Recently two astute political columnists have urged Senator John McCain to return to the John McCain of 2000 and his earlier Senate service. David Broder and Mark Shields rightfully respect politicians who lead by putting national and societal interests ahead of parochial ones.
I share their outloook, having worked with McCain on campaign finace reform and ending the efforts of the tobacco industry to have young people addicted to cigarettes. McCain then credibly said Theodore Roosevelt was his leader model. He fought for the FDA having strong and unambiguous regulatory power over the tobacco industry. That alone made him a different Republican.
Now McCain faces another challenge. With his primary over he has no excuses. The time for those who want to exhort him to meet his responsibilities (Broder) or cut him slack (Shields) is over. The Republican Party has a national security conflict of monumental proportions. Those Republicans who have had responsibility for governing– James Baker, James Schlesinger, Brent Scowcroft all come to mind– support New Start.
The Cheney wing of the party have placed ideology over solid national interest. Senators Imhofe (R-Okla) and DeMint (R-SC) are its spear carriers. They oppose New Start.
Everyone knows McCain is no wimp on national security. McCain has the responsibility of standing with those who can analyze the complexities of a treaty (Baker, Schlesinger and Scowcroft) versus those who place doctrinal faith over credible analysis (Imhofe and DeMint)
McCain can provide the leadership, if he chooses to, by moving his Senate Republican colleagues in the direction of responsible Republican national security and diplomatic experience. The undecided Republican Senators need to advise and consent to the New Start treaty.
Short of acting to support New Start quickly, McCain will stay with the McCain of his primary campaign– a political leader who no longer has analytic and independent judgment or courage to oppose the “shouters” in his party. To stand on the sidelines, or line up with Imhofe and DeMint, will forever mark McCain as a failed leader.