McCain can play vital role in Senate

August 26, 2010


— Now that John McCain has taken care of his political business in Arizona, it is time for him to return to Washington and the responsibilities he bears as a leader of the Republican Party and the nation.

I did not begrudge him the $20 million he spent to win Tuesday’s primary, or whatever amount it was. Nor was I bothered by the doctrinal compromises the senator made in order to convince Arizona voters that he was, in fact, a conservative. McCain has always been a realist, doing what is necessary to survive a North Vietnamese prison camp or a tough political trap. His 2000 embrace of George W. Bush — a man he had every reason to dislike — showed his practicality, and it made possible his own presidential nomination in 2008.

It was easy to root for McCain to turn back the challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth and put himself in a position to win his fifth term in November. The last thing the Senate needs is a loudmouth ex-radio talk show host like Hayworth.

What it does need badly is adult leadership, and it’s now incumbent on McCain to demonstrate that he is prepared to fulfill this role for both his party and his country.

After his defeat by Barack Obama, a man about whom he harbors many private reservations, McCain was entitled to step back and catch his breath rather than plunging into renewed political battle. When Hayworth popped up in Arizona, ambitious for the Senate seat, McCain was wise to take the threat seriously and respond forcefully.

But now, as the 73-year-old senator prepares for what may well be his final term in a congressional career that began back in 1982, the time has come for McCain to look to his legacy — and conditions are right.

In a Congress where Democrats have pitiful approval ratings and Republicans even worse, McCain is one of the few names that does not draw instant contempt from the voters. The reputation he established for independence — for being his own man, no matter what the pressures — has survived the vagaries of an exceptionally long career.

That reputation is his ticket to influence, and a precious gift he can bestow on others, Republican or Democrat, who are willing to join him as a dysfunctional Senate prepares to struggle with a challenging agenda both domestic and foreign.

McCain need not muscle anyone out of the way to play the role for which he is uniquely fitted. He simply needs to set his own course and form his own ad hoc alliances, as he has always done, with a Tom Coburn on the right or a Russ Feingold on the left.

One of the conspicuous failings in the last few years has been the absence of a second party making principled decisions on when to support and when to oppose the president. McCain has the best opportunity — and the best credentials — to restore this.

He has almost complete political freedom — a constituency that plainly will not punish him for following his own conscience. There is enough mutual respect between him and the president that McCain’s support will be welcomed by the White House and his opposition understood.

It is up to McCain to choose when and how to exert the influence he commands, not just as a senior senator but as a man that millions were prepared to support as chief executive in two campaigns.

One obvious area where he will be needed is his favorite field of national security. Iraq, where he was prescient and persistent, still poses challenges, and Afghanistan, where Obama badly needs a Republican partner, is likely to be in crisis before it can be called a success. Behind them looms Iran, which could be this nation’s next big test.

Hardly less important is the role McCain can play within his own party. In Arizona, he successfully steered the GOP away from an experiment in extremism. He needs to do this nationally as well, including a potentially influential role in shaping the choice of the next nominee.

A load of work — but John McCain has never shirked.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. davidbroder@washpost.com


cato_the_elder 7 years, 9 months ago

Mr. Broder: Which Democrat Senators are going to "steer the Dems away" from their own "experiment in extremism" that they have continually embraced since they took control over our lives in early 2009? Care to answer that one, Mr. Moderate?

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 9 months ago

Care to explain what the heck you are talking about?

cato_the_elder 7 years, 9 months ago

Look no further than Obamacare, which is only the tip of the iceberg. The federal government has absolutely no right to require any free citizen of this country to buy health insurance or pay a fine. If you don't care whether all of this is unconstitutional, that's your right.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 9 months ago

"The reputation he established for independence — for being his own man, no matter what the pressures — has survived the vagaries of an exceptionally long career."

Good one. His recent lunge to the right to capture the primary votes of the increasingly deranged republican voters has sure been evidence of his "independence."

I am wondering how "mavericky" a political whore gets to be when he needed to raise $20M to defeat someone as woefully unqualified as his primary opponent. The bill for that $20M will come due and, based on his long track record, John McCain will gladly pony up and pay it.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 9 months ago

Good points and good luck, Senator McCain.

blindrabbit 7 years, 9 months ago

McCain can quit flip-flopping around like a flounder for a while. Unlike his Navy Admiral grandfather and father, John never learned how to steer a ship in a straight line, zig-zagging all the way.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 9 months ago

John McCain is one of the more despicable examples of the soulless and power grubbing politicians infesting the republican party today. A man who will do anything to hold on to power.

My guess is they'll never issue a stamp with John McCain's image on it. Everyone would spit on the wrong side.

blindrabbit 7 years, 9 months ago

Even his knucklehead runningmate Palin just today said John had just "found the light". This from the queen of intelligence and rational thought.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 9 months ago

The congress needs tons of new faces.

Kansas does not need Brownback on our tax dollar payroll. Bringing Brownback on the payroll is not bringing new ideas to Kansas. Brownback is always on the campaign trail.

McCain forgot to catch those D.C. bankrobbers again. Just like the Savings and Loan robberies under Reagan/Bush.

aBroder wake up. You have become part of the problem. McCain is not paying attention. He spends too much time on the campaign trail.

We don't elect people to much so much time on the campaign trail. They need to stay at work.

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