On Tuesday, Republicans in New Hampshire will exercise their unique right to vote in ‘Round Two’ of the battle for the 2008 Presidential nomination.
With Dick Cheney, the incumbent Vice-President, declining to run for the Presidency, Republicans are engaged in possibly the most significant and exciting nomination process the Party has witnessed since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
The candidates offering themselves to the Republican Party faithful are many and varied.
They can plump for Mike Huckabee, whose big-government policies swelled the size of his state government from $6 billion to $16 billion during his ten year term of office. Mitt Romney, whose positions on everything from taxes to abortion have veered from the liberal left of the political spectrum to the conservative right in less than five years, is a serious option. Perhaps they could rally around the actor Fred Thompson whose campaign, defying huge expectations, has so far had the theatrical flair of a corpse? Another possibility is Rudy Giuliani whose vision and substance on the campaign trail, despite two wildly successful terms as Mayor of America’s largest city, has been described as extending as far as “a noun, and a verb and 9/11”.
Or they can nominate John McCain – the logical choice for any British Conservative.
The most consistent criticism voiced by British Conservatives towards the policies of the Republican administration over the past nearly seven years has been that of the bloated – and even increasing – size of the US federal government and their dangerous deficit financing. McCain shares our natural distaste for big government.
In a speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth in October 2006 he chided Republicans who had “come to office to reduce the size of government and enlarge the sphere of free and private initiative but increased government in order to stay in office” slamming his Party for creating a “mountain of debt”. Challenging the age-old “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” nature of the Senate, the front page of McCain’s Senate website includes section entitled ‘Pork Barreling’, listing the “unnecessary, low-priority or wasteful spending” projects pushed through the body by his colleagues. This isn’t a move that has made him popular amongst fellow Senators (only eight which support his campaign) but it is undeniably the right thing to do. If elected to the Whitehouse, there is little evidence to doubt that McCain would continue to pursue the same tough line on government spending.
John McCain is acutely aware, rightly or wrongly, that America’s reputation on the international stage lies in the gutter.
When polls suggest 77% of the people of the United Kingdom - America’s historically strongest ally – disagree with the statement that the US is “beacon of hope for the world”, only Jim Lovell’s famous line, “Houston, we have a problem”, can accurately describe the situation America currently finds itself in.
The more odious wings of the neo-conservative movement, represented by the likes of Ann Coulter, will dismiss findings of such polls as “inconsequential” and “meaningless”, preferring instead to take their “my way or the highway” approach to international relations. This approach does nothing to guarantee either the long-term security of the United States or the future of the “special relationship” between our two countries. John McCain understands that.
In an article published in Foreign Affairs in November, McCain summed up his position by stating that “to be a good leader, America must be a good ally”. British Conservatives – or dare I even say, neo-conservatives such as myself who continue to support the war in Iraq whilst questioning the Bush administration’s diplomatic wherewithal – must surely welcome such a sentiment.
Incarcerated in a Vietnamese Prisoner of War camp between 1967 and 1973, McCain’s articles and speeches point to an acute awareness of the international community’s perception of America as practising double-standards such as in relation to the torture of terrorist suspects. In December 2005, a McCain-authored bill banning United States personnel from engaging in the torture of terrorist suspects received near unanimous consent in the Senate and House In a plan to remove another Albatross around the neck of America’s international reputation, McCain has also vowed to “immediately” close Guantanamo Bay if elected, relocating suspects to an army base on the mainland where their humane treatment would be guaranteed under the US Constitution. In turn, his administration would aim to “truly expedite the judicial proceedings” against such prisoners.
Such moves against torture and Guantanamo Bay should not be viewed as a willingness on McCain’s part to weaken the hand of the US in relation to the war of terror, but a powerful message to the world that America, in contrast to its terrorist foes, “upholds values and standards of behaviour and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are”.
The principles of integrity and decency McCain applies to his plan to rebuild America’s damaged image are equally in evidence when examining his broader foreign policy.
A keen critic of morally bankrupt United Nations, he favours the creation of a League of Democracies in order to find common ground on issues such as combating global terrorism, affirmative action against evil regimes such as those in Zimbabwe and Burma, climate change. He has also advocated the expulsion of Russia from the G8, harsh sanctions against China for their gross and systematic human rights abuses and an increase in the United States’ global aid and disease prevention budget. Indeed, examining the nascent foreign policy commitments undertaken by our own leader, it appears that he and Senator McCain are natural allies.
McCain is not without flaws.
Despite his generally enlightened foreign policy positions, he is no ally of the British Eurosceptic movement. He has spoken out against the Conservative Party’s plans to withdraw from the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament (“I would hope [the Party] would appreciate the support they received from the EPP when they were wandering in the wilderness”) and has welcomed “the rise of a strong European Union”.
For most part, McCain is a fully signed-up member of his Party’s conservative wing, yet he has taken admirable stances in opposition to many of the more socially conservative measures that have come before the Senate in recent years. Many British Conservatives, conscious of the socially conservative nature of the United States, will find sympathy with his comparatively moderate stances. Whilst joining the majority of Republican Senators in opposing abortion, he voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, preferring the decision on whether or not to allow gay marriage to be left to individual states and supports federal funding for Stem Cell Research as a crucial measure to “relieve human suffering”.
A maverick who admits “he didn’t go to Washington to win the Mr Congeniality” award, McCain is the only candidate with a proven record of opposing the excesses of big government, articulating a credible strategy for combating global terrorism and with the vision to restore America’s damaged place in the world.
McCain is the obvious choice.