As the no-holds-barred battle for the Democratic presidential nomination mercifully nears an end, renewed attention is being focused on the several John McCains bearing the Republican armor. Having written that I cannot vote for Barack Obama because he is an extremist on abortion who refused to even save a sudden live baby resulting from a botched abortion, I also have concerns about the consistency of some of McCain's positions.
The First Amendment being the foundation of our constitutional self-government, I recall McCain's comment about the McCain-Feingold "clean elections" law that directly and significantly silences the opinions of a range of advocacy groups at crucial points during presidential campaigns.
In the March 26 New York Times, Matt Welch, a former Los Angeles Times editor, quoted McCain: "I would rather have a clean government than one, where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt." The straight-talk express rides over free speech.
As the torrent of money on both sides of the current presidential race makes clear through large loopholes in that law presidential politics is far from cleaner, even as the First Amendment is now seriously diminished.
Also, as noted in the April 7 Newsweek, McCain pledges his election will mean a return to what Thomas Jefferson insisted is essential to our reputation in the world: "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind."
What has severely eroded the worldwide respect for us, including the respect of some of our primary allies against the homicidal terrorists, are the CIA's "renditions." CIA agents kidnapped terrorism suspects off the streets of Italy and other countries and "rendered" them to such nations as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, known for torturing their prisoners, thereby extracting information that not even the CIA, with its "special powers," could get.
These renditions have been valuable propaganda and recruiting tools for Al Qaeda and other terrorists. Also helpful to our enemies are the CIA's secret prisons in various parts of the world, where "enhanced interrogation techniques," as President Bush approvingly calls them, are practiced, including waterboarding (during which the suspect is made to believe he is immediately about to drown unless he opens up to his torturers).
McCain has won much approbation here and around the world as an insistent opponent of the United States torturing prisoners. But recently, when both the Senate and the House passed an amendment to an appropriations bill requiring that the Army Field Manual forbidding torture be expanded to include the CIA among all the other nontorturing branches of the services, McCain voted against it. And the president vetoed the legislation with support from McCain.
McCain's willingness, as he has stated, to insulate the CIA from the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment that it has so often violated may connect to his admiration for Dick Cheney, a key protector of the CIA's methods. As quoted in Matt Welch's "McCain: The Myth of a Maverick" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), McCain says Cheney is "as capable and sensible a public servant as I've known" (page 149).
My deepest concern about McCain is whether, as our next president, he will recognize his enormous responsibility to restore the Constitution's separation of powers. In both parties, also including many independents, there is a stark realization that the Bush administration has expanded unilateral presidential powers more radically than any other in American history.
However, whatever can be accomplished to restore that core of the Constitution by the next president's leadership and congressional legislation can be blocked by the Supreme Court. On May 6, McCain, noting that Bush's successor may have two (or more) vacancies to fill on the Supreme Court, proudly disclosed that the models for his nominees would be the present chief justice, John Roberts, and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. (He has previously added William Rehnquist.)
Roberts and Alito have shown hardly any concern for the Bush administration's extrajudicial and often covert disregard for the Constitution's checks and balances on the ever-growing surveillance and databasing of Americans and the brazen disregard of the most elemental due process at Guantanamo Bay, including the often brutal conditions of confinement. There are likely to be no trials there until the next administration.
The Bush legacy includes so much more contempt for the rule of law, from which the Constitution has to be rescued. We now know, for instance, that the telephones of American civilian attorneys representing Gitmo prisoners are bugged by the Justice Department! McCain has often emphasized protecting the values of "who we are as Americans."
Those values are in the oath he will take if he becomes president. After being sworn in, will he write a classified signing statement reserving his sole right to reinterpret that oath?