Susan J. Demas: Vote McCain, save the GOP

I’m an old-fashioned girl. I like my presidents to be heroes.

I yearn for an astute student of history, policy and diplomacy who walks among us today and not simply in dusty David McCullough biographies.

Because we are in the throes of a national identity crisis in education, globalization, foreign affairs, health care and retirement costs.

This is a time for heroes.

Of the 698 candidates for president, there's only one whose hair was shocked white at age 29 after broken bones, rope bindings and dysentery courtesy of the North Vietnamese. He refused to be released unless every prisoner of war got the same deal - so there he stayed for more than five years.

That's far more courage than most of us will ever be called upon to exhibit in a lifetime.

Maybe that's why it's been a simple matter of conscience for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to cross party lines hunting for reasonable solutions on campaign finance, immigration and judicial nominees. And why so many people respect him who don’t share his politics.

Maybe that’s why McCain has always cherished freedom – particularly freedom of the press – even in a time when George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton have perfected stonewalling, intimidation and mistrust of the media to an art form.

Maybe that's why McCain’s humble enough to admit that some of the Machiavellian stunts he's pulled in his quest to become the next Leader of the Free World - like softening his criticism of the Confederate flag - were just plain wrong.

Those are some of my personal reasons for voting McCain in the Jan. 15 presidential primary, just as thousands of independents did in 2000.

But even if you don’t agree, here's another overarching reason why you should pull the lever for him.

We need to save the Republican Party. And it's in the interest of all of us — Democrat, Republican or independent — to do so.

First, the obvious question: Why in the world would Democrats want to do that? Because the status quo of polarization and gridlock benefits no one but lobbyists and interest groups.

There’s no movement on the most important issues of the day – Iraq, immigration and taxes – because compromise is akin to treason. More importantly, it could cost you re-election.

You know we’ve struck nadir when political odd couples like Newt Gingrich and Bob Kerrey hit the talk show circuit bemoaning the bloody death of bipartisanship.

Decades ago, D’s and R’s would dish it out but come together on vital issues, particularly on Cuba, the Soviet Union and the Middle East. Many Republicans like Gerald Ford were considered more liberal on foreign affairs than Democrats. How refreshing.

But since the ‘80s, an increasingly hysterical minority has conquered the GOP, obsessed with politically irrelevant social issues. (How ‘bout this: Let the folks who went to med school sort out stem cells and abortion, let Chuck and Larry decide if they want to get hitched and spend some quality time perfecting your own damn marriage).

The result: New frontrunner Mike Huckabee, who honestly says he’s topping the polls because of “the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people.”

No matter how much Dems might salivate over this Christian caricature as the GOP contender, you don’t want him.

We deserve choices. We deserve at least two viable, thoughtful and sane parties. Look at the dearth of options on the D side of the Michigan primary. There are some Democrats I’d consider voting for, but they’re not on the ballot.

The law of averages and political cycles dictate Republicans will win some elections. We shouldn’t have to fear the draconian damage wreaked by extremists like Dick DeVos.

That also means there’s no competition in the marketplace of ideas. All Gov. Jennifer Granholm had to prove last year was that she was more likeable than a guy parodied as a beady-eyed, blueblood inbred. There was no real vision – and look at the mess we’re in now.

John McCain has ideas. You might not agree with them. Although a principled conservative and hawk, he refuses to be held captive by ideology or theology.

Unfortunately, I think he’s swallowed some bad advice, especially from his Mitten State campaign. He joined the fray, kissing the rings of religious right royalty.

Stop. No matter how many Bush henchmen or Swift Boat ad goons McCain hires, the true believers will never forgive him for calling them out in 2000.

It’s not too late to turn things around in Michigan and win the nomination. But if McCain doesn’t, many Republicans I’ve interviewed say they’ll part ways with the narrowing Party of Lincoln.

They’ll join the biggest political party today – no party.

Huckabee’s reaction may be the same as that to godless heathens who don’t get his success: “That’s probably just as well.”

Mine is: What a pity.