Will John McCain Be the Hubert Humphrey of 2008?
If you are lucky enough to cover American politics, then, inevitably, you personally find yourself liking some political candidates more than you do others. None of us is objective. Most of us, I still believe, do try to be fair. I frankly admit — even though I disagree with him on literally dozens of political issues — that I personally like and admire U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who from all available evidence is running quite hard for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
George W. Bush has had no more reliable, credible and important supporter of his Iraq war policy than McCain. Lately, I have reluctantly begun to think that McCain risks becoming in 2008 the Vice President Hubert Humphrey of 1968.
In 1968 — long before I became a semi-respectable columnist — I worked for New York Sen. Robert Kennedy in his challenger presidential campaign. The favorite of most Democratic Party leaders that year, as well as of many voters, was the admirable and likeable Hubert Humphrey. The country was openly divided over the increasing American and civilian casualties from the unpopular war in Vietnam.
Humphrey won the nomination, and — because Vietnam was in the final analysis for him, I believe, a matter of conscience — he continued to be loyal to the war policies of his Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson. That support and that loyalty in the close election of 1968 quite probably cost Hubert Humphrey the White House.
Now consider the nation's mood, less than a year before the first contest in the 2008 presidential campaign.
American voters have essentially delivered their judgment on both the presidency of George W. Bush and the U.S. war in Iraq: Neither is working the way it was supposed to, and the electorate holds the failure of the former responsible for the tragic failure that is the latter.
If you need evidence for the above statement, just reflect on the answer to one question in the most recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll: "Thinking about events of the past couple months, do you feel that President Bush is facing a short-term setback from which things are likely to get better for him, or that he is facing a longer-term setback from which things are unlikely to get better for him?" Just 25 percent of respondents see things getting better for Bush after this "temporary" setback, while a super-majority, 65 percent of voters, believe the president is confronting a "longer-term" setback from which things are "unlikely" to get better for him.
McCain has never hesitated to take on his own president. As one of only six Republican insurgents in the Senate who stopped Bush's energy bill, McCain won no friends at the White House by branding the legislation as "no policy alternatives, just one pork-barrel project larded onto another" and, my personal favorite, the "leave no lobbyist behind bill."
Long before the president became a last-minute convert to the cause, McCain was angering Detroit, the Bush administration and conservatives by championing — always working closely with prominent Senate Democrats — legislation to require all light trucks and cars to get 36 miles a gallon and to reduce global warming and other greenhouse gases from industrial smokestacks. He has been a nemesis of deficit spending.
Make no mistake. John McCain did not become the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination by accident. He is good at politics. And he knows that the U.S. war in Iraq — the conduct of which by this Republican administration he has frequently criticized, but the mission of which he has so strongly backed — has lost public support.
McCain knows well that his support for Iraq could cost him his last chance to win the presidency.
But don't look for McCain to change. You see, with him it is a matter of conscience.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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COPYRIGHT 2007 MARK SHIELDS