I have never voted for a Republican in a presidential race since I cast my first ballot in 1968. In the following forty years, Gerald Ford and Robert Dole being the sole exceptions, I actively disliked the Republican nominee. Even when I knew my vote was useless, I always got a little tingle of satisfaction in throwing a snowball at the silk top hat of the fat rich guy. I was not going to vote for John McCain. However, when my friends would chortle over his imminent defeat, I felt no joy whatsoever, because I have personally seen John McCain at his best.
It was a snowy evening in December during the Iowa caucus campaign. My brother Don, a college professor visiting from California, who had been chastising us for not taking more advantage of the opportunity that is presented only to Iowa and New Hampshire residents to actually SEE all the candidates personally, discovered that McCain, barely working the state, had scheduled a short stop at the Pipac Center in Cedar Falls to talk with a religious group we had never heard of. He strongly urged that we go. This seemed an excellent idea, but because he had also recently confessed to voting for George Bush in 2004, my wife regarded any of his suggestions as patently stupid, and it was only after we threw in an overly expensive dinner that she relented.
We explained to the door monitors that we were registered Democrats who really admired McCain and would like to meet him. As my wife rolled her eyes in embarrassment, I was pleasantly surprised at their kindness as they welcomed us into what was supposed to be a "closed and private" gathering.
When we entered, I quickly understood why we had not been turned away. There were no more than 50 people at the event! His campaign was in such disarray that even free food could not seem to attract a crowd. This conservative audience politely voiced their disagreements about his stands on global warming, immigration, campaign reform, and cooperating with Democrats. If EVER there was a time to pander and grovel this was it. But that did not happen!
"Sir, You are wrong about global warming. I have been there, I have seen it. It is real."
"I made a mistake on immigration. I realize we have to secure the border before we do anything else." He then implored the crowd to show Christian kindness, love, and respect to those "unfortunate people who were only trying to better their lives."
"We have to take big money out of politics. The country needs to work for the people." He knew it was not a popular stand with this crowd, but he talked of how proud he was that he had sided with some Democrats to at least start a process that had halted some of the abuses that had plagued the system.
"When I joined the Gang of 14 to stop one side of the senate from invoking closure on the minority, I was pilloried by my own party. But I knew that what goes around comes around. It is funny that my Republican brothers, now that they have lost their majority, don't think, in retrospect, it was such a bad idea."
It was at that moment that my brother whispered in my ear "this is why I love this guy." "Me too," I replied. And I truly meant it.
After spending some time with the senator I became even more impressed with his soft-spoken kindness. There was absolutely no guile in the man. That is why, as we left the meeting, Don and I were in total agreement that he had NO CHANCE of being nominated. If an Obama precinct captain and renegade Democrat had more respect for the man than the registered Republicans in attendance, his situation was hopeless.
Obviously we were very wrong. Using his "maverick" credentials he managed to eke out victories with independent and crossover voters while never getting a majority of registered Republicans until late in the process. This could never have happened under the Democratic proportional system, but I was elated! The Midwest and southern parts of the Democratic party are far less liberal than the more prominent Pelosi-Schumer left and right coasts, and there is always a toning down of the extremes on almost any issue. Firmly believing this is where Senator Obama's actual tendencies lie, I still intended to vote for him but felt that even if McCain, a person of good will and rational conservative ideals, were to occupy the White House, there just might be a real bridge to the middle ground that the vast majority of Americans crave.
That dream died with surprising suddenness. John has now aligned himself with the very elements of his party who have maligned him most cruelly. Liberal Democrats can be vicious and silly, but even THE DAILY KOS has never had the stomach to unleash the vitriol that the fanatical right has routinely heaped on him throughout his career. His opposition to the fundamentalist takeover of the Republican party is what made his reputation with the country at large, but by choosing Sarah Palin he has now embraced the religious dogma and political posturing that he has always disdained. The very extremists who labeled Chuck Grassley "too liberal" to deserve a delegate spot at the convention have now been handed a back door opportunity, after massive failure at every level, to maintain power. Why would they NOT be "energized"?
I still love John McCain for what he was, but while voting against him will not be satisfying, it will be easier than I could have contemplated a month ago. He has become the kind face fronting for a darker reality; however, should he win in November, I will do something daily that I strongly suspect some of his "supporters" will not; I will be praying for his good health.
Ronald Orf is a guidance counselor residing in Tripoli Iowa. He currently is the counselor at Victor, Iowa. 319-882-3545