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This story on John McCain's campaign is telling, it seems to me. It's also deeply depressing:

At a celebration Saturday of the 232nd birthday of the Marine Corps, in Bedford, N.H., as veterans from five wars over the last century looked on, Mr. McCain said that any candidate who joked about sleep deprivation, as Mr. Giuliani had done several days earlier, should talk to his fellow prisoner of war and supporter, Orson G. Swindle.

Mr. McCain described how Mr. Swindle was “chained to a stool for 10 days, then let off that stool for one day, and then chained to that stool again for 10 more days.” ...

But Milt Mattson, standing outside the cafe after Mr. McCain left, said he thought the United States needed to take any measure it deemed necessary. “This is a war for our life,” Mr. Mattson said. “These are people that chop heads off. I don’t care what we have to do to stop them.”

The reason McCain still matters, it seems to me, is that he is the sole Republican able to be respected for his position on the war - and deserves credit for being more confident about the surge's tactical potential than most others - while retaining the honor that marked America's war-making for two centuries. I truly fear the potential of dumb machismo warping the United States into being something it really isn't and mustn't allow itself to become. McCain's insistence on this core issue is both courageous in the current Republican climate and absolutely right. He is also capable of projecting strength while not pandering completely to fear.

Compare him with Giuliani.

If Rudy wins the nomination, we will, I fear, have a campaign in which he routinely pulls the fear-chain to justify enormous powers for himself as a post-Cheney president. Any crisis or attack would lead to his eager suspension of the civil liberties we have left. And he will be aided in this by Fox News and even, I suspect, by Joel Surnow, who will deploy the "24" series next year into a running campaign for more torture and more war. Rudy will run on rounding up illegal immigrants, building a massive wall on the Southern border, bombing Iran, fighting indefinitely in Iraq, and tearing up what's left of America's alliances. There would be no transparency in his campaign or administration - just an appeal to trust a strong leader to protect us and attack undesirables. Think of a Malkin-Hannity fantasy - and that is what he would eagerly provide. McCain, in contrast, still has a link to the honor of the American past, its tradition of tolerance, of welcoming immigrants, of embracing diversity. And Democrats would not immediately see a McCain presidency as a source of fear and loathing. Increasingly, I'm afraid, I see the main task in this campaign as stopping the Giuliani freight train to unchecked power. McCain may not be able to stop it; but he helps reminds us why it's necessary.

(Photo: Kevin Cox/Getty.)

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