Why I Voted for John McCain

I posted my vote via twitter a few hours ago, and I’ve already gotten several inquiries from both sides of the aisle wanting some elaboration.  What exactly did lead me to vote (for the first time ever) for a Republican Presidential Candidate, with whom I disagree with on a number of issues?  What exactly led me–a lifelong liberal democrat–NOT to vote for one of the most viable, historic, and articulate democratic candidates we’ve seen in many years? Honestly, it’s been the culmination of an eight-year long decision making process, and it hasn’t been easy.  Regardless of who wins tonight, I’ll be glad this is over.  But, for those who *really* are interested, here’s the story…

Background: Pre-2000

My first vote for a presidential candidate was Bill Clinton, but the first campaign I ever worked was for a democratic gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi, in 1987, when I was 12.  In college, I was the founding president of ORU Young Democrats, as well as the President of Tulsa Young Democrats, and for short time, the Parliamentarian for Oklahoma Young Democrats.  In those capacities and beyond, I’ve volunteered for countless democratic campaigns–senatorial, gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral, etc.  So, it really pisses me off when people question my commitment or contributions to the Democratic party.

That said, as my views on theology, education, and technology have evolved over the past decade, so have my views on politics.  I now consider myself a liberal libertarian.  That may sound like a contradiction, but if you want to know more about what that looks like, try here.  I still tend to agree with the democrats more than republicans, but I also realize that neither party (nor any candidate) is perfect, nor is either one evil incarnate, though they often toss that accusation at one another.

2000 Republican Primaries and Beyond:  Enter John McCain

Although I eventually voted for Al Gore, I was never that enthusiastic about him.  He seemed like a smart guy, but devoid of heart and passion.  I’ve since seen a little more of that side of him, but I didn’t see it in 2000.  And while my ears pricked up at Gov. George Bush’s call for “compassionate conservatism,” I didn’t really buy into the “conservatism” part of that equation.  But then there was John McCain, who, at one political rally in the primary season, waved a lightsaber in the air to the background music of Star Wars, and talked about the Bush campaign in terms of the “Evil Empire.”  That got my attention.  Through the primary season, I listened to him talk a little more, and he didn’t sound like any Republican I’d ever heard.  It’s now become a way-overused cliche, but he really did (then) come across as a Maverick.  If you know me at all, you’ll understand why that appealed to me.

When he lost the primaries, I kept following his words and actions in the Senate.  Every time McCain made the news, it was for doing something bold, bipartisan, and often something that said “screw you” to the powers-that-be, whether they were democratic or republican ones.  The one exception to this, of course, was his stance on the war in Iraq.  Despite this, I grew to admire McCain, and often found myself saying to others, “now there’s a Republican I could actually vote for…if he ever got the nomination.”  I was pretty certain that the mere fact that I liked him so much meant he never would.

2008 Primaries: They ALL suck!

When the 2008 primaries rolled around, like everyone else, I was ready for anyone but GW Bush.  Because of my sympathies to illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico, and the primacy of that one issue in my thoughts, I evaluated all the candidates in both primaries on that one issue alone.  They all sucked, especially the democrats.  Nevertheless, I voted for Hillary Clinton in the democratic primary–her “official” stance on the issue was just as bad as the others, but several Latino friends I talked with said they trusted her more on immigration issues than the others, as she had actually been working for and among them for most of her adult career.  Around that time, I also read a very unflattering magazine article about Obama by a reporter who had covered him as a state legislator.  He painted a picture of an arrogant, self-centered Obama motivated primarily by ambition to rise to the top, and overly concerned with his image.  I didn’t really put much stock in the article (the same things have been written about all the candidates) but over the next months, I began to notice little things here and there that did seem to hint at an “elitist” attitude in Obama.  I say “attitude” because I don’t think his background makes him an elitist.  John McCain is more subject to that criticism.  But there are times when Obama seems condescending.  It’s more of a gut feeling than something verifiable, but if we’re honest, I think we all rely to some extent on those feelings.

