The Right's Choices Right Now

This column was written by William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn.

Today, many in the Republican Party and the conservative movement are saying some strange things about the prospect of our very likely nominee, Senator John McCain, and his ascent to the GOP nomination. Many think he will destroy the conservative movement if not the Republican Party, and many have even said they simply will not vote for him in a general election if he heads the GOP ticket. Moreover, others have even said they would consider voting for Senator Hillary Clinton or that there is simply no difference between Senators Clinton and Barack Obama on the one hand, and Senator John McCain on the other. Some who have said the foregoing are our dear and close friends, allies, and callers.

This sense and sensibility is simply wrong.

We know the conservative indictment against Senator McCain - we hear it every day, and even recite some of it ourselves some days. We concede much of it. There is a great deal on which the senator and we do not agree. And yet there is another brief that needs to be submitted in light of some of the latest things we've heard from friends, callers, and others. Namely, that it will not matter to them whether Senators McCain or Clinton or Obama are elected if that is their ultimate choice.

There is a great deal of difference between Senators McCain and Clinton (and Obama), and those records become important as we recognize a few simple facts: We are in an existential war against Islamic terrorists throughout the world. This very week, Senator Clinton was asked what her first act in office would be. She stated that first act would be the beginning of the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq within 60 days. Her first act. That is a surrender to the enemy - there is no other way to portray such a withdrawal and there is no other way it will be portrayed by our enemies and other observers around the world.

Some will say, "She can't mean it, she's stronger and more sensible than that." Caution: Recall that Senator Clinton will be our commander-in-chief from a party that also runs the Senate and House - and the leadership in the Senate and House, not to mention the most active members in them, want us out of Iraq. Even on her most "sensible" day do we think she can be relieved of that pressure? The Democrats on the Hill have been chomping at the bit to make good on their 2006 promises; will she really turn on them? Can she?

Second, we come to the realization that at least one Supreme Court justice is about to retire, and several others will be over age 70 come January 2009. Do we really think the nominees Senator McCain or Clinton (or Obama ) would appoint will be no different?

Let's go to their records, to the very time period opponents of Senator McCain cite in their indictment of him.

McCain voted to defund Planned Parenthood last year, Clinton didn't and would likely expand Planned Parenthood's taxpayer funding.

McCain voted to ban partial-birth abortion; Clinton didn't and would likely reverse the partial-birth abortion ban.

McCain voted for Roberts and Alito and made the case for them in the media, Clinton didn't.

McCain has never voted for a tax increase, Clinton will increase taxes.

McCain will continue the Bush tax cuts, Clinton will end them.

McCain will end pork-barrel spending, Clinton supports the endowment of projects like the Woodstock Museum with taxpayer funding.

McCain will not cut and run in Iraq, Clinton will work with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid to do just that.

McCain sponsored legislation to keep the Fairness Doctrine from rearing its head again, Clinton has not and has signaled moves to revive it.

McCain supports school choice, Clinton does not.

Clinton will mandate health insurance, McCain will not.

McCain voted to convict Bill Clinton on impeachment, Clinton was a witting accomplice in President Bill Clinton's scandals.

McCain has an ACU (American Conservative Union) rating of 82.3; Clinton has a rating of 9.

McCain has 0-percent rating from NARAL; Clinton has 100 percent.

McCain is endorsed by Tom Coburn, Jack Kemp, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Sam Brownback, Tim Pawlenty, Phil Gramm, Jeff Flake, Jon Kyl, and Ted Olson. Hillary's endorsers? Barbra Streisand, Maxine Waters, Gray Davis, Robert Kennedy Jr., Jennifer Granholm, and she will have the endorsements of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Harry Reid if and when she becomes the Democratic nominee for President.

As for those who have taken to labeling Senator McCain a liberal, we reject that.

A liberal does not have a zero rating from NARAL and a 17-percent voting record with the AFL-CIO (the same rating as Sen. Jim DeMint, by way of comparison).

A liberal does not have this written about him by Sen. Jon Kyl: "On the ever-important issue of life, Senator McCain has a record of voting for pro-life legislation: He has voted for bans on partial birth abortion; he has supported Unborn Victims of Violence Act and parental notification for minors; and he has voted against using federal money to distribute morning-after contraception in schools. He has repeatedly cosponsored the Child Custody Protection Act, which prohibits the transportation of minors across state lines in order to circumvent state laws, requiring instead the involvement of parents in abortion decisions."

A liberal does not vote to defund Planned Parenthood.

A liberal does not go on television and radio to defend Sam Alito and John Roberts.

A liberal does not go on the road to campaign for Social Security retirement accounts.

A liberal does not support the surge or the stay in Iraq.

A liberal does not support extending Bush's tax cuts.

A liberal does not get the endorsements of Tom Coburn, Jack Kemp, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Sam Brownback, Tim Pawlenty, Phil Gramm, Jeff Flake, Jon Kyl, and Ted Olson.

Senator McCain may have some liberal positions, but he is not a liberal. He is a conservative with some liberal positions. But on life, taxes, and national defense, his record is, in fact, very strong.

Let us repeat. We know the "yes, but," argument against Senator McCain - and agree with some of it. But let us not fool ourselves that there is no difference between Senator McCain and whomever the Democrats nominate. (What we have written above about Senator Clinton holds true of Senator Barack Obama as well).

Over the past two years, the conservative movement has lifted Senator Joe Lieberman onto their shoulders higher and higher (rightly, in our view), and yet many of the same people who have done that have sworn off of Senator McCain. Notwithstanding much of our praise for Senator Lieberman, he is far to the left of Senator McCain - with a lifetime ACU rating of 17 percent and an ADA (Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal counter-part to the ACU ratings), in 2006, of 75 percent.

Senator Clinton's respective ratings? Nine percent from the ACU and 95 percent from the ADA.

Senator Obama's respective ratings? Eight percent from the ACU and 95 percent from the ADA.

Senator McCain's respective ratings? 82.3 percent from the ACU and 15 percent from the ADA.

We do not have perfect nominees and never have. As John Hinderaker pointed out recently, since Calvin Coolidge, we haven't even had a pure "conservative ideologue" in our party elected president. And even that one "purist" was not free of blemishes and criticism, much as we rightly venerate him.

Let's admit the concern: Some people predict that a President McCain will open the borders, close Guantanamo, and tie our policies to some false premises related to global warming. We hope he doesn't, but even critics must admit it is just as likely - if not more so - that his legacy will be the following: He pursued al Qaeda to the ends of the Earth and vanquished them; he cut deficit spending and vetoed pork-barrel spending over and over again; he appointed four good justices to the Supreme Court; and he reinvigorated a sense of thoughtful patriotism, citizenship, and unselfish devotion to the Republic.

Senator John McCain has a great deal to recommend him. He has a great deal more to offer the country, and it is our sincere hope that, as we move toward the general election, more and more people will see that. In the interim, it is our equal hope that Senator McCain will take the next several months to build his support among conservative doubters within our party. We deserve that, too, so that - come September - we will all be confident we have nominated the right man.

We have endorsed no candidate in our party as of yet, but we wholeheartedly unendorse any notion that either Senator John McCain or Governor Mitt Romney will ruin the party, the movement, or, for that matter, the election. They are both heads and shoulders above would-be presidents Senator Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and once we see the whole record, and these men in the totality of their careers and records, we will, we pray, realize that.
By William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online