Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another NH Paper Endorsement

The latest in a long string of NH media endorsements is the Valley News.


It is entirely possible that at age 71, Sen. John McCain of Arizona is now making his last stand in presidential politics. That almost certainly will be the case unless New Hampshire Republicans rally to his cause in the Jan. 8 primary. We hope that they do, not only because McCain's life reflects the highest ideals of service to the nation, but also because he represents the best hope to liberate a party that is being held hostage to its own worst instincts.

McCain is by no means a perfect candidate, or, as he is the first to admit, a man without flaws. We disagree with him on several fundamental issues, including his longstanding opposition to abortion rights. Nevertheless, the case for McCain is a strong one: Duty and honor are to him living imperatives forged in family tradition, not mere rhetorical flourishes calibrated to the exigencies of the campaign trail. He should be just the ticket for Republicans astonished and appalled that, during the Bush years, their party has become identified with a brand of evangelical, anti-immigrant, big-government, borrow-and-spend “conservatism” that is antithetical to its best traditions.

The senator's current struggles in the polls are probably largely the result of his continuing support for the unpopular war in Iraq. It must be noted, however, that McCain's judgment in this matter has been vindicated in several important respects. He warned early on about the dangers of trying to fight a war on the cheap, with too few troops and without a comprehensive plan for victory. He was among the first to call for the sacking of Donald Rumsfeld, one of the chief architects of the fiasco. And he also, almost alone, was a vigorous champion of the troop-surge strategy eventually adopted by President Bush, which almost certainly has improved the security situation in Iraq, despite a lack of accompanying progress toward political reconciliation.
And although we do not agree with McCain's thesis that prompt withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would necessarily have dire consequences throughout the Middle East and the world, we do not dismiss it lightly, either. His case is plausible, and his credentials in national security matters impeccable.

McCain, of course, is literally battle-tested. He springs from a distinguished line of admirals and himself served with distinction as a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, when he was shot down over North Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war for five and a half years. His stubborn defiance while being tortured by his captors is the stuff of legend. But just as heroic, we think, is his principled stand against the use of torture by the United States against detainees in the war on terrorism. He alone among the major Republican candidates seems to understand that failure to adhere to civilized standards of conduct during war not only puts our own servicemen and -women in jeopardy in the future, but also grievously wounds America's moral standing in the world.

Nor do we assume that a McCain presidency would necessarily be bellicose because of his military background. It is often the case that leaders who have themselves served in the armed forces have a fuller appreciation of just what committing troops to combat entails than do those who feel the need to demonstrate their toughness. It ought to be noted that McCain has a son now serving with the Marines in Iraq and another soon to graduate from the Naval Academy. It is difficult to credit the notion that he would be reckless with their lives or put them in harm's way without a compelling reason to do so.

There are other reasons to prefer McCain to the rest of the Republican field. He not so respectfully declines to pander to party orthodoxy on several important matters. He understands that sealing the borders is not a substitute for rational immigration reform; he disdains pork-barrel spending and the lobbyists who corrupt the public purpose; he remains a small-government Republican and a fiscal hawk; he does not regard the dangers of climate change as mumbo-jumbo cooked up by liberals; he champions campaign-finance reform.

Yes, by all accounts he has a short fuse. His candor can border on simple meanness. He would be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency if he were to prevail next November. But those flaws may be kept in perspective when his main competition for the Republican nomination comes from the likes of Mitt Romney, who combines a justifiable claim to executive competence with opportunistic serial flip-flopping; and Rudy Giuliani, whose life work in recent years has largely been to wring political advantage out of his response to the 9/11 attacks. As for Mike Huckabee, well, it is perhaps enough to say that he's no John McCain.

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