Sizing Up Candidates


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Rusher at 100: Realism for the 21st Century

(June 23, 2023—revised December 21, 2023) William Rusher, a dynamic force on the American right who passed away in 2011 after decades as comrade and mentor to many conservatives, was born a full century ago on July 19, 1923. His centenary comes at a hard time for...

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Click to watch the presentation of "If Not Us, Who?" by David Frisk to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on C-SPAN. David Frisk's book, If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, 'National Review,' and the Conservative Movement, offers a comprehensive exploration of the...

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“If Not Us, Who?”

If Not Us, Who? takes you on a journey into the life of William Rusher, a key player in shaping the modern conservative movement. Known for his long stint as the publisher of National Review, Rusher wasn't just a publisher—he was a crucial strategist and thinker in...

When all is said and done, every voter must decide which of two (it is usually two) candidates to vote for. For many people, it’s easy: “Vote for the Democrat” or “Vote for the Republican.” And there’s nothing wrong with that: The two major parties have established positions on a broad range of issues, and people who agree with these can conscientiously vote for the candidate of the party whose positions they prefer.

But some people, faced with the selections of the two parties for the presidency of the United States, will feel obliged to examine the candidates more closely and more personally. What are they like, simply as human beings? There’s nothing wrong with this, either. It isn’t necessarily more virtuous than voting for a candidate on the basis of his party affiliation; rather, it tends to reflect a conviction, on the part of the voter, that he or she may have qualifications (or disadvantages) that simply outweigh party affiliation.

So let’s look at the qualifications of the candidates, independent of their parties. What do we know about John McCain?

We can hardly plead ignorance. He is 72 and has been in the United States Senate for 22 years. Born in the Panama Canal Zone, he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958 and from the National War College in 1974. He is an Episcopalian and married. The son and grandson of Navy admirals, and a decorated Navy pilot himself, he volunteered for service in Vietnam. Injured in a flight-deck explosion on the carrier USS Forrestal, he declined to return home, and in October 1967, was shot down over Vietnam. He spent 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war, refusing an earlier release offered because of his father’s rank. Home at last, he was elected to an open House seat in 1982, re-elected in 1984, and then went to the Senate.

In the Senate, McCain’s record puts him squarely among the Republican “moderates.” The liberal Americans for Democratic Action him rated him at 15 (in 2006) out of a possible 100. The American Conservative Union, in the same year, scored him at 65. His specialties, not surprisingly, have been defense and foreign affairs. Over the years, he has been particularly active in the field of campaign-finance reform. He has strongly supported our military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As for Barack Obama, he is 47 and has been in the Senate for four years. A graduate of Columbia (Bachelor’s), he worked for three years as a community organizer in Chicago and then attended Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude and was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He married a fellow Harvard Law graduate, then became a lecturer at the University of Chicago law school. He is a member of the United Church of Christ. After serving eight years in the Illinois State Senate, from 1996 to 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

There, Obama’s record has been broadly liberal. Americans for Democratic Action award him 95 points out of 100; the American Conservative Union rates him at 6. In November 2005, he called for a phased withdrawal from Iraq, starting in 2006. But he has also generally worked well with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in the Foreign Relations Committee.

In January 2006, Obama told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” that “I will not” run for president or vice president in 2008, but on Oct. 22 that year he went on “Meet the Pres


This article originally appeared on on Oct 28, 2008


  • William Rusher

    William A. Rusher, a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute, was the publisher of National Review magazine from 1957 to 1988. A prominent conservative spokesman, Rusher gained national recognition over forty years as a television and radio personality. Since 1973, his syndicated column "The Conservative Advocate" has appeared in newspapers across the U.S. He is also a prolific author and lecturer, with five books and numerous articles. His notable works include "The Making of the New Majority Party" and "The Rise of the Right." An influential political activist, Rusher was instrumental in the 1961 draft of Barry Goldwater for the 1964 Republican nomination, which reshaped the Republican Party and continued under Ronald Reagan. He graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, served in the Air Force during World War II, and worked at a major Wall Street law firm. He also served as associate counsel to the U.S. Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee before joining National Review. In 1989, Rusher became a Distinguished Fellow at the Claremont Institute, continuing to write and advise from his home in San Francisco. He remains active on various boards, including the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, National Review Inc., and the Media Research Center.

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