Politics & Policy

The Choice

This election does not present Americans with a straight-up choice between conservatism and liberalism. This is not so much because John McCain is a moderate, although he is, as because liberals are likely to have effective majorities in both houses of Congress. Thus the choice we face is, in most respects, between a liberalism that is checked and one that is not.

We have reached this point because of the unpopularity of President Bush, the parlous state of the economy, and the enduring weakness of Republican positions on domestic policy. Senator McCain has done little to overcome these obstacles to his presidential hopes, and as a result he trails in the polls.

#ad#His opponent, Barack Obama, is a talented young politician who has shown both discipline and savvy in beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Given the initial odds against him, it is not quite right to say that he is untested. Yet his accomplishments, beyond propelling himself to the top of American politics, are few.

His views place him on the left edge of liberalism. The press has ruled that discussion of his extensive association with radicals is outside the bounds of polite society, although his history surely demonstrates at the very least that he has followed a policy of having no enemies to the left — and indicates that he probably shared more of their views than he now lets on.

The platform on which Obama is running is troubling enough. He advocates higher tax rates than any Democratic presidential candidate of the past 20 years has called for. He favors a health-care plan that would move millions of Americans from the private plans they prefer to a government system — and, in the long run, would reduce the quality and raise the cost of health care. He is more hostile to trade liberalization than any presidential nominee of either party within the last 70 years. He supports taxpayer funding of abortion. He seeks judges who “empathize” with liberal causes rather than feel themselves bound by the text of the Constitution. And with a stronger liberal base in Congress than any Democratic president has had in at least 40 years, he would have a good chance to get much of this domestic agenda accomplished.

His chief foreign-policy commitments have been to meet with America’s enemies — one could be forgiven for wondering whether he even thinks in terms of America’s having enemies — and to abandon Iraq. If he had prevailed on Iraq over the last three years, we would have lost a war that we now appear to be winning.

Luckily for the United States and Iraq, Senator McCain prevailed instead. He advocated the troop increase and strategic shift now known as the surge, first when other Republicans were denying the need for any change and then when they were rushing to quit the war. When President Bush came around on the need for the surge, McCain overlooked their past differences and became the policy’s most effective advocate. If we win in Iraq, McCain will deserve a good deal of the credit.

McCain has a solid record of opposing economically damaging tax increases. He has always opposed abortion. He has advanced a creative free-market health-care policy, even if he has not done much to defend it against Obama’s dishonest attacks. He is a scourge of wasteful spending and a resolute free trader. He says that he will look for judges who have demonstrated their fidelity to the Constitution as written. We have our differences with McCain, as do most conservatives, on such issues as immigration and stem cells. On each of these issues, however, Obama is at least as mistaken.

We have no doubt that if McCain is president we will find much to criticize. But we will be confident that we have the right commander-in-chief and that liberals do not have a free hand to remake our country. In this election we support Senator McCain and urge all conservatives to do so as well.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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