There are few people in America today who can claim with all sincerity and honesty, that they have no interest in the impending presidential election. Sure, there will always be some within our population that do not seek to be informed by the world around them as they are so transfixed by their own personal gluttony and world, that anything outside of their sphere of interest, does not matter to them. However, for the tens of millions of us who are interested, perhaps even transfixed by the presidential campaign, this is one of the most important elections ever in American history. It seems as though that is said about every election but the 2008 Presidential election really is one of the most important in recent memory. Three candidates have emerged after the February 5th “Super Tuesday” primary. (Jackson, 2008 pg. 8) On the Democratic side, the front runners are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and on the Republican side, John McCain. (Jackson, 2008 pg. 8) It is this last name and his career within the Republican Party which will the focus of this study. John McCain, as things stand right now, is the man in which millions of Americans who call themselves conservatives, Republicans or to a lesser extent; Independents, will be placing their hope for the future.
A study of both the history of the Republican Party and the voting record and personal conduct of John McCain, will show a likeness, a conformity, not to one specific ideology but to the American spirit of independence and non conformity which has helped the press to label McCain as a true maverick in a political arena that all too often, is filled with people who will say and do anything to get elected and to retain power. As we will see, this categorization does not and will likely never comply with who John McCain has been and tries to be within his own life. And for that, he is loved by both Republicans and even Democrats who might not find themselves voting for the man but who respect him and in this highly partisan atmosphere of Washington D.C. that is a rare occurrence indeed. John McCain was born on August 29, 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone. (Bumiller, 2008 pg. 8) If elected, McCain would become the first president born outside of the continental United States but as the Panama Canal was a U.S Territory, he is not prevented from running for the Presidency. Both his father and grandfather were United States Navy Admirals and served with distinction in the Armed Forces. It would be a tradition that John McCain and his own son would continue within their own lives. McCain’s father was decorated with the Silver and Bronze Star as a submarine commander. John McCain grew up with the knowledge of a proud and honored family tradition in the Armed Forces. It would be a tradition that McCain would continue as he enrolled at West Point. However, his time at West Point was not as distinguished as others. By the time of his graduation, McCain was only sixth from the bottom of his class. (McCain, www.mccain.org) Even then, McCain was known as a maverick for following his own rules instead the rules set forth by the West Point authorities. It would be this apathy towards the desire to conform to the expectation and rules of others that would serve him well within his own political career. As the United States involvement in Vietnam escalated, John McCain was becoming an adult and growing into his own expectations. It was then that McCain, bored with the training exercises that he had been conformed to, volunteered for combat duty. It would be a decision that would have life long consequences as McCain was shot down as his fighter plane was making a bombing run over Vietnam. It was by this time that McCain’s father had risen to the rank of four star admirals. At first, this lineage did not serve McCain well as he was seen as a special prisoner who was not entitled to preferential treatment but actually was tortured for more than five and a half years in what was later labeled The Hanoi Hotel. (Nurin, 2008 pg. A4) However, in one of the most remarkable turn of events, due to his father’s position within the Armed Forces, McCain was allowed to leave and return safely home to his family. “McCain refused this special treatment as he did not think it fair that only because of who is father was, he should be allowed to leave when other American POWS were forced to remain as prisoners.” (Nurin, 2008 pg. A4) It was a decision that was remarkable in its own right and one that only a select few individuals would have had the courage and fortitude to repeat.
McCain would eventually be allowed to return home but after more than five years of being tortured by the North Vietnamese, McCain had suffered irreversible damage to his body and still holds the scars to this day from that ordeal. It would not however, be enough to stop McCain who hit the ground running as he would run for elected office in his home state of Arizona. McCain won his first election in 1982 and has been in office ever since. (Jackson, 2008 pg. 2) However, even in the pursuit of his first elected office, McCain’s frankness make him a great deal of friends in the press as well as with the common man and woman who had grown tired of far too many politicians that said only what they believed the voters wanted to hear and not necessarily what they believed as the candidate. In one response at a press conference, McCain shot back to a heckler in the crowd who questioned McCain on his frequent changing of addresses. “Listen pal, I have spent twenty two years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We have to live in a lot of different parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish that I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona… As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived the longest in my life was in Hanoi.” (Muller, 2008 pg. 8) Such frankness won him a great deal of admirers in the press as well as with the voters.
