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In defeat, McCain might still be a force for good

November 09, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

At the tender age of 7, I made the casual statement to my grandparents that I was "kind of for Hubert Humphrey," an announcement that stopped the presses in my family and caused simultaneous coronaries among a group who traced their legacy back to the Yellow Rose and Richard III and had just barely gotten over the execution of Charles X.

They straightened me up, dusted me off and taught me to be a good Republican, an effort that lasted as long as it took Richard Nixon to lose his integrity. By the age of 16, I was actively campaigning for Jimmy Carter at the Morgan County, W.Va., Apple Butter Festival, a testament against teenage excesses if ever there was. By the time Ronald Reagan rolled around, I had written off politics altogether, a sentiment that lasts to this day.

Humphrey, the Happy Warrior, never won anything beyond Minnesota, just as it appears John McCain will never transcend Arizona. But in defeat, Humphrey was an able spokesman, and there is a good chance McCain too can be better in defeat than in victory,

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By losing the election, McCain did the country three favors. First, he ceded office to a man, Barack Obama, who brings us inspiration if nothing else.

Obama delivers to us the message of hope when hope is about all we have.

Second, McCain taught us that negative politicking doesn't always work. The Senator promised early on to run a clean campaign, a pledge that lasted only as long as it took him to get behind in the polls. Negative ads have been successful in the past, but not this time. Willie Horton would be disappointed. We were in no mood to listen to more bad news and McCain's TV spots of roiling, black seas did him no good.

Admitting as much in his concession speech, the senator said the mistakes of the campaign were his own, although I suspect his handlers had more to say about it than he did. Obama, too, had some dark advertising, but mostly his was a positive message of hope and change. Were he to do it over again, you sense that McCain would run on higher ground.

But the third, and most important favor McCain has done us is to maintain his spot in the legislature where he can be an agent of the change that Obama promises.

Republicans have been marginalized in this election, but they cannot be dismissed. McCain seems to share many of Obama's hopes and dreams. As a lawmaker in the minority, he has as good a chance of furthering this agenda as if he were president.

It's up to him.

Plenty of losing candidates have been embittered by their defeat and presented themselves as a roadblock to progress, but McCain doesn't seem willing to do the same. If nothing else, five years in a prison camp will teach patience.

One wag, citing McCain's insistence that his time as a POW fitted him to be president, said that Guantanamo wasn't a prison camp, but a "leadership training academy."

Yet John McCain has a point. Persistence can pay off. And he, and we, will need it.

For better on of 20 years now, we have decried the fact of low voter turnout. But low voter turnout is not necessarily a bad thing - it is an indicator of overall satisfaction. Do we want 99 percent of people at the polls? Do we want to be like, say, Nicaragua?

The interest in this election shows how hard times really are.

As another wag put it, e-mails are starting to show up in the in-boxes of Nigerians, asking them to transfer our bank accounts.

America's economy is indeed on the rocks, but it has been on the rocks before and we have lived on to fight another day.

America's foreign policy is on the rocks as well, but given the reaction to Obama's victory around the world, they are willing to give us a second chance.

The troubles of George Bush were somewhat troubles that were beyond his, or anyone's, capabilities. The twin towers attack proved to be a quicksand pit of sorts, causing us to kick out in areas that may have been best left unkicked.

We are the worse for our reaction. But now Obama and McCain have a chance to work together to set things right, both at home and abroad. Much lip service is given to bipartisanship, but it is a goal that is seldom achieved.

John McCain and Barack Obama are both smart enough to know the score. Both are in positions to lead their parties to the middle, to an area where government solves problems instead of creating them. Let's hope they do it.

Tim Rowland is

a Herald-Mail columnist.

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