Valley News (Lebanon/Hanover, NH) Monday, January 24, 2000
One of the strangest developments in a strange political season is that John McCain's bid for the Republican presidential nomination should be so widely viewed as an insurgency.
By all the traditional yardsticks used to measure a public life--character, experience, a record of accomplishment--the Arizona senator stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Republican field.
But McCain finds himself competing in a political world where the ability to attract campaign contributions the way a magnet attracts iron filings is the gold standard for judging presidential aptitude. Thus have the national media and the party's power brokers anointed George W. Bush, governor of Texas, as the Republican standard-bearer-to-be, his chief qualification for the job being the huge war chest he has amassed.
But a funny thing has happened on the way to Bush's coronation. McCain's candor, wit and independence have found a responsive audience here in New Hampshire, where in 10 days voters will have their first real chance to speak in Campaign 2000. We urge them to loudly endorse McCain's candidacy in the Republican primary.
That is not because we often agree with his stands on the issues. He is, after all, a deeply conservative man who on many of the "litmus test" issues -- abortion, gun control, minimum wage -- stands firmly in line with the right-wing of his party.
On some issues, however, he has shown a refreshing streak of independence and an ability to appeal to moderate Democrats. In particular, his willingness to expose the current system of campaign finance for what it is -- nothing more than legalized bribery -- and his forceful advocacy for changing it provide hope that as president he might be able to push through reform despite the obstructionists in his own party in Congress.
His grasp of foreign and military affairs offers promise that a McCain presidency would combine American idealism toward the world with a realistic assessment of risk and reward. For instance McCain stood almost alone in pointing out that bombing Kosovo by itself wouldn't stop ethnic cleansing, and time proved him correct. He pushed to authorize the use of ground troops and noted that President Clinton had blundered in ruling out their use ahead of time.
In light of the by-now-familiar story of McCain's long captivity and torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War, there can be no doubt about his courage and patriotism. The son and grandson of Navy admirals, a career Naval officer himself, his devotion to duty, honor and country is unquestioned.
There are other aspects of his character and personality that would hold a president in good stead. for one thing, McCain is and always has been a voracious reader. For another, he has a sense of humor and recognizes the essential role that laughter plays in human life. He doesn't take himself too seriously, and his genuine optimism reminds one of Ronald Reagan.
That is not to say that John McCain is a saint. He has done more than his share of hard living. His displays of temper are legendary. He candidly acknowledges destroying his first marriage when he returned from Vietnam. He has exercised poor judgment in writing to regulators on behalf of campaign contributors.
The last and best word on John McCain perhaps comes from his fellow insurgent, Bill Bradley, quoted recently in Vanity Fair: "He's had a life. I think near-death experience allows you to focus on what's really important."
Reprinted by Permission of the Valley News.