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Primary Choices: John McCain

We have strong disagreements with all the Republicans running for president. The leading candidates have no plan for getting American troops out of Iraq. They are too wedded to discredited economic theories and unwilling even now to break with the legacy of President Bush. We disagree with them strongly on what makes a good Supreme Court justice.

Still, there is a choice to be made, and it is an easy one. Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe. With a record of working across the aisle to develop sound bipartisan legislation, he would offer a choice to a broader range of Americans than the rest of the Republican field.

Presidential Candidate, John McCain
AP
Presidential Candidate, John McCain

We have shuddered at Mr. McCain’s occasional, tactical pander to the right because he has demonstrated that he has the character to stand on principle. He was an early advocate for battling global warming and risked his presidential bid to uphold fundamental American values in the immigration debate. A genuine war hero among Republicans who proclaim their zeal to be commander in chief, Mr. McCain argues passionately that a country’s treatment of prisoners in the worst of times says a great deal about its character.

Why, as a New York-based paper, are we not backing Rudolph Giuliani? Why not choose the man we endorsed for re-election in 1997 after a first term in which he showed that a dirty, dangerous, supposedly ungovernable city could become clean, safe and orderly? What about the man who stood fast on Sept. 11, when others, including President Bush, went AWOL?

That man is not running for president.

The real Mr. Giuliani, whom many New Yorkers came to know and mistrust, is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man who saw no need to limit police power. Racial polarization was as much a legacy of his tenure as the rebirth of Times Square.

Mr. Giuliani’s arrogance and bad judgment are breathtaking. When he claims fiscal prudence, we remember how he ran through surpluses without a thought to the inevitable downturn and bequeathed huge deficits to his successor. He fired Police Commissioner William Bratton, the architect of the drop in crime, because he couldn’t share the limelight. He later gave the job to Bernard Kerik, who has now been indicted on fraud and corruption charges.

The Rudolph Giuliani of 2008 first shamelessly turned the horror of 9/11 into a lucrative business, with a secret client list, then exploited his city’s and the country’s nightmare to promote his presidential campaign.

The other candidates offer no better choices.

Mitt Romney’s shape-shifting rivals that of Mr. Giuliani. It is hard to find an issue on which he has not repositioned himself to the right since he was governor of Massachusetts. It is impossible to figure out where he stands or where he would lead the country.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is an affable, reassuring Baptist minister who talks about a softer Christian conservativism. His policies tell the real story. To attract Republican primary voters, he has become an anti-immigrant absolutist. His insertion of religion into the race, herding Mr. Romney into a defense of his beliefs, disqualified him for the Oval Office.

Mr. McCain was one of the first prominent Republicans to point out how badly the war in Iraq was being managed. We wish he could now see as clearly past the temporary victories produced by Mr. Bush’s unsustainable escalation, which have not led to any change in Iraq’s murderous political calculus. At the least, he owes Americans a real idea of how he would win this war, which he says he can do. We disagree on issues like reproductive rights and gay marriage.

In 2006, however, Mr. McCain stood up for the humane treatment of prisoners and for a ban on torture. We said then that he was being conned by Mr. Bush, who had no intention of following the rules. But Mr. McCain took a stand, just as he did in recognizing the threat of global warming early. He has been a staunch advocate of campaign finance reform, working with Senator Russ Feingold, among the most liberal of Democrats, on groundbreaking legislation, just as he worked with Senator Edward Kennedy on immigration reform.

That doesn’t make him a moderate, but it makes him the best choice for the party’s presidential nomination.

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