- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008




Many Americans project their desire for change and hope on Barack Obama. And why not? Hope fuels humanity; without it - wisdom through the ages tells us - the people perish. And in our post-modern age, it’s a virtue in short supply.

Liberals often look to the federal government as a source of hope. It helps, it heals, and it protects. It remedies injustice. And, it is an avenue to a better life. “Change” is a secular sacrament to redeem lost hope.

But last week, at the Republican convention, John McCain took issue with the media’s anointing Barack Obama as hope’s sole prophet. He created an alternative vision - one that is both distinct from and more realistic than Mr. Obama’s narrative. The Republican nominee’s recent surge in the polls suggests many Americans agree.

Mr. McCain offers his own avenue to hope. It’s premised on an odd foundation in an era of rock-star politics. It’s called selflessness. Mr. Obama wants us to believe that he personally possesses the power to change government. The Arizona senator knows better. And as he likes to say, he has “the scars to prove it.” Mr. Obama suggests he holds the keys to transforming American politics and reform depends on the power of his personality. For Mr. McCain, change means promoting an idea bigger than himself.

Mr. McCain’s acceptance speech underscores these differences. First, he displayed the humility to admit political parties - even his own - reflect great promise but also deep flaws. They make mistakes, do the wrong thing and have to ask forgiveness. As John Pitney observed in National Review Online last week, he offered an act of contrition by confessing his party’s sins. “We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people … We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger,” Mr. McCain said in St. Paul. Viewers were not expecting a seat in a political confessional, but that’s exactly what happened. A politician trying to ingratiate himself to the party faithful would have left out that part and only “whisper the truth to power,” as Mr. Obama did in July in front of a union crowd, according to Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post. But again, Mr. McCain does not believe this campaign is about him. These were not words intended to fire up the Xcel Center, loaded with Republican partisans. They were intended to reflect the truth.

In Denver, Democrats celebrated at the Temple of Obama. In St. Paul, Mr. McCain asked all Americans to look beyond the flaws of one man and his political party - and pursue a cause greater than one political leader.

Mr. McCain also exhibited the courage to admit he could not accomplish change without help from Democrats. Mr. Obama talks about the need to bring people together, but we never hear how. Indeed, in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll released earlier this week, only about four in 10 say the Illinois senator has adequately explained what he means by “change.” “I will reach across the aisle to anyone to get this country moving again,” Mr. McCain told the delegates - not exactly the message a bunch of screaming partisan Republicans want to hear. If self-promotion was the intent, the Arizona senator failed. If the goal is producing change through painting a realistic picture of how the legislative process works, Mr. McCain successfully spoke the truth.

While Mr. Obama may not possess the legislative experience or political courage to say it, American presidents share power with Congress. Mr. McCain understands this reality. The Democratic Congress will swallow Mr. Obama into its partisan snare. They will not allow him to reach across the aisle and form true bipartisan coalitions. For Mr. Obama, the best way to bring about “change” will be to let the Democratic Congress steamroll Republicans.

Mr. McCain lacks that luxury. He will have to reach across the aisle, compromise and work with Democrats to get things done. This may not sit well with many in his party in Congress. But again, his presidency - like the rest of his career in public service - is not premised on winning a popularity contest with his party, interest groups or the Washington establishment. It’s about subjecting himself for a greater good. It’s called the virtue of selflessness. It’s not great for the ego, but it’s a better way to produce hope and change than Greek pillars, fireworks and thousands of adoring political groupies.

Gary Andres is vice chairman of Dutko Worldwide.

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