As a great blizzard swept New Haven, and most of the Northeast, during last year’s spring break, a 70-year-old man was ordering his presidential campaign to rent a snowplow. A blizzard had also hit New Hampshire, where he was planning to campaign the next day.
Dwindling war chest aside, he made the purchase. Nothing, he decided, would get in the way of his straight talk and quick action.
Enough said: The story of John McCain, from the prisons of Vietnam to the blistering heat of the campaign trail, is the story of America — when the going gets tough, tough it out; when the odds look down, let the down look up. His ongoing campaign itself is a come-from-behind story of American persistence.
And while his rhetoric may not particularly inspire, his spirit does: patriotic, strong and fundamentally benevolent.
Yet just like America, McCain has swung, like the pendulum of democracy, to the far right on most policy matters over the past decade. This is alarming not because it might indicate he is a flip-flopper, but because it is at the center he should settle.
A far-right-leaning McCain would, perhaps, make for a good administration. But a moderate McCain who leads on the nonpartisan principles of restoring America’s reputation abroad and its government at home could make for a great one: a rallying point for citizens right and left.
We know he can be that president. The McCain-Feingold Act, which reformed campaign-finance laws, was a prolonged bipartisan effort; he served on a POW committee with none other than John Kerry ’66; he attacked pork-barrel spending from within. He has band-aided a bleeding government; now, he has the opportunity to boost the entire immune system of our government.
McCain has earned and maintained the respect of millions. With no Karl Rove at the helm of his campaign, a win for the former naval aviator would be well deserved and, perhaps, a real mandate to lead. He is, therefore, the only Republican capable of realigning a country and a party not just disappointed with the Bush administration but with Washington in general.
On Iraq, we at least trust that McCain would choose a prudent path characterized by deference to generals and empathy to soldiers and their families. And among the Republicans, McCain is the only candidate whom we trust to handle the war.
In fact, he is the only Republican in the field whom we trust with the Oval Office.
Mitt Romney appears to offer little more than a third term of the Bush administration. And for all his talk of vertical politics, Mike Huckabee lost sight of the purpose of separating religion and state some time ago.
We are drawn to Ron Paul’s fresh libertarian principles, and he has pleasantly surprised us with his ability to rally around innovative, if radical, politics that inspire and reach out to an otherwise unengaged segment of the electorate. But we are not wholly convinced that he is ready to lead our country in these troubled times.
The great irony of this unprecedented election is that while we all want transformational change — perhaps more than at any other time in our lives — we are, in the end, looking for something simple: an honest, reasonable and open-minded president in whom we can place our hope for the future.
It’s hard to deny: John Sidney McCain III fits this description. His nomination would surely make Republicans proud. And after he recenters his message, the rest of the country might even come to feel the same.