2008 General Election: Back and Forth

When it became clear that Obama and McCain would be the nominees, I leaned in the direction of McCain, but decided to hold out for awhile longer before making a decision.  Let me also say that at this point, I was disappointed with the way both were running their campaigns, and with the issues they both were staking out as “central.”  Personally, I think tax cuts are stupid in this kind of economy (sorry Trait), and both of them pander to the popular vote on this one.  Neither of them are talking much about immigration.

Barack Obama did two things that deeply, deeply disappointed me, however:

  1. He broke his promise to rely on public financing for his campaign.  I understand all the arguments he made in favor of doing this, but to me it said that at the end of the day, politics is still all about the money.  I suspect that will be the same when and if he is elected.
  2. He chose in a running mate the most boring, safe, white-milk-toast, uninspiring person he possibly could have chosen.  I realize that it was politically expedient of him to do so, but I was really hoping he would be bold and choose someone like Bill Richardson.  Or even Hillary.  Had he done so, I probably would have come around and voted for him.

Meanwhile, McCain wasn’t doing much better.  In fact, the McCain I remembered from 2000 seemed largely gone, but did rear up in at least one issue that I think was greatly mis-understood and mis-cast by my liberal friends:  his selection of a running mate.  Now, bear in mind that politically, I disagree with Sarah Palin almost across the board on most issues.  But I do think it was a bold choice.  Liberals dismissed it as him playing to the conservative base.  It was indeed that, but it was more.  If he just wanted to accomplish that, he could have nominated Mike Huckabee.  I don’t think Democrats truly understand that John McCain is about the only Republican in the world who could get away with nominating a woman as a VP candidate.  He did change the nature of the game in conservative land forever.  I also genuinely believe he chose someone with an “outsider” mentality–even if I disagree with her positions.  Biden, on the other hand, is the ultimate insider.  McCain is an outsider who happened to sneak “inside.”  But once he got in, he lost a lot of his appeal.

This was compounded a week or so ago when some ultra fundamentalists on facebook who told one of my Obama-supporting friends that she couldn’t be a Christian and vote for Obama.  I engaged in a (useless) argument with them, and even got some flack on my own profile, and for awhile really toyed with the idea of voting for Obama just out of spite.  That’s when I changed my facebook “middle name” to “Hussein” in solidarity with the many intelligent Christians I now who are passionate Obama supporters.

In the end, though, spite is not a reason to vote for someone.  I voted for McCain crossing my fingers and hoping that if he’s elected, the McCain I knew eight years ago would show up for the job.   I voted for him because of the many times I found myself saying “there’s a Republican I could vote for.”  I disagree with McCain on a lot of things, but I feel much more of a kindred spirit with him than with Obama.  I kept going back to this silly little game I play in my head:  If I were stranded on a deserted island, who would I rather spend a few days in conversation with, McCain or Obama?  To me, from what I’ve observed over the past decade, there’s just a little bit more of a well-rounded human personality to McCain, where Obama still seems to me just a candidate for office.  I really don’t know Obama.  If he’s elected, maybe that will change, and I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Why I Voted for John McCain — 16 Comments

  1. Neal,

    It was your responsibility to vote for whomever you felt was the best option. You did it. You don’t need to justify it to anyone. Though, let me make it clear that I admire and respect you for putting yourself out there like this, and in your earlier tweet.

    Someone asked me earlier who I voted for. My answer was “I voted.” ‘Nuff said, I thought.

  2. Ah, Neal, we’ll just chalk tax policy up to those issues on which we agree to disagree. Despite our political differences over the years, our friendship has remained paramount and our discussion has centered on the intelligent exchange of ideas and I really dig that. Great blog entry.

  3. Neal:

    Very, very well put. You are a man that acts on your passions, says what is on your mind, listens carefully, processes for a bit and makes a very sound decision. Both for you to KNOW and stand by AND for others to at least CONSIDER. Cool stuff man! U r a natural born leader for a truly pluralist organization but with just enough zest to give pluralism the right flavor for all to savor :). I think you have the right stuff for Presbyterian leadership, at least that is IMHO 😉

    ray casey

  4. The world would be a better place if McCain had won in 2000. I don’t think it’s bad to have voted for McCain. He’s not a bad guy, just wrong for now, IMO. I can’t wait until tomorrow when all of this is over!

