little sense since people too irresponsible to lock of their guns when they should would still be unlikely to lock them up if they bought one. All it would do is make guns slightly more expensive to purchase with little payoff.

The other big issue was the "gunshow loophole" that would have required background checks on many private transfers of firearms to ensure that guns sold to people at gunshows weren't to prohibited persons. I don't think this law does much good. We have to do that at gunshows here and it is a pain in the butt, but it doesn't cause any major problems. Obnoxious, yes, a huge deal? I don't think so. I still don't like it because it doesn't seem to address an issue where there is any statistically significant problem nor does it appear to do anything to stop illegal gun purchases generally since such transfers are statistically rare at gun shows.

There is one issue that sends chills up my spine though, and that is the Assault Weapon Ban. McCain has generally opposed this ban. He opposed it when it first got signed into law in 1994 and voted against the bill focused on reauthorizing it 10 years later and his voting record and rhetoric have opposed such a ban, and bans in general except one glaring exception: he voted for a bill that had been generally killed by being poison pilled with amendments, including a provision to authorize the assault weapon ban. It only got a handful of votes, including McCain, for reasons unknown. The bill had many good provisions to prevent frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers and to reaffirm that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, but it also had his gun show loophole in it which is the only issue I can find him talking about at the time. Given his record on the AWB in the past this appears to be a fluke and not a sign that he actually supported something he has always opposed prior to and since, but it's a black mark on his record nonetheless.

It might be enough to drive me to other candidates but the only viable candidate left with a strong 2nd Amendment record is Mike Huckabee, and he's not very viable at this point and I disagree with him on too many other issues and matters of record.

Thompson would have been the next best choice on the matter but he's now out of the race. He was my 2nd choice for this primary season in which I was hoping for a viable alternative to McCain when his campaign seemed pretty dead to rights.

Giuliani has a horrible record on guns which included the impetus for stopping frivolous lawsuits on the gun industry among the other heavy restriction on gun ownership he upheld as NYC mayor. But in the presidential race he has flip-flopped on that and though his reasoning was suspect, he has a much better record on keeping his campaign promises than the next guy.

That next guy is Mitt Romney who both signed an Assault Weapon Ban into law a few years ago but also stated strongly that he supported the federal law. Today he has moderated his gun stance to just considering bans of firearms he deems are too lethal for law enforcement while not backing off his prior support of the Assault Weapon Bans. With a Democratic congress still being likely if he was in office the last person I want with the veto pen is a guy who not only signed gun bans into law but makes it clear he's not against doing so in the future.


Elect-ability:

This is at the bottom of the list as it doesn't really matter to me at all. I supported McCain all through his campaign being in the gutter, on the ropes, etc. I'm voting for him because I think he's the best candidate in the race. But elect-ability is important to some, so I might as well point out why I think McCain is strong on this subject too for the general.

First things first: If, and that's a big if, he can win the Republican primary then he obviously has the support of enough Republicans, conservatives, and Republican leaning independents and conservative Democrats in the open and closed primaries to do well among this group in the general.

Second: Unlike almost all the other GOP candidates McCain has earned the respect of independents and moderate/conservative Democrats who might be inclined to lean Republican to avoid the blatant left turn the Democratic front runners have made in this current election cycle.

Third: Unlike many other candidates, McCain's perseverance on the immigration reform issue may actually win back many in the Hispanic community who supported Bush by 44% in 2004 but have overwhelmingly run to the Democratic side due to the heated rhetoric on immigration that brought all kinds out of the woodwork, not just in Washington but also in Main Street USA all over the country. As evenly divided as elections have been lately that is a significant (and growing) segment of the population to lose.

Fourth: The "taking our ball and going home" folks seem to be strongly outnumbered by those who realize that all of the GOP front runners have flaws that are matched on the other side of the ticket by either similar or worse policies in those issue areas, not to mention being worse in most other areas as well. Given the strong appeal of McCain to moderates and independents the small minority that decide to forgo voting due to their passionate views on single issues will be more than made up for.

Finally the polls, while too early to be definitive, have been indicating that McCain would be the strongest against the Democratic front runners, long before he was the front runner (again).

The key is winning the GOP nomination to ensure he can get support from his own party. If he can, I think he can win the general. If he can't the discussion becomes moot anyways.


Age:

I think he'll hold up just fine given his genes. Thanks for asking you little jerk.


Swearing Like a Sailor:

Sometimes, yes. He was one. I've heard of a President and Vice-President having their moments without the Navy excuse...


Family:

He had a rowdy youth. Been faithfully with his current wife for decades and has had successful and patriotic kids who have served their nation with distinction.


I've run out of irrelevant topics. The relevant ones seems pretty well covered. But that pretty well sums it up for me. I hope it works for others as well, but I know we'll never all agree on this one. Hopefully we can be civil when we disagree though.

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