It was during the 1980s that John McCain enjoyed a constant rise in his political future within the Republican Party. However, what was/is the Republican Party and what does it stand for today? That question will raise a great deal of different comments and responses. The history of the Republican Party began in 1856 as a response to the issue over slavery that was bringing the country closer and closer to civil war. The country could feel such a conflict coming and a great number of compromises were proposed in order to help avoid such realities. The 1850 Compromise and the 1854 Kansas Nebraska Act both sought to avoid a civil war by dealing with the delicate balanced of slave vs. Free states and the votes that they brought to the Congress. Such compromises were not acceptable to the abolitionist movement who sought after an immediate cessation of slavery within America’s borders. (Goodwin, 2006 pg. 76) At the very least, they and the Republican Party wanted to stop the spread of slavery and to leave it alone in areas where it already existed. This was the chief reason for the formation of the Republican Party in 1856. This was the platform of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and the ideology of freedom for every man would carry into the 20th century as the passages of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments would be brought to the United States by the Republican Party. (Goodwin, 2006, pg. 177) Regrettably, the Republican Party switched ideologies with the passage of the 1964 and 1965 Voting Rights Acts. President Lyndon Johnson said upon signing these legislations. “I have just signed away Democratic support by the South.”(Burns, 1999) Since then, coupled with the increased secularization of the Democratic Party, “the South has voted almost overwhelmingly, for the Republican Party.” (Nurin, 2008 pg. 8) It has been a line that has been rarely crossed in the past forty years and shows what the Republican Party stands for as important and central to their beliefs.
Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are perpetual. Therefore, in the last decade, the Republican Party can be aligned with a number of important issues which most Republicans who are looking to obtain elected office, must agree with to some degree or another. The first and most important issue is that of abortion. Republicans believe that the life of the unborn is the most vulnerable and ought to be protected. There is a degree of disagreement when rape/incest or the life of the mother is brought into the equation but in the end, the unborn child is seen as a human being whose life is of value and should be protected. The second issue of importance to the Republican Party is one that supports traditional marriage. (Jackson, 2008 pg. 2) In recent years, this has meant opposition to the redefining of marriage to include not just a man and a woman but consenting adults of the same sex and subsequently, dual marriages or any other combination which is not a man and a woman. The third deals with less government and low taxes. Republicans are in strong support of a free market economy and of capitalism. “Unfettered capitalism is not their goal but it is the belief that competition breeds excellence and that those who can work, ought to work and be responsible for their own lives and the consequences of their decision.” (Primary Choices, 2008) It is not the right or responsibility of the federal government to hold the American people’s hand through life. As a result, welfare and immigration reform are also high on the list of importance for Republicans who believe that one should follow the law when attempting to immigrate to the country or to use any of the services of the United States government and the revenue of its law abiding tax payers.
Many of these issues came into play during the 2004 Presidential Election. At that time, there were many people who were dissatisfied with the way that the Iraq War was going. The President’s tax cuts were helping to grow a robust economy but many Americans suffered no love loss regarding President Bush since many believed that he had stolen the election from Al Gore in 2000 when Bush lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College. However, the 2004 election was good, not only for President Bush, a Republican, but for Republicans in both the House and the Senate. Republicans gained four seats in the Senate to increase their total to 55 seats compared to 44 for the Democrats ad in the House, held 231 seats to the Democrats’ 2000. (Bumiller, 2004 pg. 4) President Bush carried thirty states out of fifty and over 2000 counties out of 2500 in the country. President Bush ended the election with 286 Electoral votes compared to his Democratic counterpart John Kerry’s 252. (Bumiller, 2004 pg. 7)
There were a number of reasons why the Republican Party was successful at these levels of government. First, it was estimated that an additional four million conservative Protestants, now referred to as evangelicals, were going to vote that did not vote in the 2000 election. This voting block voted overwhelmingly for President Bush as the issues of gay marriage and abortion, coupled with the knowledge that the President was going to nominate a number of Supreme Court Justices, commanded the votes of these people. The second reason was that many people who voted for John Kerry, were really voting against President Bush. Many Democrats even consented that Kerry was not an inspiring candidate just that he was better than Bush; that anybody would be better than President Bush. “It would be the straw that broke the camel’s back a.k.a. Kerry’s hopes to secure the presidency.” (Nurin, 2008 pg. 8) Usually, that does not equal enough votes for that candidate to win. And lastly, there has never been a president who has lost a reelection bid during a time of war in American History and in 2004, the country was at war. Usually, people do not like to make such changes during a time of war and uncertainty. “As a result, President Bush won his reelection campaign and the Republicans enjoyed at least two more years of power until the general elections of 2006; a time when the War in Iraq seemed to an increasing number of Americans as resembling a stalemate, voted Democrats into office at a much higher clip as a result of their promise to end the war in Iraq.” (Des Moines Register, 2008 pg. 12)
