The conservative faithful just don't know what to do with Sen. John McCain. Just when they think he's become a "real" Republican again, he turns on the president. And just when they think he's gone to the dark side, he comes through for the GOP when no one else can.
This past week showcased classic McCain. Early in the week, most of the political talk was about the pending battle between Senate Democrats and Republicans over judicial nominations. The Republicans are getting closer to using the "nuclear option" of barring filibusters, which the Democrats, of course, say is outrageous. All the votes involved are expected to be close, so when McCain announced he'd vote with the Democrats to keep the filibuster, Republican leaders were fuming.
Then midweek comes along, and Washington has another controversy brewing. John Bolton, the president's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations, is losing popularity fast. The Democrats have presented a strong front against him, and several moderate Republicans have started to doubt his abilities as well. It's going to be another close call; once again, enter Sen. McCain. This time the senator reinvigorates the party line by urging swift approval for Mr. Bolton despite any misgivings his colleagues have about the nominee's past.
However, the GOP honeymoon doesn't last long. At the end of the week, reports surface that McCain is working together with Sen. Kennedy of Massachusetts (GOP enemy No. 1 on most days) to create a plan that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, even after being captured. The poor Republicans (especially the Minuteman-loving, neoconservative branch of the party) are left shaking their heads.
Sen. McCain's behavior has confused the nation's politicians and pundits for years. In the modern ethos, "staying on message" is the new virtue. McCain must have missed the memo. He seems stuck in that old-fashioned mindset that says virtue is virtue no matter where the party lines are drawn, and for that reason, America needs John McCain to run for president once again.
Sure, his views are too conservative for many people and not conservative enough for others, but that's really beside the point. The real measure of a president doesn't come from the promises he makes. President Clinton said that the era of big government is over then presided over massive expansions of federal spending. President George W. Bush said that the United States shouldn't be in the business of nation building, but right now we're trying to make two democracies from scratch. Most of the big decisions that any president has to make don't come up until he is sworn into office. A strong, honest leader will take the nation in the right direction regardless of the circumstances.
Of course, requesting another run from the senator is asking a lot. He's already spent a half-century serving the United States everywhere from the Senate floor to the Hanoi Hilton. Plus, the last time McCain ran for president, the sleaziest members of his own party turned on him publicly. The false claims made against the senator are so appalling that they don't deserve to be reprinted again.
Despite all this, there's still a chance that John McCain will make one more sacrifice for his country. The same leeches will almost certainly crawl out of the same dark places, but hopefully, for our sake, Mr. McCain will be willing to fight through it one last time.
The next president will enter office right as our generation starts to raise its children. Wouldn't it be great to have a president that our kids can look up to? That we don't have to make excuses for? Our current leaders send the message that sometimes you need to set your conscience and your better judgment aside in order to maintain partisan loyalty. Maybe that's good, maybe it's not, but it certainly isn't the stuff of children's books.
Sen. McCain has taught us that having a mind of your own and using it without fear means the world will call you a maverick. If that's true, then bring on the maverick presidency and the nation full of people that have minds of their own and aren't afraid to use them.
Matt Gray is a second-year law student who has never voted for a Republican in his life. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.