Thursday, January 31, 2008

McCain; The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

With Guiliani out of the Presidential race, the choice now comes down to Obama, Hilary, Romney, Huckabee, Paul or McCain. For classical liberals, this is no easy decision. Ron Paul should be the obvious candidate but his history is too murky too ignore, his character questionable and his merry band of supporters too kooky to brush aside.

Michael Tanner at Cato has an interesting post about John McCain. Now that he is the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination, it is worth taking a closer look at the man.
Tanner makes the following points (my summary).

The Good:
1. He is a true fiscal conservative. He is well known as an opponent of earmarks and pork barrel spending and an advocate of entitlement reform. He was early an ardent support of personal accounts for Social Security, and has pushed for serious Medicare reform, including means-testing. Almost alone among Republicans, he opposed the disastrous Medicare prescription drug benefit.

2. He has offered the best health care reform plan of any of the candidates.

3. During his time in the Senate, he has never voted for a tax increase. While he has taken much heat for voting against the Bush tax cuts, he now calls for making those tax cuts permanent.

4. He is a strong and unapologetic free trader.

The Bad:
1. John McCain frequently makes Dr. Strangelove look like a peacenik. He’s a true believer in the neoconservative goal of remaking the world to fit our desires and beliefs. At best on foreign policy he would be a competent Bush. At worst, he appears a recipe for perpetual conflict.

2. On domestic policy, he has shown a disturbing predilection for elevating every personal pet peeve, from steroids in baseball to airplane service quality, to a federal issue. And, he has embraced heavily regulatory environmental policies and compulsory national service.

3. He tends to support federal power over federalism, executive authority over legislative, and generally leans toward the imperial presidency.

The Ugly:
1. John McCain appears to have little more than contempt for the First Amendment and free speech generally. He is the principal author of a campaign finance bill that severely restricts political speech. Not content with those restrictions on political speech, he has continually sought to expand regulation to other groups. He has said that he “would rather have a clean government than one where "First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.”

2. Most worrisome of all appears to be McCain’s basic philosophy, which is unapologetically statist, as Matt Welch points out in his new book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick. McCain once said “each and every one of us has a duty to serve a cause greater than our own self-interest.” McCain believes that cause to be the good of the collective, often defined as the nation or the national community.

I feel Tanner is harsh on McCain. For instance, it is inconcsistent to call a man who has never voted for a tax increase, who is an avid free-trader, who believes in school vouchers and who has a dislike of government spending as statist.

The charge of his aggressive foreign policy is more accurate but many would argue that the libertarian movement's Achilles Heel is its refusal to defend liberty. His campaign finance bill may be misguided but he is attempting to address an area of US democracy that is broke. To say that he has contempt for free speech is ridiculous.

In addition, he is doesn't pander to the awful Christian Right. He voted in favour of amnesty towards illegals and is generally pro-immigration. I don't like his pro-life stance but he has gone on record as saying that he would not repeal Roe vs Wade, so you wander about the depth of his pro-life convictions.

But more than his policies alone, I cannot but help admiring this man. His conduct and bravery during the Vietnam War and his courage in supporting the surge in Iraq last year when at the time it looked like electoral suicide, points to a man of principle, of honour and of conviction. Though he misguidedly supported the disastrous invasion of Iraq, he was the first to call for Rumsfeld's sacking and has been an ardent opponent of torture.

American liberals have to vote for someone. I would vote McCain.