Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Are We Losing Another Statesman, Or Are We Gaining Another Politician?

It seems that we have lost a Statesman. There are so few of them in Congress, that the loss of one is a heavy loss. But, when public opinion polls become so important in politics, and the Statesman is beckoned by the call of a presidential campaign, it is easy to fall prey to political wavering. Thus may a great Statesman, such as John McCain, be comfortable with abandoning his integrity and principles.

I have always admired Senator McCain. He is indeed a national hero, having survived imprisonment and torture at the hands of his Viet Namese captors. He has not always followed the Party line, often offering viable alternatives to proposals which were impractical or heavy handed. He has always been receptive to both sides of any issue, and has often been the voice of reason in the Senate. This is what a
Statesman should be.

I remember, during the Senate impeachment hearings for President Clinton--something I considered an appalling waste of taxpayers’ time and money--Senator McCain, alone spoke of more important issues that the Senate should be worrying about, such as Veterans benefits and retirement pay. He was speaking as a Statesman, not as a politician.

Unfortunately, various polls have placed the Senator as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Some polls have even suggested that he would beat Hillary in a presidential election. This must have caught Senator McCain’s attention, as he has suddenly begun acting like a politician.

In 2000, during his presidential campaign, McCain spoke out against religious extremism, comparing statements by Jerry Falwell to those of Osama bin Ladin. To me, that comparison was accurate. If a person wants to quote Scripture to strengthen or invoke Faith, in any religion, that is fine. But if a person were to use Scripture out of context to promote hate and strife, or intolerance and violence, in any religion, be it Christian, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Shinto, Buddhism, or Hinduism, it becomes hate speech and extremism. Recently, perhaps seeing a need to become attractive to the “religious right,” McCain has held out the olive branch to Jerry Falwell and has accepted a speaking date at Falwell’s Liberty University.

I can understand the Senator wanting to expand his base. Many political pundits have attributed his loss of the nomination in 2000 to the fact that he didn’t have the support of the religious right. But why Falwell, whom McCain himself had labeled as an extremist? Falwell is part of the “God hates America” mob, and has lost his “WWJD” bracelet somewhere along the line. Unless he is applying it to himself, the Christian message of Redemption does not seem to be a part of Falwell’s message.

Perhaps McCain has seen more of a need to identify with both extremes than to identify with the more moderate Demopublicans. He has often co-authored bills with liberal subjectivists, such as Senator Feinstein, with whom he authored a much needed campaign finance reform bill, and Senator Edward Kennedy, from which came the irrelevant immigration reform bill (I plan to discuss that subject in another post). At the same time, he has defended the President’s administration and foreign policy. His alliance with Falwell may stem from a perceived need to avoid the “liberal” label.

It is normal for a politician to palliate his or her views for those who may disagree with the politician’s stance, especially when a presidential candidacy is being considered. That does not necessarily mean that the candidate should renounce his or her convictions and principles. President Bush, who appeased the religious right by supporting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, while refusing to engage in anti-gay rhetoric. He stood by the principle that it was not his prerogative to criticize others for their beliefs or sexual orientation. “I am not against civil unions or company benefits for same-sex couples,” he asserted shortly before the 2004 elections, “but I believe that matrimony should be between a man and a woman.”

Another man of principle, Gary Johnson is a good example of a candidate who seemingly chose to forego principle for politics. Failing as a Libertarian candidate for Congress in 1992, he switched his affiliation to the Republican party to run, successfully, for Governor of New Mexico in 1994. Once in office, he proceeded to act according to his Libertarian principles. He successfully stood against the Federal government on the issue of state and property rights, defending the right of the Sandia Tribe to open a casino. He repealed New Mexico’s “blue laws,” allowing package liquor sales on Sundays, which significantly reduced instances of drunken driving, a problem for which New Mexico had been notorious. He severely reduced government spending, reduced taxes, and subsequently increased business and industry in New Mexico. Even though those who opposed him called him “tight fisted,” and “the worst governor anytime, anywhere,” Johnson successfully and significantly improved the quality of life in New Mexico, by standing by his principles.

If McCain sticks to his principles, he is an excellent choice to be the next leader of our country. In these times, we need to show the world that we are capable of speaking in one voice. Sen. McCain as long been a proponent of fairness and openness, and is very capable of unifying those who agree to disagree. I do not believe it is necessary for him to paint himself as something he is not in order to get the nomination. His conviction to principle, and his accomplishments should be enough. I only hope that he remains a Statesman, and does not fall into the abyss of politics.

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