- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

What a month.

On Feb. 5, nutty California, taking the Governator’s cue, validated fruity Florida’s Crist-fueled vote for Sen. John McCain, who, in the wake of Gov. Mitt Romney’s dramatic exit from the race two days later, became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Enough to give conservatives heartburn — or certainly heartache, many at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) breaking into tears when Mr. Romney, whom Laura Ingraham introduced as the conservative’s conservative, broke the news — a liberal’s liberal then becoming the Republican standard-bearer. A week later, Mr. Romney, on Valentine’s Day, sent Mr. McCain 280 loving delegates.

Calls to mind that popular holiday New York Times article — A fruitcake soaked in tropical sun — circulating the day after Rudy Giuliani released his fruitcake Christmas commercial that, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter quipped, underscored what a fruitcake Rudy really was. Surely, I thought, a Maureen Dowd satire of Rudy’s flawed strategy.

Actually it was a recipe — but, a useful metaphor, nonetheless, for today’s Republican Party.

But, that was then.

Now, Mr. McCain, a 25-year Washington veteran — the insider’s insider, of McCain-Kennedy, McCain-Feingold, McCain-Lieberman fame, who admits he does not know as much about the economy as he knows about defense — is looking pretty good.

For make no mistake, defense, just as much as the economy — both of which are integrally related — will define this election.

As with the 2004 election, as the Iraq War goes, so will go the Republican presidential nominee.

Of course, Senator McCain will need to win over conservatives. And, he’s doing just that — morphing into the straight-talker conservatives can love. (TheNew York Times innuendo-filled smear dropped during President’s week alleging McCain behaved unethically, which the Senator swiftly, unequivocally and categorically denied, has, of course, helped colossally in this regard.)

The turning point moment for Mr. McCain at CPAC, prompting thunderous applause, was when he reflected on the [shared] grief over the terrible losses we’ve suffered and how no other candidate … appreciates more … how awful war is. But, failure in Iraq, he said, would cause greater losses in lives and treasure than those already suffered. And I will not allow that to happen.

Given his grit, and the historic moment our nation faces — which McCain, who knows the price of freedom, embodies — I have no doubt his promise will be fulfilled.

But, it will be an uphill battle, not unlike the battle for Iraq.

Super Tuesday, Mr. McCain won only 3.7 million votes, compared to Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s roughly 7.3 million each; a week later, on Feb. 12, Mr. Obama got 175,000-plus votes more in Virginia’s primary than Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee combined. Ditto Wisconsin a week later.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but these results suggest the energy’s on the Democrats’ side and Americans may find Mr. McCain’s vision lacking.

Admittedly, Mr. McCain’s presidential vision is only now fully emerging, which will hopefully dispel an occasional image of myopia vis-a-vis foreign policy.

For instance, after his Victory in Iraq speech at American Enterprise Institute in November 2005, I asked him if he thought Pope John Paul II’s emphasis on the dignity of man and the concomitant need, expressed in Centessimus Annus, to remedy the grave imbalances that exist between the various geographical areas in the world might be important to beating the terrorists. (John Paul II presciently predicted today’s world unrest was rooted in the great divide between rich and poor nations, noting grave imbalances have shifted the center of the social question from the national to the international level.)

Mr. McCain responded by talking about Latin America.

Thankfully, Nov. 4 being several months and political light years away, the presumptive nominee/pupil has ample time to reflect on the wisdom of counterinsurgency principles the reason for our success in Iraq today that embrace John Paul II’s eloquent arguments that the 21st century should be one of persuasion and Pope Benedict XVI’s thesis, as a young scholar, that this should be a time of … reconciliation between East and West, which Benazir Bhutto’s posthumously published book Reconciliationbrilliantly illumines.

For, more than anything, it’s the grasp of this wisdom that, I’m betting, will determine who becomes the next President of the United States.

MARY CLAIRE KENDALL

Ms. Kendall is a prolific fiction and nonfiction writer, having written professionally since 1986, initially as a speechwriter.


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