Thursday, April 19, 2007

McCain's Virtue - It has proven difficult at best for U.S. Senators to transition seamlessly to the Oval Office (and by my lights, we should hope as much is the case in 2008.) As a rule, men who are otherwise adequate legislators usually do not make good executives; the temperament required to do the former well causes most to be unfit for the latter. This of course represents a unique frustration for the sublimely self-important among the denizens of the Upper Chamber. The soon to come primary races teem with the likes of Dodd, Obama, Clinton and (at least for the moment) Biden, not to mention former Senator John Edwards. By fortune, most of these will become asterisks in some dusty record of this second presidential campaign of the 21st Century.

And then there is John McCain. We do well to question whether he is of presidential timber. To be sure, he has seemed to go out of his way in the past to curry favor with those least likely to endorse his now longshot bid. His sins against Republican primary voters are legion, but the two that stand out in sharp detail are: 1) his enthusiastic efforts in support of campaign finance "reform" by way of McCain-Feingold and 2) his thwarting the effort of then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to put an end to filibusters of judicial nominees through use of the so-called "nuclear option" by joining the "Gang of 14." His longstanding cosiness with the establishment media has also been a thorn in the side of many conservatives.

But even with all of this, there is abundant courage in this man, and even decency. And John McCain has shown much of both as of late by way of his support for the U.S. military establishing a larger security footprint in Baghdad. We will say what we must about the precision of some of his statements about the safety of certain streets and markets; his greater point remains unchallenged: war is hell (as he is uniquely qualified to expound), but a worse hell awaits us - and the Iraqis - if we shrink from this fight.

The tragedy of McCain's precis is that he must make it singlehandedly. Indeed, the salient failure of the Bush administration in the conduct of the War on Terror has not been in preparation or execution. But rather it has been a failure of communication; Bush has consistently failed to sufficiently express the need for collective sacrifice of any sort. As proof that we live in a post-ironic age, the absurdity of waging a multi-front war and increasing domestic discretionary spending (i.e.: expanding the welfare state by way of Medicare Part D) was mindlessly challenged from without, but was never questioned by Republicans. It was left to Democrats to remind us how painful war was, and it was the task of the American people to remove the enablers of this nonsense from office.

And now it is McCain's task to remind is that war - any war - is hell on earth. But McCain also informs us that the earthly hell of a just war is only eternal for those who retreat from its hazards, leaving earth to the caprice of despots and men to the terror of the unjust. Even as we know from our encounters with schoolyard bullies that the brave kids may get beaten once, while cowards are beaten every day, so can we intuit that shouldering the sacrifices that war requires is sometimes the cost of coexistence. Whatever this war might cost America in lives and treasure, our leaders must be crystal clear about the costs of victory...and defeat.

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