Glory is not a conceit. It is not a prize for being the most clever, the strongest or the boldest. Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you in return. No misfortune, no injury, no humiliation can destroy it.
So wrote John Sidney McCain III in "Faith of My Fathers," his autobiography, in explaining what he took away from his 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison camp. That experience defines him, as it would define anyone. He went away to war as a hell-raising 30-year-old hotshot pilot ("Being on liberty with John McCain was like being in a train wreck," one of his Annapolis classmates recalled in Robert Timberg's "The Nightingale's Song"). He came home, his body broken but his spirit formed, a genuine American hero.
His biography helped get him elected to Congress in 1982 and to the U.S. Senate four years later. In many ways he was and is a typical Sunbelt conservative, an Arizonan with a lifetime voting record of 82 percent on positions favored by the American Conservative Union. What makes McCain different is that devotion to "being constant to something greater than yourself."
It has been said of McCain that he votes like a Republican but acts like a Democrat, which may explain why he is anathema to so many conservatives, notwithstanding his voting record. Although he's a tax-cutting economic conservative, he excoriates big business for its sins and was a principle sponsor of the McCain-Feingold Act, which tried to take the influence of big money out of politics. He has been right on the torture issue as only a man with his personal experiences and moral credibility could be.
He has little patience with the scientific know-nothings of the modern right, having long ago recognized the threat of global warming and - despite his long pro-life voting record - the promise of embryonic stem cell research. Religious fundamentalists find fault with him for saying, "I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also."
Perhaps his most courageous political stand in the current campaign is his moderate view on immigration reform. Here is a senator from a border state who joined with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and others to defy reactionary forces by sponsoring a comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform bill. That the bill failed is not the fault of McCain. The glory lay in being right in a failed cause, even though his stand almost knocked him out of the president's race even before the selection of delegates began.
This editorial board has serious disagreements with McCain on economic policies and his support of the war in Iraq; a President McCain would require a heavy hand of congressional oversight and, if necessary, restraint. He was a neoConservative believer in muscular diplomacy, nation-building and the projection of American force long before the neoCons ginned up a war against Saddam Hussein. Had John McCain and not George W. Bush been in the White House in 2003, U.S. troops still might have invaded Iraq. But they would have done so in force, and much of the misguided chaos of the last five years might have been avoided.
We also have concerns about McCain's age (he will be 72 at the time of the Republican convention) and his health. He has survived two occurrences of melanoma, an often-fatal skin form of cancer. That would make his choice of a running mate a matter of even greater national concern.
But unlike any other candidate in the Republican field, McCain offers a chance to change the national discourse. He is a Republican in the mold of Barry Goldwater, a principled conservative, not a kleptocratic opportunist. We find former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's ideals to be far too malleable. We find former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to be cravenly narrow and mean. And as to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, America doesn't need a theocrat with a bizarre tax plan in the White House, even an affable, guitar-playing, populist one.
Republican voters can be proud of a vote for John McCain.
Reprinted from the St. Louis Post Dispatch – CNS.