Date registered: Nov 2006
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An Open Letter to John McCain
by Scott Cullen
July 16, 2001
Dear Senator McCain,
By now you have no doubt received my countless invitations to attend my Fourth of July cookout, to speak at the annual men's weekend hosted by my college roommates and to serve as godfather to my second son. Today, however, I write not to request a personal favor, but to call you to an even greater cause than your own self-interest.
Get out. Pull the ripcord, much like you did those many years ago over North Vietnam. The GOP is Charlie. Tom DeLay is the prick in charge of the Hanoi Hilton. And today is the day of your great opportunity.
The snubbing of campaign finance reform by those wicked, twisted bastards who run the House is being customarily bemoaned by the limousine liberals of the mainstream press. What the Times and Post crowd fails to realize, in between publishing their obtuse the Arts and Leisure section, is that the revocation of CFR in the House is a blessing in disguise. For it gives you, Senator, all the excuse you'd ever need to bolt the Republican party.
And why not? What love do you have left for these people? If they won't back you on your heart-and-soul issue, what do you owe them? You've got little more to gain as a Republican senator, and plenty to gain as an independent. Most loyal Republicans already hate you, and yet you remain one of the most popular politician in America. Something to think about, no?
So go now. Two years as an independent senator makes a nice preamble to an independent presidential campaign. Can you win? Unlikely. But indies love you and Democrats respect you, and I bet you can easily beat Ross Perot's 19 percent of the popular vote. That, and your Senate service, ought to be enough to get you a nice spot in the history books.
Beyond that though, Senator, lies a bigger issue. You see, in watching your escapades through New Hampshire last year, it seemed to me you grasped an often mentioned but rarely seriously approached (by the mainstream, at least) political truth of our age: Our political system is broken.
Lovely as it is for people from all points in the political spectrum to prattle on about the major policy issues of the day and the pros and cons of various proposed solutions, few seem eager to embrace the reality that the system that is presumed to be responsible for responding to these challenges is presently about as airworthy as that Navy strike fighter you bailed out of.
A political system where only 38 percent of eligible voters participate in midterm elections is hard-pressed to call itself a rule of the people. One hundred million Americans decided that the 2000 presidential election was not worth their time (after the machines and money plowed under you and Bill Bradley, refuting their claims became a purely academic exercise). Moreover, talented young people who could lend their ability and voice to addressing the litany of policy challenges facing our nation are staying away from public service in droves, scared off by the cynical politics of candidates and officials so beholden to electoral victory that they've allowed the process to devolve to the point of revulsion.
But it's the damnedest thing, John. You, Bradley and Nader all seemed to stumble into a basic fact in 2000. Disenchanted voters, particularly the young, will reconnect with the system, will buy back into it with a down payment of their energy and enthusiasm, if they are challenged. Not coddled, not bought off with strategic promises on a handful of youth issues, and not treated as a target demographic. Challenged, rather, to serve something "greater than their own self-interest." Think of every packed town hall meeting you held, every frat at Dartmouth overflowing with wild-eyed, newly minted political enthusiasts and, of course, those 800 loaded college students waiting for you at the airport in South Carolina the next day. Neither major party seems interested in running with the fumble you helped recover. ("Courting the young is an unreliable campaign strategy and a dangerous investment of campaign resources," is the common, dismissive reply. "Go after regular voters" is another.) The wider spotlight is yours for the taking.
Campaign finance reform is a truly noble cause, and a necessary part of fixing what's wrong. Patients' rights, likewise. But if we're serious about this wacky democracy idea we've been kicking around for the last couple of centuries, we have to assert that an American political system with 70 or 80 percent participation is better equipped to deal with policy questions than one that commands the participation of a mere 38 percent.
The greatest cause beyond your own self-interest, Senator, cannot be addressed from within the storied confines of the Senate well. The most important thing you can do is use your leadership to reconnect disenchanted, disenfranchised voters to a system that vitally needs them. Such a task requires that challenging, engaging, non- conventional candidates be willing to run good campaigns and lose bad elections.
And you will probably lose. But I'd like to believe that if enough John McCains step up, one of them will actually get elected someday, hopefully on the backs of legions of previously unregistered voters.
You could be the prime mover of such candidates. Unlike Bill Bradley or Ralph Nader, you have a bully pulpit virtually unprecedented in the history of the Senate, and the general public, hungry for a public figure to believe in, has shown an inclination to rally behind you.
If you follow this path, it is entirely likely that you will never win another election in your life, and that many of your contemporaries will slander and second- guess you. Balancing against these negatives, however, is the very real opportunity you have to inspire young people and other disenfranchised voters to consider public service in a way they never have before, on a scale you have never done before. If this is the case, you might just be remembered as one of the greatest politicians of your age.
Just a few thoughts following a shitty week on Capitol Hill. Anyway, the offer to be my child's godfather still stands, so just let me know one way or the other. Love to Cindy and the kids.
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