Cap'n McCain at the helm 

Some of you may have stopped by to see Sen. John McCain in Denver a few days ago. I've always admired McCain for his heroism, for his willingness to fight difficult and lonely political battles, and even for his explosive temper. In an age of smarmy, mealy-mouthed politicians, I appreciate someone who cares enough to get angry.

But as much as I admire McCain, I dislike many of his stands on the issues. We part ways on hot-button issues like abortion, gay rights and the environment. I wouldn't consider voting for him for the Legislature, or the House, or the Senate.

Given the chance, though, I'll vote for him for president.

Why? As I get older, and perhaps a little more aware of life's complexities, the hot-button issues seem less important. When we elect a president, maybe the first and most important thing to consider is how a candidate might respond to a crisis of the greatest magnitude.

Call it the "3 o'clock in the morning test." The president is awakened, and informed that, for example, North Korea has launched a nuclear attack against the South. Whoever is sitting there in his PJs, rubbing his eyes, had better have some experience of adversity, some knowledge that the world is a hard and a dangerous place.

Al Gore and George W. Bush have sailed in cheerful and sunny seas, the untested sons of the American oligarchy. Bush's father was president (surprise!), his grandfather a U.S senator. Gore's father was also a U.S. senator, his grandfather a prominent Southerner. Both Bush and Gore took naturally to the family business -- that of being elected to office. Neither of them has ever worked for a living, as the phrase is commonly understood.

They've been cut into good deals, thanks to family connections (Bush), or have gracefully acceded to a virtually hereditary Senate seat (Gore).

In Typhoon, Joseph Conrad describes a ship's captain who was unequal to the challenge of a great storm:

"Captain MacWhirr had sailed over the surface of the oceans as some men go skimming over the years of existence to sink gently into a placid grave, ignorant of life to the last, without ever having been made to see all it may contain of perfidy, of violence, and of terror. There are on sea and land such men thus fortunate -- or thus disdained by destiny or by the sea."

We've had quite a remarkable run in America, for all of this last third of the 20th century. We've come to believe that we can fight wars without casualties, that hostile nations will simply collapse of their own weight, that economic booms will continue forever, and that God has conferred special protection upon this fat, happy and heedless collection of rich people.

But there will come a time when our luck runs out, and when that time comes, George W.'s frat-boy charms won't cut it, nor will Al Gore's earnest desire to do the right thing. That's when we'll need a man who knows the world and "all it may contain of perfidy, violence and terror." Let's hope that whomever we may elect will, like FDR, Lincoln and Truman, be able to deal with seas that are no longer tranquil.

Former City Councilman John Hazlehurst has had his share of hardship, despite rumors to the contrary.


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