Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, early on was thought to be the
frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. But by
summer 2007, he had been written off as a has-been. His poorly funded,
lackadaisical campaign nearly ensured that he was put out to pasture
before the primary races even began.
While he faded, the
media went gaga first over Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, then
former Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, and most recently
former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee. Yet now the nearly
forgotten Mr. McCain is surging back.
Compared to the flashy
Mr. Obama or mannequin-like former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John
Edwards, Mr. McCain still looks tired and pale on the trail — except
when he nearly loses his explosive temper and turns beet-red.
McCain has survived malignant melanoma and at times his face still
appears craggy and swollen. His shoulders seem frozen, the result of
years of torture as a prisoner of war held by North Vietnamese
communists. If he wins in November, Mr. McCain, at 72, would be the
oldest to enter the presidency — and, unlike Ronald Reagan, he will
Liberals once flirted with Mr. McCain as a maverick
when he ran in the primaries against the more conservative George W.
Bush in 2000 — but then they also assumed Vice President Al Gore would
naturally succeed Bill Clinton in the general election.
though, they have little good to say about him. Mr. McCain never gave
up on the unpopular Iraq war, loudly calling for both the appointment
of Gen. David Petraeus and a surge of additional troops. His promises
to cut spending rather than raise taxes aren't exactly endearing to
Conservatives can't even count all the ways they
have soured on him. Libertarians were furious that the McCain-Feingold
campaign-financing law impinged on unfettered political expression. Mr.
McCain never supported Mr. Bush's massive tax cuts that spurred the
economy. But he did team with Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat,
to craft a comprehensive immigration bill that included de facto
amnesty to illegal aliens.
The Christian Right opposed his
support for human-embryo stem-cell research. On issues like global
warming and shutting down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Mr.
McCain has sounded like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, California
Democrat, or Mr. Kennedy. Why, then, has this old warhorse trotted back
into the Republican race?
There are a number of good reasons that transcend ideology, and they loom larger every month of this topsy-turvy campaign.
in a campaign year of crass political reinventions, Mr. McCain does not
flip-flop. He seems to enjoy telling people what they don't want to
hear. Apparently, at his age, and after what he went through in
Vietnam, there is no reason to begin trimming the truth now.
those more liberal, Mr. McCain insists the surge is working and we will
secure Iraq — only to explain to conservatives why we can't, either
practically or morally, deport all 11 million illegal aliens. He seems
more opposed to pork barrel and deficit spending than doctrinaire
Second, Mr. McCain has the most diverse
experience of any of the candidates in either party. Sens. Obama and
Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, may bicker over whether being first
lady or growing up in Indonesia is the better foreign-policy
background. But no one would question Mr. McCain's far greater breadth
of service: carrier aviator, combat pilot, wounded veteran, tortured
while a prisoner of war for 5½ years, U.S. congressman and senator for
a combined quarter-century, 2000 presidential candidate. The list goes
Third, we are still in a war on several fronts — as we
were reminded recently by the assassination, likely by al Qaeda, of
pro-American Pakistani Benazir Bhutto. Many of the other inexperienced
candidates fumbled in their initial reactions to Mrs. Bhutto's murder.
Obama ludicrously associated her death with the Iraq war. Mr. Huckabee,
in Jimmy Carter fashion, apologized to Pakistan for the assassination —
although he did not explain why. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson
demanded Mr. Musharraf step down — as if we can snap our fingers and
choose nuclear Pakistan's leaders.
Mr. McCain in contrast
kept his cool. He candidly admitted that the tragic loss of Mrs. Bhutto
was a setback to American democratic objectives, while reminding us
that a nuclear Islamist Pakistan is unstable and doesn't present
America with any good choices. In this war, having a veteran fighter
and savvy old statesman as commander in chief makes a lot of sense.
don't know whether plain-speaking John McCain, who finished fourth in
Iowa with 13 percent of the vote, will win the presidency. But so far
he's proved the most experienced of the candidates, and he has run the
most principled and honest of the campaigns. Other candidates may be
younger, better financed and more charismatic; none has more earned