Now a new and exciting presidential campaign is upon us when in less than nine months, a new president will be elected. After the primary elections of February 5th, affectionately labeled: “Super Tuesday” in which twenty two states vote for the candidate of their choice, John McCain emerged as the clear winner. This resulted in an escalation of his goof fortune since only late last year, McCain was all but counted out as his campaign suffered one set back after another, mostly dealing with the lack of funding for his campaign. “McCain is still lagging far behind both of the Democratic candidates but with the shot that he received on February 5th, he is enjoying a resurgence of popularity despite certain powerful factions of the Republican talk radio, is not at all satisfied with the probability that McCain will be the Republican Party’s nomination this year.” (Jackson, 2008 pg. 6)
John McCain is facing an uphill climb even if he does secure his party’s nomination since many political pundits favor the Democrats this year to win the election. However, John McCain has been able to gain a number of positive presses from unlikely foes. The New York Times; no friend to conservatives, has printed glowing reviews about John McCain the individual, despite their disgust towards everything that the Republican Party regards as important. (New York Times, 2008 pg. 16) Many feel that despite the success of the surge and the plummeting numbers of American deaths in Iraq, that the war is going badly or that it should never have begun in the first place. The disgust and hatred towards President Bush is so high, that if he was allowed to run again and won, there would be many people who would hold true on their promises to leave the country to make Canada their permanent home. This hatred trickles down to the Republican Party who suffered great losses in the 2006 general elections as the Democrats took back control of both the House and Senate. (Bumiller, 2008 pg. 3) Also, many believe that a recession is upon us if it is not already here. “President Bush just recently signed the stimulus package where millions of Americans are promised checks ranging from $300 to $1200 with the belief that the vast majority of those who receive the funds will spend the money, thus putting the money back into the economy and thus preventing a recession. Many believe that such efforts alone will do little to help avoid a recession.” (Nurin, 2008 pg. 8) Just as the American people sought change after the recession of 1992 under the Bush’s Sr. Administration who had enjoyed unprecedented approval ratings just a few months before, was soundly beaten by Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Many political pundits predict the same forecast for the Republican Party, regardless of who their nomination is to be. What is fascinating about politics, is that, just like the weather, the reality of the situation, is not always it appears to be. This is the hope, at least, for the Republican Party and those who identify themselves as conservatives. The American public will not know for sure the outcome of this most important election until the morning after the election. It is an example of democracy at its finest, meanest and craziest and should promise to be a very interesting show for all those who attend; whether it is in person at the polling places in their neighborhoods and/or in front of their televisions on election night.
John McCain has an uphill climb in winning the election. Is seems, especially after Mitt Romney came out in support of John McCain, that he will become the Republican’s nomination for president. However, in national polls, McCain trails both Clinton and Obama as more and more Americans are looking for a general house cleaning to take place within the government and which begins not only with the President himself but with the party that he belongs. (Jackson, 2008 pg. 4) McCain also faces an uphill climb as many Republicans do not regard McCain as “conservative enough.” McCain’s willingness to reach across the increasingly partisan political isle has resulted in gaining a few friends but a few more enemies as well. McCain’s age might also be an issue as well since, if he were to be elected, McCain would be the oldest president in American history. Despite his refusal to acknowledge such factors morphing into possible impediments to his successful completion of the job as president, it is in the minds of the American people and questions regarding that will no doubt, come to the forefront in the presidential debates. It will be a fascinating election for all who care to participate in the democratic process that is American presidential politics.
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Carney, James The Respect of John McCain New York: TIME Magazine January 23, 2008
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Muller, Bill The Keating Five The Arizona Republic January 3, 2007
Nurin, Joseph McCain Embraces Tax Cut The Washington Times December 19, 2007 www.washingtontimes.com Retrieved February 12, 2008
Weller, Alfred American Prose 1607-1918 Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1918
Primary Choices: John McCain The New York Times Editorial January 25, 2008 Retrieved February 13, 2008
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Republican Election Editorial: Why McCain The Des Moines Register December 15, 2007