Johns McKerry 2004

BY GARRY GRUNDY

LIKE MOST SWING VOTERS, I’VE been tempted once or twice to go slumming with the boys from the Republican Party. On occasion, I’ve checked the box that has sent Arizona’s favorite son, John McCain, to the well of the Senate. In 2000, I voted for McCain in the Republican Presidential Primary – and this November, I have every intention of sending this sailor back to the Senate floor to continue the people’s business.

Nevertheless, Senator McCain has another calling for his country – a vocation greater than his service in Vietnam and more expansive than his service to the people of the Grand Canyon State: John McCain should sacrifice his membership in the Republican Party and join Camp Kerry as the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party.

Because McCain has made the center-piece of his Senate tenure the protection of the people: he has fought painstakingly to curb the reckless and pork-filled presidency of this Second Bush – it makes splendid sense for McCain to run with Kerry and take his rightful space as President of the United States Senate.

To be sure, John McCain will deliver all the critical swing states Kerry needs to sweep into the White House. Howard Dean won’t be able to take Arizona, South Carolina, or New Hampshire out of the red – or shore up Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. Neither will John Edwards or Richard Gephardt. In fact, a NY Times poll conducted just this week reveals that both a Kerry-Edwards and a Kerry-Gephardt ticket would lose to the mainstay Bush-Cheney ticket 44%-46% and 41%-47%, respectively.

All while President Bush’s unfavorability ratings have reached their highest point in his four year presidency at 39%.

This paradox can be easily explained by the sexiness of the Democratic presidential ticket. Kerry is a New Englander with as much appeal as clam chowder – while Edwards and Gephardt are the stale crackers added to the mix. John McCain brings broader appeal to the slate – especially now that the war on terror and this Bush administration has us all uneasy – with 54% of Americans saying we’re headed in the wrong direction – again, at the highest point since Bush took office, it’s clear this country is fairly evenly divided and a coalition government is what this country needs to heal after these extraordinary Bush years. There is no better choice to bridge the divide in the American family than John McCain.

McCain’s politics are quite mainstream. Not unlike John Kerry, McCain voted to use force in Iraq. Like John Kerry, John McCain voted against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; he decried last years passage of the massive overhaul of the Medicare insurance program for the elderly, as well as the $31 billion in industry tax breaks crammed into the Republican-sponsored national energy bill.

McCain has publicly blamed Bush for not having vetoed a single spending bill amidst seemingly orgiastic G.O.P. spending levels. “The numbers are astonishing,” says Arizona’s senior senator, “Congress is now spending money like a drunken sailor. And I’ve never known a sailor drunk or sober with the imagination that this Congress has.”

“The president cannot say, as he has many times, that I am going to tell Congress to enforce some spending discipline and then not veto bills.”

Perhaps the last fiscal conservative in Washington, McCain is Bush’s most vociferous critic – voting against the president’s tax cut, challenging the president on campaign finance reform, and federalizing airport security in the face of White House opposition. His reputation as a bridge-builder have resulted in co-sponsored bills with Democrats – signing onto to such legislation as closing the gun-show loop hole in requiring background checks at gun-shows, a patients’ bill of rights, better fuel-efficiency standards in cars and SUVs, and expanding our national service programs. Coming from Arizona, McCain’s pro-immigration views align with union leaders as well as Hispanic voters; and in 2000, McCain called for the Confederate flag to come down from the South Carolina statehouse.

McCain, in so many ways, is the un-Cheney; opposed to corporate welfare and right wing reactionaries, his leadership in the Senate has always been fueled by the interest of the American people, and not the reckless special interest spending being sanctioned by both houses of Congress and this current White House.

But would McCain do it?

It’s no secret that McCain considered leaving the party in May of 2001. His public disconnect with the president is also reason to believe the rumors that he is disliked by the Kenneth-Lay-apologists that comprise the new G.O.P. What is more, Mr. McCain has proclaimed his “unbounded respect and admiration” for Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran-an endorsement that certainly rings as more genuine than his lukewarm support of his old nemesis, George W. Bush.

Having told the Associated Press last week that John Kerry has been his close friend for years, McCain was pressed about a Kerry-McCain ticket. He replied, “Obviously, I would entertain it,” but emphasized still how unlikely the whole idea was, saying: “Do you think the Democrats would want a pro-life, free-trading fiscal conservative? They’d be smoking something pretty strong, stronger than they usually do.”

Indeed.

But these are unusual times – requiring upgrades in just about everything – leadership being most the obvious. It’s clear that America needs John McCain now more than it has ever before. McCain’s addition to the Kerry ticket undoubtedly will bring the country together, changing both the direction of this country and presidential politics in this country for decades to come.

My only hope is that once he’s offered, this maverick won’t just say no.

Garry Grundy’s column appears bi-weekly.

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