At a different moment in American history, we would hesitate to support a candidate for president whose social views so substantially departed from those we hold. But in this election, nothing less than America's standing in the world turns on the outcome. Given that, our choice for the Republican nominee in 2008 is sure and heartfelt. It is John McCain.
McCain opposes abortion and rejects the right of gays and lesbians to marry -- two positions we reject. He supports the war in Iraq, whereas we see this nation's interests better served by a prompt and orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces. But the Arizona senator's conservatism is, if not always to our liking, at least genuine. It reflects his fundamental individualism, spanning his distrust of big government, his support for immigration reform and his insistence on a sound American foreign policy.
Indeed, McCain's suitability for the presidency at this moment begins with how he would conduct the nation's foreign affairs. As noted, we do not support his determination to fight on in Iraq, but we welcome his insistence that America's military posture be matched by its moral purpose. Alone among the Republican candidates, he would close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has become an international symbol of U.S. arrogance. He has waged a principled and persistent effort to end the Bush administration's embrace of torture as a weapon of war, a frightening concession to terrorism and an abdication of basic American values. He alone among the Republican candidates has condemned torture in all its forms; he alone among all the candidates in this race has endured it.
Those are positions that should impress voters across the political spectrum; part of the argument for McCain's candidacy, as for Barack Obama's on the Democratic ballot, is its appeal across the center. That won't help McCain next week, at least in California, where the Republican Party does not permit independents to vote in its primary. But there are other, more specifically Republican, reasons why GOP voters should support him.
McCain is committed to free trade, a welcome alternative to the protectionist views of leading Democrats. He is clear-eyed about the imperiled futures of Social Security and Medicare, and although he has yet to say precisely what he'd do about those looming crises, he has placed them near the top of his domestic agenda. He has opposed pork-barrel spending in the form of undis- closed earmarks and has been a lonely, determined voice against the government handing out cash to stimulate the economy.
Then there is an issue on which McCain has broken from the mainstream of his party and on which the party would do well to rejoin him: immigration. As the Republican field indulged this campaign season in an orgy of ignorance on immigration, McCain stood his ground, sponsoring legislation that would provide a route to citizenship for the 11 million to 12 million immigrants here illegally. His rivals have argued for mass deportations and strong border fences. McCain too backs toughened enforcement, but he has defended the humanity of those at the center of this debate. "We are all God's children," he says with conviction. McCain equivocated alarmingly on this issue during the last Republican debate, saying he would not today support the immigration bill that he courageously championed last summer. He should return to his support for immigration reform, and Republicans should follow him.
Similarly, McCain has led his party in its halting effort to confront the reality of climate change. He introduced the Senate's first attempt to address the problem legislatively in 2003, and although that bill failed, McCain has supported cap-and-trade systems that could reduce greenhouse gases, and he has stayed that course despite criticism from fellow Republicans.
McCain is not the only Republican in this race, and not the only impressive one. Mitt Romney is a vigorous and articulate alternative, whose solid business background adds to his political resume. We appreciate his analytical skills as well as his distinguished record as governor of Massachusetts, where he pioneered healthcare reform and demonstrated leadership with his willingness to cross party lines for progress. But Romney has spent so much effort to convince Republicans he's one of them that he has called his most basic values into question. To cite a glaring example: He once supported abortion rights and now opposes them. Romney also refuses to renounce torture, a position that for us disqualifies him. Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, is a good-natured man with an admirable record as governor of Arkansas, but his Christian fundamentalism so infuses his secular views that he has drifted to the margins of the campaign and become increasingly irrelevant.
We do not agree with John McCain on every issue. But we admire his conviction and stand with him on those issues that matter most right now.