Monday, November 27, 2006

In Timely Article, LAT's Matt Welch Questions McCain Candidacy Means

The press is often so enthused about Sen. John McCain's personality and general candor that it gives McCain almost a free ride toward his apparently impending presidential candidacy in 2008. By that, I mean it is not critical enough.

But Matt Welch, in Sunday's Current section of the L.A. Times breaks with that pattern in a lead article headlined, "Do we need another T.R?"

The Welch article is wholesome, I believe, because it raises questions which, soon or later, are bound to be raised about any McCain candidacy.

Boiled down, those questions are, is he too hawkish and too gung-ho in general about an intrusive government in American and world affairs to be accepted by the electorate? Is it possible that former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may actually turn out to be more acceptable? (That possibility certainly arises this morning in a poll that shows Giuliani commanding the most admiration of any presidential candidate now mentioned. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama are second and third, and Sen. Hillary Clinton is well down in the pack).

Now, as readers of this blog will realize, I share many of McCain's views. But I'm also a political realist who predicted, quite precisely, the Democratic victories in the Mid Term elections. I may agree with McCain, but I also have to recognize that many Americans, at present a majority if the election returns are to be believed, do not.

Just after the election, McCain went on NBC's Meet the Press program and again restated his belief that what we need in Iraq are more, not fewer, U.S. troops. But Tim Russert, the moderator of the program, also thought he caught another McCain view as well. He said after the program that he felt McCain was saying that if we weren't going to send more troops, then we ought to get out.

The thing is, that if McCain were president, we probably would be sending more troops, and a political firestorm could well result. Even President Bush, devoted as he is to the war effort, has not adopted such a position.

I'm not saying McCain is incapable of change, but to shift from sending more troops to withdrawal would be a mighty big change, and in making such a change, McCain might not seem terribly sincere, when, always before, sincerity has been his long suit.

Welch by no means presumes there will be such a change. He thinks McCain's hawkish instincts will come to the fore in a McCain presidency. McCain, he writes, "wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions."

Welch doesn't dwell a great deal on the matter, but his article also mentions that McCain's father suffered from alcoholism, and his second wife became addicted to pain pills. Both would be bound to come up in any presidential campaign, although perhaps not decisively. After all, President Bush was once an alcoholic, but now never drinks, and the electorate has forgiven him his early transgressions.

Still, altogether, the Welch article presages what many others may be writing later if McCain does emerge as the Republican candidate in 2008.

We have to question whether the country will indeed slip back to the right. Much depends, of course, on what happens in the Middle East, and how the Democrats actually fare as the majority party in Congress.

But, for a section of the newspaper which all too frequently has peddled meaningless blather of the kind favored by "humorist" Joel Stein, Welch's article Sunday was a welcome departure in its commitment to taking on a serious subject in a definite way. I hope we see a lot more of him in this section in the future.

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