Written by Aaron Rodriguez
“Hope” and “change” have been the oft-chanted mantra of the 2008 Presidential campaign. Democratic presumptive nominee Barack Obama has made those two words the central motif of his entire bid for office, and has motivated unprecedented numbers of supporters at his speeches and rallies as a result. Coupled with the poignant fact that he’s the first African-American to clinch a major-party nomination to run for President of the United States, and what we have is a political impetus that represents a monumental challenge for any opponent.
But is the very foundation of Obama’s campaign a legitimate goal, or political opportunism with little “hope” of actually realizing any positive “change?”
The chanted mantra of “yes we can,” made historic by massive throngs of Obama supporters at campaign rallies, only rings true if a candidate can provoke a people to unite behind a common goal. Real change within a two-party system is unlikely unless people are willing to cross the political aisle in order to accomplish their goals and promote their agendas. Simply put, compromise is the only hope for productive and lasting change. And since half of a loaf is better than none, Democrats and Republicans must abandon their more extreme positions and settle with a policy somewhere in the middle.
Eventually, the two sides found some common ground. Roger Sherman, the most politically experienced and respected member of the Continental Congress, brokered an accommodation that later became known as “The Great Compromise.” Sherman proposed a bicameral legislature referred to as the upper and lower houses. The lower house (the House of Representatives) representatives would be decided in proportion to state size and would be chosen by the people with a majority vote. And the upper house (the Senate) would represent all states equally through a fixed number of representatives and would be appointed by the state legislatures. As history judges, one man proposed a centrist idea in the midst of aggressive debate among fixed ideologies, and it left us with a legacy that endures to this very day.
We can learn from history. Real change occurs, not by one person’s force of will, but through the medium of compromise. As history tells us, both sides of the debate were willing to back off something they initially required, and they found an important middle ground thanks to one experienced man who fostered an atmosphere of compromise and cooperation. Needless to say, U.S. history is chock full of many hard fought battles that helped hammer out such substantive governmental concepts like federalism, the separation of powers, the rule of law, the powers delegated to Congress, and many other critical issues that paved the way for political progress.
According to the political analysis of the National Journal, released in January of ‘08, Obama earned the title of the single most liberal senator in 2007. The criteria used to determine the most liberal from the most conservative was based upon actual roll-call votes on economic, social, and foreign policy issues gathered by Polidata, a non-partisan political analysis firm, and sent to the Brookings Institution for processing and statistical analysis.
Senator Obama voted with the party line 65 out of 66 times. By rounding up to the nearest tenth, this means he voted liberal 99% of the time in 2007. Using the same criteria, it should be pointed out that in 2005, Obama was ranked the 16th most liberal in the senate. And in 2006, he ranked 10th. A trend has become increasingly clear during the course of his short Senate career, and it does not appear to indicate a familiarity with the art of compromise. Rather, he has systematically moved away from the middle.
The National Journal has kept annual rankings of congressmen since 1981, and it clearly displays the trend of Senator McCain’s conservatism throughout his congressional career. Since McCain came to the Senate, his voting record has steadily moved from the right to the center. For instance, in 1994, McCain scored 89% in his conservatism ranking. However, over the course of the following three years, 1995, ‘96, and ‘97, his conservatism score dipped into the 70% range. In the subsequent four years of 1998, ‘99, 2000, and ‘01, he continued to move toward the center scoring in the range of 60%. And finally, in the most recent years of 2004, ‘05, and ‘06, he plunged into the 50s. Clearly, McCain has moved toward the ideological center on foreign policy, economic, and social issues. If compromise can be more easily realized from the center, then McCain is well positioned to be the true advocate of change.
McCain’s political experience must also be factored into the discussion on compromise. Ann Coulter humorously criticized McCain for being a member of Congress for about 400 years and implied that he was more conservative during the Spanish American War of 1898 than he is today. Humor aside, much can be said about the benefits of extensive congressional experience. For instance, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the Presidency with 26 years of political experience. In fact, he was undoubtedly the most experienced and arguably the most productive politician in U.S. history. With his experience and a Democrat-controlled Congress, LBJ was able to implement many of his “Great Society” programs in just a few short years. Jeffery Lord commented on this very point in an article he wrote for the American Spectator magazine in which he highlighted the productivity of LBJ, who essentially took Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal philosophy to its logical end of extreme government expansionism.
Regardless how we may feel about the programs he implemented, LBJ’s productivity as President wouldn’t have been possible without a clear and intimate knowledge of how politics works in Congress. Similarly, Roger Sherman’s political experience and willingness to find some common ground allowed him to broker the “Great Compromise.” Both of these men were more capable of effecting change, in part, due to their considerable experience in the legislature. And while political longevity may not translate into Presidential greatness, it is clearly beneficial to greater Presidential productivity. Put another way, excellence in leadership may not come with experience, but candidates that lack sufficient experience are less likely to realize leadership excellence.
Like Roger Sherman, McCain possesses the two essential ingredients a politician needs for promoting positive change. First, he has accrued over 26 years of political experience. He knows many people in powerful positions, and has connections and contacts that his opponent simply lacks, unless, of course, we consider Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, Father Pfleger, Jeremiah Wright, and their ilk as politically powerful contacts. And second, his centrist voting record suggests he is more capable of effecting positive change than Obama, whose record shows a progressively leftward pattern. When McCain and Obama are considered side by side, the political capacity to provoke positive change must lie with the candidate proven by his history and voting record to possess a willingness to work with others. America is ready for another Roger Sherman. And that candidate is John McCain.