Re­al­ity Show

Sen. McCain injects some use­ful truths into the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

The Washington Post Sunday - - Letters To The Editor -

LAST WEEK John McCain em­barked on an an­nounce­ment tour quite dif­fer­ent than he might once have en­vi­sioned. In a party that prefers the stately suc­ces­sion to the un­seemly scrum, the Ari­zona Repub­li­can had po­si­tioned him­self to be­come the log­i­cal, per­haps in­evitable, heir to Pres­i­dent Bush. In­stead, Mr. McCain finds him­self down in the polls, lag­ging in fund-rais­ing and dogged by his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with an un­pop­u­lar war. His ef­forts to cozy up to fig­ures such as the Rev. Jerry Fal­well — whom Mr. McCain once branded an “agent of in­tol­er­ance” — tar­nished his rep­u­ta­tion as a straight talker with­out win­ning him much credit among so­cial con­ser­va­tives, who have al­ways been far more sus­pi­cious of the sen­a­tor than his record would jus­tify. In re­cent months, he has seemed weary and be­lea­guered, not the happy war­rior of the 2000 cam­paign.

But Mr. McCain’s re­marks upon his for­mal en­try into the 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of­fered a re­minder of the ap­peal­ing qual­i­ties that at­tracted so many vot­ers eight years ago — and that make him a for­mi­da­ble con­tender still.

The cen­tral is­sue of this elec­tion is the war in Iraq, and the sen­a­tor is the can­di­date most iden­ti­fied with mak­ing the case for war in the first place and for not leav­ing pre­cip­i­tously now. He did not shrink from the is­sue in his an­nounce­ment, ad­mit­ting the war “has not gone well” and re­fer­ring to it in ap­pro­pri­ately cau­tion­ary terms. “Amer­ica should never un­der­take a war un­less we are pre­pared to do ev­ery­thing nec­es­sary to suc­ceed, un­less we have a re­al­is­tic and com­pre­hen­sive plan for suc­cess, and un­less all rel­e­vant agen­cies of gov­ern­ment are com­mit­ted to that suc­cess,” he said. “We did not meet this re­spon­si­bil­ity ini­tially. And we must never re­peat that mis­take again.”

Mr. McCain did not say so, but he has been mak­ing th­ese points since well be­fore the in­va­sion. What­ever your po­si­tion on the war, then or now, Mr. McCain de­serves credit for fore­sight and con­sis­tency about how the war should have been waged. And he was, prop­erly, un­flinch­ing about the ter­ror­ist chal­lenge fac­ing the coun­try he hopes to lead: “a global strug­gle with vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists who de­spise us, our val­ues and moder­nity it­self.”

The sen­a­tor spent the bulk of his speech out­lin­ing other pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing re­form­ing a waste­ful and need­lessly com­plex tax code, re­duc­ing de­pen­dence on for­eign oil, main­tain­ing free trade while find­ing more ef­fec­tive ways to help work­ers hurt by glob­al­iza­tion, and help­ing the unin­sured “with­out bankrupt­ing the coun­try.” His to-do list con­tains many of the right items, though he shied away from one im­por­tant area — im­mi­gra­tion — where he has been more for­ward-look­ing than many in his party.

His dis­cus­sion of the loom­ing prob­lem of run­away en­ti­tle­ment spend­ing was forth­right. “Here’s the plain truth: there are too few work­ers sup­port­ing too many re­tirees,” he said, “and if we don’t make some tough choices to­day, So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care will go bank­rupt, or we’ll have to raise taxes so dras­ti­cally we’ll crush the pros­per­ity of av­er­age Amer­i­cans.” As with the other ar­eas he dis­cussed, the sen­a­tor didn’t spell out what tough choices he would en­dorse, but at least he ad­dressed the is­sue, nei­ther dis­count­ing the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem nor promis­ing a pain­less so­lu­tion. This is why the 2008 race is bet­ter for hav­ing Mr. McCain in it.

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