McCain's Baggage

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON

In 2004, one of John McCain's closest associates, John Weaver, spoke to John Kerry about the possibility of McCain becoming Kerry's running mate. In "No Excuses," Bob Shrum's memoir of his role in numerous presidential campaigns, including Kerry's, Shrum writes that Weaver assured Kerry that "McCain was serious about the possibility of teaming up with him," and Kerry approached McCain. He, however, was more serious about seeking the 2008 Republican nomination.

But was it unreasonable for Kerry to think McCain might be comfortable on the Democrats' ticket? Not really.

Said McCain, in ABC's New Hampshire debate: "Why shouldn't we be able to reimport drugs from Canada?" A conservative's answer is: That amounts to importing Canada's price controls, a large step toward a system in which some medicines would be inexpensive but many others -- new pain-relieving, life-extending pharmaceuticals -- would be unavailable.

Setting drug prices by government fiat rather than market forces results in huge reductions of funding for research and development of new drugs. McCain's evident aim is to reduce pharmaceutical companies' profits. But if all those profits were subtracted from the nation's health care bill, the pharmaceutical component of that bill would be reduced only from 10 percent to 8 percent -- and innovation would stop, taking a terrible toll in unnecessary suffering and premature death.

When McCain explains that trade-off to voters, he actually will have engaged in straight talk.

There are decent, intelligent people who believe that equity or efficiency or both are often served by government setting prices. In America, such people are called Democrats.

Because McCain is a "maverick" -- the media encomium reserved for Republicans who reject important Republican principles -- he would be a conciliatory president. He has indeed worked with Ted Kennedy on immigration reform, with Russ Feingold on restricting political speech (McCain-Feingold) and with Kennedy and John Edwards -- a trial lawyer drawn to an enlargement of opportunities for litigation -- on the "patients' bill of rights. …