By Bertram de Souza
If only the John McCain on the presidential campaign trail had been the John McCain in the United States Senate. If only. But when the veteran Republican senator from Arizona made winning at all costs his reason to be, as evidenced by major shifts in his positions on important issues, he gave up the right to the maverick moniker earned in Congress.
After the Democratic and Republican primaries, this non-aligned voter was looking for compelling reasons to support one nominee over the other.
Democrat Barack Obama, a three-year U.S. senator from Illinois, scored a surprising victory in a primary that featured a strong field of candidates led by U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, the former first lady. Before the March contest in Ohio, it was argued in this space that Clinton’s experience, knowledge, political standing with traditional Democratic voters and the popularity of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made her the preferred choice.
Indeed, Clinton scored a decisive victory in the battleground state of Ohio and crushed Obama in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. She also carried the big states, including California and New York. But Obama’s national campaign for delegates turned out to be a winner.
Likewise, McCain proved the experts wrong when he rode his campaign as a political moderate to victory.
And so, post primary became a time of weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each nominee. Obama’s r sum compared with McCain’s gave the Republican the edge with this writer.
But as the general election campaign unfolded, McCain the GOP standard bearer began to move away from Mc-Cain the Senate maverick.
First, he abandoned Ohio Sen. George V. Voinovich, his brother-in-arms in the battle for a balanced federal budget, when he embraced President Bush’s tax cuts; he went so far as to say they should be extended. That was a major departure from his original position, shared by Voinovich: Any reduction in taxes must be matched by deep cuts in the federal budget or an infusion of new money. Neither has occurred and the deficit has exploded.
McCain obviously thought it was more important to appease Republicans who viewed him with suspicion than to stand on principle.
Second, there was his highly controversial position on immigration. Again, he was at odds with the extreme wing of the party because of his contention that the 12 million undocumented aliens should be given a chance to earn their citizenship, rather than being deported. But as his general election campaign took flight, the Arizona senator stopped talking about citizenship.
Third, there was his kowtowing to the religious wing of the GOP. In 2000, McCain told evangelical leaders that their moralizing was divisive. But today, he has embraced all their extremist views.
But the most telling example of McCain’s win-at-all-costs position was his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential running mate. Palin is the darling of the extreme right of the party and is much more strident on such wedge issues as abortion than McCain. Yet, he picked her — because he realized that not doing the bidding of the Rev. Dobsons of the world would be detrimental to his campaign.
Palin’s selection was not only an insult to all thinking voters, but did nothing to fill in the blank in McCain’s profile: His admitted lack of expertise on the economy. He could have chosen someone with a strong business background, such as Mitt Romney, or Tom Ridge, who has vast experience with the federal government, both in the executive and legislative branches. Romney and Ridge are former governors.
By contrast, Obama has remained consistent in his core beliefs and in his biggest test in the general election campaign, the selection of a vice presidential running mate, he scored a hundred.
The Democratic nominee, aware that his foreign policy credentials were not his strong suit, tapped U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the foreign relations committee and one of the most knowledgeable members of Congress on foreign affairs.
Obama has run an exceptional campaign, his message has resonated and he has the one ingredient every politician must have to be successful: luck. The collapse of the national and global economies has served to overshadow the trepidation many white voters have about his being black.
McCain could have had this writer’s vote. He blew it.