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Gary Horton: Putting political ideology over ‘Country first’

Full Speed to Port

Posted: May 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.

During the 2008 presidential election, esteemed “maverick” and senior Sen. John McCain used a design theme on his advertising featuring a 5-point star above the slogan “Country First.”

You’ll remember his attractive dark blue signs and bumper stickers that reinforced his “Country First” message at every opportunity.

Indeed, McCain has a deep history of national service that makes this statement ring true about him personally. A Vietnam vet, prisoner of war and longtime public political service speak to that reality.

Perhaps even more is his reputation for indeed being a “maverick” senator (before the saying became just silly).

What made the “maverick” in McCain? He was known to be a pragmatist, not an ideologue — a man willing to lead, negotiate, compromise, and work across aisles and ideologies to get important legislation done.

In 2008, McCain’s “maverick” may have resonated with the new and fragmented tea party. But today, that same willingness to stray from now-rigid tea party principles might have him soon tossed out on his maverick tush.

Witness the recent defeat of 32-year senior Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Lugar was among the most respected Republican leaders: a principled man, but also a man who understood that the object of government is to actively govern, sometimes straying from your own camp to get the job done.

You pull in the direction you want and arm wrestle opponents and peers to keep the country moving forward, hopefully for the best for Americans overall.

That’s what kept Lugar in the Senate for 32 years, and also what has kept McCain for 26.

But that was a different time, and, my have times have changed. Dick Lugar was just defeated in his Republican primary by Richard Murdock, who’s stated objective is to unwaveringly tow the tea party hard line at all costs.

No wavering, no compromise — if government shuts down due to stalemate, so be it. Principle before pragmatism. Enough folks are buying into this rigid sentiment that Lugar, a true pillar in the Senate, was pushed into retirement with a gold-plated government pension — that, interestingly, no tea party congressman has yet decried.

Down at our local Starbucks, Bob complains that with the current government gridlock, it feels like the average Joe American has been truly left on his own. The big, important decisions facing Americans have not moved ahead.

Instead, what we’ve gotten are jerky policy half-steps that the Republican House or the White House accomplish with end-runs and maneuvers around the opposing side.

Failure to collaborate on last year’s budget hike subjected Americans to huge financial disruptions and cost the U.S. its AAA bond rating. That was a very big real-world consequence of ideological stalemate.

We’ve also suffered stranded judicial appointments, delayed financial regulation, decaying infrastructure and dysfunctional tax policy. Who can count the lost opportunity, the delayed economic recovery, and American potential squandered by political gamesmanship and stubbornness?

Oddly, business-minded Republicans understand that no business can thrive with leaders unwilling to talk, plan and collaborate. Don’t they see the irony of purposeful road-blocking in our capital?

My father-in-law Dan Stage recently mused on our political stalemate. “When will politicians put America and Americans first, before their own political ideologies?” he sighed.

“Do senators, congressmen and our president serve political fundamentalism first, or are they called to serve ‘We The People,’ even those who didn’t vote for them?”

Judging from the ideological oaths most Republicans must sign or risk retribution, politicians looking to serve more than one term must serve strict ideologies first.

Republicans sign onto Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge with perhaps more gusto than they do the Pledge of Allegiance. Often, it seems, Norquist holds more power over Republican congressmen than John Boehner.

But it’s not just Norquist’s mandates controlling our congressmen. They’re hamstrung by an ever-increasing plethora of oaths and pledges.

There’s an anti-abortion pledge mandating limits on government medical funding and judicial approvals. There’s The Family Leader 14-point pro-marriage pledge that is as much an anti-gay pledge as anything.

There’s Freedom Works’ “Cut Cap and Balance” pledge opposing raising the debt limit.

These ideological pledges straightjacket congressmen and reduce their ability to collaborate for the common good.

Whether you supported McCain or not, he certainly had the concept right in his “America First” theme. Let’s ditch the ideology purity tests and dogmatic oaths and get back to working together for all America.       

Entangled puppets will never move us forward through these extremely complex and challenging times.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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