The presidential election of 2008 is less than two years away, and a good number of would-be chief executives either have already thrown their hats into the ring or are threatening to do so. There are basically two types of early announcers from the major parties.
The first are marginal candidates whose chances are laughable and whose politics are generally contemptible. Republican Tom Tancredo, the immigrant-bashing congressman from Colorado, comes to mind. So does Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who was unmasked as a plagiarist during a previous White House bid and who undercut his 2008 run as it began by praising his colleague Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as a "clean" and "articulate" black man.
The early announcers of the second type have more realistic chances at winning their party's nominations (and yes, their politics are generally contemptible too). They include Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Republican former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and the subject of this month's cover story, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). In "Be Afraid of President McCain" (page 20), former Reason staffer and current Los Angeles Times Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Welch takes a long, critical look at the legendary "straight talker" who consistently ranks at or near the top of the pack in early polls.
As Welch notes, the press's love affair with McCain is one of the strangest couplings imaginable. Shortly after he was released from a Vietnamese prison camp, Welch writes, McCain "volunteered to testify against The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case…even though his only expertise was in being a prisoner of war." More disturbingly, the campaign finance "reform" that bears McCain's name is a clear and present threat to free political expression, and the senator is unabashed about abridging the First Amendment. "I would rather have a clean government," he recently told nationally syndicated radio host Don Imus, "than one…where 'First Amendment rights' are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice I'd rather have a clean government." Far from the independent pol routinely celebrated by the mainstream media, Welch reveals, McCain is "an authoritarian maverick" with "a rigid sense of citizenship and a skeptical attitude toward individual choice" whose ideology has rarely been examined in depth by the journalists who love to quote him.
Welch's profile of McCain does what Reason does best: It forces a reassessment of the conventional wisdom from a libertarian perspective. Other stories turn a similar trick. "How Traffic Jams Are Made in City Hall" (page 30) explores how urban planners are trying to increase congestion in a doomed attempt to get commuters to use mass transit. "Florida's Forgotten Rebels" (page 54) not only recovers the history of the most successful slave revolt in U.S. history; it shows how an amateur scholar and the World Wide Web are redefining how history gets done. Throughout this issue, I'm confident you'll find truly maverick thinking that not only challenges preconceptions but offers up new ways of approaching politics, culture, and ideas.