Rick Gray: All in the timing

Op-ed by Rick Gray

Timing is everything.

Four years ago, on Christmas night, I flew to Manchester, N.H., to spend a week of my precious winter holiday knocking on doors for Howard Dean.

This year, I’ve slapped a McCain sticker on my bumper and agreed to write this piece.

Let me explain.

I’m a liberal, progressive – what you will – but I’m not much given to magical thinking.

I come from a family of politically-active lawyers. I was raised by parents who learned thrift in the crucible of the Depression. A lifelong student – and longtime teacher – of history, I’ve long admired hard-headed liberals such as Abraham Lincoln and the two Roosevelts.

Thus, while my agenda is to the left of many Democrats, I’m governed more by my head than my heart.

And my considered judgment leads me inevitably to John McCain.

To begin with, I know the guy. I’ve never met him, but I’ve followed his career for years. He strikes me as fundamentally sound – a man of courage who puts country ahead of party and results ahead of ideology. A sage, experienced veteran of Washington who has never become Washington’s prisoner.

About his opponent, I know practically nothing. He’s simply untested.

For example, Sen. Obama boasts of his sound judgment in being “right” about Iraq in 2002.

I claim the same distinction.

But, in 2002, neither Obama nor I had much at stake. He held a safe Democratic seat in the Illinois legislature. I was teaching history at a governor’s school in Petersburg. Neither of us sat in the U.S. Senate.

Neither of us faced voting against a popular president just weeks before a crucial election. Neither of us risked losing our own seats, or the hair-thin majority which permitted our party to block the president’s domestic agenda.

I’d like to think Sen. Obama would still have had the courage of his convictions. I’d like to think I would, too.

But it’s easy to say what you’d do when you’ve never faced the pressure of making vital decisions in the arena, under the eyes of millions and the judgment of history.

Neither Sen. Obama nor I have faced that test.

John McCain has, countless times.

Given the extraordinary disparity in the two candidates’ experience and demonstrated character, my ideological differences with Sen. McCain shrink to nothing. But even if they had nominated a more tested candidate, I’d still hesitate to give complete political control to the present Democratic Party.

America faces enormous challenges which require well-crafted, long-term solutions. For the past eight years, we’ve watched a very conservative president parlay two razor-thin electoral victories into a radical domestic, foreign policy, and constitutional agenda which could scarcely have been justified by landslides.

We don’t need to repeat that experiment on the left side of the political spectrum.

America needs consensus solutions on energy, the environment, health care, and a host of other complex issues.

We must fix Social Security and Medicaid and move toward a balanced federal budget.

We must wind up Iraq without leaving a mess behind; eliminate Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and work with our allies to contain a resurgent Russia.

We won’t likely get that from one-party government. Democrats will almost certainly control both houses of the next Congress. If they also gain the White House, America’s policy orientation will swing from one extreme to the other – ignoring the pragmatic center, where most Americans can be found.

One-party government will also hasten a Republican resurgence, and yet another swing to the far right.

Faced with our present challenges, I can envision worse scenarios than a Democratic Congress checked by a conservative, but non-ideological, president with a penchant for bipartisanship.

Divided government is seldom comfortable, but – under strong leadership – it can produce greater budgetary restraint and more practical, durable solutions than single-party dominance.

Four years ago, I knocked on doors for Howard Dean. Iraq was a quagmire. The Bush-Cheney administration was, at once, disastrously incompetent and a manifest threat to our Constitution and the emerging structure of international law. My priority was to remove them, before they did more harm.

Sen. Obama would have us believe that his election will somehow make up for our failure to remove President Bush four years ago.

It won’t. Regardless of whom we elect, the Bush administration finally leaves office next January 20.

The past is past. This election is about pressing challenges which must be met in the immediate future.

Timing is everything. This year, America needs John McCain.

 

Rick Gray is the chair of Virginia Citizens for McCain.


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