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McCain's Agenda By: Jamie Weinstein
North Star Writers Group | Thursday, May 22, 2008

John McCain has ambitious goals. His speech on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, outlining what he hopes America and the world look like after his first term as president, was outstanding in its reach.

The war in Iraq would be essentially settled, Afghanistan would be under control, the genocide in Darfur would be ended, Iran and North Korea would have given up their nuclear ambitions with the help of China and Russia, public education would be vastly improved, health care would be more accessible, our border would be secure, entitlement reform would be well under way, a flat tax option would have been implemented, and childhood obesity would be on the decline as a result of healthier foods in our schools. And this is just the half of it.

If President McCain achieves the vision he laid out in Ohio, it is very likely there will be many McCain monuments in Washington to honor the man. In fact, McCain won't serve his second term in Washington D.C. Term two will be served in McCain, D.C. Politicians of both parties will immediately begin chattering excitedly about McCain's third term made possible by a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits so John McCain can be President-for-life.

Now, I think McCain will make a very good president with the potential of being a great one. Still, to achieve half of what he laid out seems not only improbable, but closer to impossible. His Pollyannaish speech was rich on vision but lacking in crucial detail.

The truth is presidents usually can only accomplish a few major projects during their presidency. This will be especially true for John McCain since he will likely face a hostile House and Senate overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats. As McCain correctly noted in the speech, he has proved he can reach across the aisle to get things done during his time in the Senate, but there is only so much aisle crossing one can do in pursuit of their goals without sacrificing their key principles. One suspects that President McCain will find that out quickly.

But any president has a grace period and political capital they can use, which gives them the ability to get a few key projects implemented. The three issues McCain should focus on are defeating (or greatly setting back) radical Islam, setting America on the path to energy independence and creating entitlement reform to make our future sustainable. If McCain can accomplish these three tasks during his presidency, Mount Rushmore may have to make room for one more face.

America's most pressing foreign policy challenge is the threat posed by radical Islam. Defeating this threat (or greatly setting it back) actually entails a subset of challenges, each of which arguably could be a major goal in and of itself. These include bringing the Iraq War to a successful conclusion, preventing Iran from creating a nuclear weapon, stabilizing Afghanistan, destroying Al-Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan and preventing it from setting up any new safe havens.

America must also continue to actively capture and kill as many terrorists as possible and target terrorist financing around the world. These are momentous challenges for sure. But so was the idea of winning the Cold War in the 1980s before Ronald Reagan accomplished it.

There is much support, at least rhetorically, on Capitol Hill for the idea of American energy independence. Unfortunately, Democrats stymie progress by preventing American oil companies from exploring for oil off America's coasts and in Alaska. Whether or not such exploration will do much to make us energy-independent is a serious question. Nonetheless, if American companies want to invest in energy exploration in America, our policy should be supportive of their efforts.

What we really need is some great technological innovation that will allow us to lessen our dependence on oil. It's been said many times before, but becoming energy independent should be our generation's "man on the moon" goal. We need to make this national priority number one not just rhetorically, but substantively.

Finally, entitlement reform is crucial for the well being of America. We simply cannot sustain our commitments to Social Security and Medicare as they currently stand. It is a difficult issue with powerful interests for maintaining the status quo. President McCain must explain to the American people the situation we are in and why modifications are necessary for our financial future.

Of course, before President McCain can start working on these issues he actually has to be elected president. This entails promising many things on the campaign trail that he as president likely will not be able to accomplish, even if his intentions are pure.

But if John McCain is elected president and works assiduously to successfully accomplish the three objectives outlined above – or, at least, put us on the path to accomplishing those goals – Americans will owe him a great debt of gratitude and forever remember him as one of our greatest presidents.

Jamie Weinstein is a syndicated columnist with North Star Writers Group.

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