It would appear that John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and I have something in common. We are both self-proclaimed “realistic idealists.” I am so defined by the starry-eyed idealism of my youth tempered by real world experience gained through the years since. In his speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles last Wednesday, McCain said, “I am, from hard experience and the judgment it informs, a realistic idealist.” Although I think I said it first, the term is far too general to be claimed by any one person; I cede it to the public domain. I would be tickled pink if it turned out McCain read my stuff, let alone appropriated it, but I don’t think that is the case. It remains true, however, that his self-definition has struck a chord with me. It was not the first.
They used to call McCain a maverick; a renegade; a loose canon; at times even, God forbid, a liberal. Although perhaps not as rebellious as his reputation would have us believe, there is a streak of independence in his thinking and his action that appeals to me. He has not been one that could be counted on to carry the party line just because it is the party line and, again, that appeals to me. Not just because it gives some Republicans the consternation that only they can know, but also because I admire freethinkers. That does not make McCain always right - not by a long shot, but it does make him his own man. A man that has far more noble and admirable characteristics that our current Commander in Chief, AKA “Cheney’s man.”
So he has admirable traits, ok. He is not an ideologue, good. He has a backbone, which should not be confused with what Bush calls “resolve,” excellent. Bush’s idea of strength is nothing more than blind obstinacy at best and arrogant stupidity at worst. And it is that special brand of arrogance that has, so far, cost more than 4,000 American service men and women their lives, many more “ancillary” and civilian deaths, created tens of thousands of war injured (injuries that will never go away) and has put us untold billions of dollars in debt. “Staying the course” means only more of the same for the foreseeable future. There is no end in sight. And McCain’s platform, in this one respect at least, foretells more of the same.
There are other planks in McCain’s platform that represent a radical split from that of the current administration. McCain talks about “international good citizenship” and “being good stewards of our planet.” He even acknowledges global warming and the importance of international cooperation in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases. He addressed our relations with Latin America as well, saying they should be based on mutual respect, not an imperial impulse. Indeed, his appeal in many ways is in stark contrast to Bush’s imperialism… let’s just call it what it is - dominion.
Ideology aside (realistic or otherwise), there is one key factor that will hopefully determine the outcome of the upcoming presidential election - Iraq. Although McCain gives us a different and perhaps more palatable take on our continued presence in the region, he still has us there. Hillary Clinton says she will begin to withdraw troops, but I still don’t get that she thinks her vote to authorize force in the first place was a mistake and she is way too wishy-washy to make me believe she really wants out. The war is an issue that outweighs the economy, housing and much of everything else because it, in the end, encompasses it all. If we don’t cut our losses, this war will be paid for by our offspring that have not even been born yet. We can’t afford it; they shouldn't have to. You think the economy is bad now? Just wait until the chickens come home to roost.
This election is about the war. Once it becomes other than, McCain and the Republicans stand a chance. I don’t care much about whether Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright are friends and I don’t care if Clinton embellished her Bosnia story. I care about who is going to end the war. Because the war is the key issue, Clinton’s vote to authorize it and her hesitancy to admit in no uncertain terms that her vote was a mistake becomes a pivotal argument as to who is best suited to get us out. I willingly concede that there are many other issues that are of vital importance in this campaign, but all three candidates are capable - with good appointments - of dealing with them.
It’s still about Iraq. It’s still about the war. It’s still about getting the hell out. It is a time to be realistic.