  5. I totally agree with the McCain of 2000. he made be switch back to Rebublican to vote at the primaries. I was so disappointed by the GOP that they went with the supposed evangelical heir to get done what Jimmy Carter did not do for them back in the late 70’s. But the McCain we see now is a product of everything I cannot stand about the GOP. They have been sucked up by a religious right agenda that I cannot support. I wanted old McCain back, but I have not seen him.

    I guess I totally agree with you on a lot, I just don’t share the optimism and I think this McCain is here to stay.

  6. Neal,

    As others have written, I’m just glad that you voted. This is what democracy (well-thought-out-democracy) is. I’m glad that you’ve taken the time to sift through your thoughts and to truly think about this. That’s all that anyone can ask, that’s all that I would ask.

    Keep the faith, friend.

  7. Neil,

    I’m glad you voted that way. I personally don’t understand why life didn’t factor into your decision. I hope someday someone can help me to understand how it doesn’t trump the other issues because I’m far more interested in thoughtful dialog in search of the true and the good, and if there is a better, truer way, I want to know it.

    But in any case, thanks for sharing.

  8. Its all about choice. Good for you Neal. Maybe ‘life’ as you call it wasnt considerations for him. And thats his right to choose. Whether its any issue like voting, political parties, religion and even dare I say it abortion, it’s the right of one to choose which side they believe in. I think at times, to enforce our values we try to force people that their only option is the option we want them to have. McCain or Obama, whomever you or anyone votes for is your right. No one dare has th right to tell you otherwise. Anyone that downs you for either choice you make is unAmerican and undemocratic. We each have our own list that helps us decide who we vote for. So im proud of anyone who voted for the person they wanted. Thats true demcoracy and I hope the losing side accepts that democracy.

  9. What a strange, strange year in politics. You, a lifelong liberal democrat voting Republican for the first time, and me a lifelong conservative Republican voting Democrat for the first time ever – and for some similar (and potentially irrational – “who would I rather spend a few days with”) reasons, and similarly crossing my fingers at how that will turn out. I don’t believe I could elucidate my choice nearly as well as you have though.

  10. @Glen,

    I think you’re attacking a straw man. All the same, here’s my response.

    Unlimited freedom is anarchy and a pipe dream. We have laws that restrict freedom (i.e., people’s right to choose or “liberty” as our founding fathers called it). When rights collide, we have to decide which ones take priority, and it seems pretty plain to me that life has both logical and moral precedence over liberty.

    It is about as democratic as it gets for you to try to vote for government that you believe is for the common good. We each have different understandings of what is entailed by “the common good” and in a good democracy we try to convince each other of our views and get others to vote in accord with what we think. This is democracy. Telling folks they should keep their opinions, values, and beliefs to themselves is what is undemocratic and characteristic of tyrannical repressive regimes.

    I think I was pretty specific in terms of what I am trying to, in good will, understand. I think Neil is a great guy, as are most (I imagine) who disagree with me. My disagreeing and trying to understand why/how he reasons differently from me in no way impugns his character (or yours for that matter, even though I don’t know you from Adam). I believe you are reading a lot into what I said that isn’t there; I trust Neil has more good will in this matter.

  11. I didnt read into anything. I stated my opinion . Someone states their right of choice in a democracy and voting, someone else has to go on a rant about restricting rights. How does this fit in the issue of voting. That right should never be restricted barring age and residency issues. Nothing I states that one should have a choice in will cause this ‘anarchy’. I think we overstate this doom and gloom situation. Usually its out of being sore losers. Either candidate winning will not mark the end of society. One side prevailing in any issue will not cause the great destruction. Life will go on. And this restriction you talk about, usually people try to restrict only the people they dont agree with. That hardly seems like the common good. I call that personal agenda. Once again, the right of choice is something sacred in our society and everyone today had the option of making choices. I celebrate the right of Americans to exercise there rights to choose. I hope everyone will celebrate it as well. Many say they deplore non-democratic factions elsewhere , but we seem to not mind if we perform anti democrati behavious when it suits our agenda. That is sad. The value of choice is special and we should never take it for granted.

