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A (Liberal) Case for McCain



I am a liberal.

I may not be typical, because I value practical results over process; thinking over feelings; and the lessons of history over castles in Spain.

I question the utility of fighting old battles when they've lost their relevance under new conditions; whether "nice" is a virtue; and whether majority rule always leads to the wisest policies.

A veteran public school teacher, I'm not wedded to a public education monopoly that annually fails millions of kids -- not just in the inner city, but in vast, soulless suburban secondary schools.

When I argue for a single-payer health-care system, I focus more on economic progress than social justice. I believe there are a million "Dilberts" working at cubicle jobs they despise, who — given health insurance for their families — would head for the exits, forming a virtual tsunami of new entrepreneurs.

I'm less interested in who was right about Iraq — a war I opposed vocally from the start — than what happens if we just pack up and leave.

Call me a pragmatist, if you will. I consider myself a hardheaded liberal.

In my 57 years, I've worked for a variety of candidates. Four years ago, I fulfilled a lifelong goal by knocking on doors in Manchester, N.H., for Howard Dean.

And in November I'll cast my vote for John McCain.

Let me explain.

First, I like the man. The very qualities that drive conservative Republicans nuts are those I like best. McCain's a true maverick. He hasn't sold out to Washington, D.C. He's his own man.

I'm also uneasy about Sen. Barack Obama for reasons that haven't really been explored by the lemmings of the mainstream media.

For one thing, Obama reminds me of a lot of smart guys I've known — fellow Echols Scholars at the University of Virginia and classmates at the U.Va. School of Law — brilliant young guys who believed that academic success and intellectual prowess automatically made them leaders. That all they needed was power and they could solve all the problems that confound older, less brilliant minds.

There's a subtle arrogance about Obama that I've seen before, and it troubles me.

Moreover, Obama's promise of "changing the way Washington does business" reminds me of recent history. Americans — especially young Americans — have short memories, but as I recall, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also ran as young, personable outsiders who were going to change Washington.

Instead, Washington slowly changed Clinton, while Bush promptly surrounded himself with insiders and set out to consolidate power like no one since Richard Nixon.

Obama may seem a fresh face to others. To me, he looks like the third consecutive iteration of the same mistake.

But none of that gets to the hardpan. My fundamental reason for supporting McCain involves timing. I long for progressive government — but I want progressive policies over the long term — not the short-term satisfaction of electing a progressive in 2008, only to revert to right-wing government in 2012.

Mainstream pundits assure us that an Obama administration would be transformational. Frankly, I suspect that — whoever we elect — the next administration will be more janitorial than transformational.

Simply stated, George W. Bush has staked a powerful claim — along with James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Warren G. Harding — to the title of worst president in American history. The enduring symbol of his presidency will not be the collapse of the Twin Towers or the fall of Saddam Hussein, but his still-inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina.

At home and abroad, Bush will leave behind an incalculable mess for his successor to clean up. Undoing the damage will take years and monopolize most of our next president's term. As for launching bold, progressive policy initiatives — such as universal health care — there will be little time, limited political capital and precious few resources with which to do the job.

Our national debt has metastasized. Social Security and Medicaid, wars abroad and tax cuts at home all have sapped America's fiscal prowess. While we slowly recover from the current recession, our next president will find Americans resistant to new taxes or other revenue expedients to pay for change.

Assuming the next president deals effectively with his thankless task — repairing the worst ravages of the Bush years and restoring something resembling fiscal sanity — he'll be compelled to seek re-election on this record. Given our national shortness of memory, that's unlikely to be enough.

As every mother knows, no one gets credit for cleaning up.

Whichever party wins the White House in 2008 will very likely lose it in 2012 — and a moderate McCain administration, followed by a progressive president in 2012, would be vastly preferable to a hamstrung Obama presidency followed by Jeb Bush, Newt Ging-rich or worse.

I can live with John McCain. With the single exception of Iraq — a quagmire apt to prove intractable for any president — McCain could not be more different from the incumbent.

McCain has long been right on environmental protection and global warming; the rights of prisoners of war and "detainees"; limiting government snooping; preserving the separation of powers; and reforming campaign finance.

Unlike Obama, he categorically rejects the insidious practice of presidential signing statements.

In short, McCain is as certain as Obama to reverse the worst of Bush's policies. And, knowing Washington better, he'd make a faster start.

With his bipartisan instincts, and facing a certain Democratic Senate majority, President McCain won't be appointing any right-wingers to the Supreme Court.

A fiscal conservative and budget hawk, he would be better positioned to restrain new spending by a Democratic Congress while seeking long-term, bipartisan solutions to exploding entitlement programs and the unresolved challenges of health care, crumbling infrastructure and gaining energy independence.

All in all, electing John McCain seems to me a very acceptable short-term outcome.

The alternative — Obama followed by a right-wing restoration in 2012 — is reason enough to fear making the wrong choice in 2008.

Timing is everything. This time, I choose McCain. S

'Rick Gray writes a column for Chester's Village News. He's a former high-school teacher, assistant principal, attorney and secretary of the commonwealth of Virginia.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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