  12. @Everyone — thanks for all the comments and encouragement. When I first hinted that I might vote for McCain, my liberal friends were far less tolerant of the idea than my conservative friends were when I had been voting for democrats. So it’s nice to hear some affirmation, even this late in the game

    @Glen — I think your intent was just to affirm my right to vote my conscience, and I thank you for that. But by using the “language of choice” I think you evoke the abortion debate, which also (in my opinion) often misuses the word “choice.” If we’re using those words, I’m not sure at the end of the day that “choice” is a superior value to “life.” Both liberals and conservatives intentionally agree to limit choices for the greater good. But perhaps you refer only to the right to choose whom to vote for. In that sense at least, I am glad for the “freedom of choice.” I’ll assume that’s all you meant by it.

    @Ambrose — I think we might be closer to commonality on this issue than you might guess. I certainly wouldn’t say I “disagree with you” on this issue. Maybe we agree with a slightly different nuance: “Life” did and does play an important part in my decision process, but I think that “life” manifests itself in more issues than just abortion, and all (including abortion) are important issues to consider. Even when narrowly focused on that one issue, neither candidate has been a staunch supporter of the classic “pro-life” position, although McCain seems to have adopted that recently in order to court Evangelicals.

    Here’s where my value for life appeared in my decision making process: immigration. Each year, thousands of immigrants crossing the border, usually illegally from Mexico into America die of starvation and dehydration in the desert. Regardless of whether one views illegal immigration as right or wrong (and I could defend it as morally right, but that’s for another post) no Christian should support or defend a border system that allows that many lives to be lost.

    Some people believe that life starts at conception, some do not. Either way, we should at least be able to agree that the lives of men, women, and children lost in the desert constitute “life” and should be valued.

    For what it’s worth, I think life starts long before conception, in the circumstances that lead to conception and that drive some women to abortion, and I wish that we would spend at least as much time looking at those circumstances and focusing our resources there as we do making laws about the issue. I would not consider myself “pro-choice” although I think the issue is a lot more complex than either side usually acknowledges.

    Anyhow, that wasn’t meant to be the issue of this post. I was hoping to strike a conciliatory tone…I’ve been reading a great book this week about the Taize community in France, and their efforts at reconciliation. Seems like we could use some of that in this election season…

  13. Neal —

    While you know that I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusions, I do support your decision. That’s the beauty of this great land. We can all disagree and then come together when it’s all over and march in the direction of making the US and the world a better place.

    Thanks for sharing your thought process and opinions and as always a great post.

    — Michael

  14. @Glen, sigh.. never mind.

    @Neal, thanks for your thoughtful and intelligent response. I agree that there are other life issues to consider. I would likely even agree with the right to immigrate–I think we’re humans first, nations second. That said, the choice of these people to attempt to cross a dangerous border illegally, putting their own lives in danger, is still their choice. Yet I do agree we should be merciful and compassionate, even when people make decisions that endanger themselves.

    But that differs from abortion both in number and kind. Since it was legalized, (and just in the US), we have killed many times over those killed in the holocaust, wars, genocides, and certainly border crossings. Millions upon millions of innocent human lives whose primordial right to live was blatantly violated with the consent of American society. It differs in kind because these lives are innocent, unable to protect themselves, and unable to make a choice for themselves.

    And I think there is a false dichotomy in fighting for our government to protect the lives of all humans and working towards helping women in the circumstances where they feel like abortion is their best option. Clearly society is failing when that happens. But making abortion an easy option is not fair to them, and it is a cheap way for our society to excuse ourselves of caring for both the mothers and their children.

    You’re right about McCain not being an ideal pro life candidate, but compared to Obama, he’s a saint. I can only hope that what Obama wants to do won’t make it through the legislature.

    Lastly, I appreciate and support being conciliatory, but we can’t be too terribly conciliatory when so many innocent and helpless humans are having their basic right to life violated with the consent of law. I think we have to prioritize the issues according to their relative gravity, and it seems to me that the continued legality and (if Obama has his way) derestriction of abortion is the overwhelming issue. Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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