Why do we feel compelled to look to our forefathers such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln when searching for examples of "honest politicians," a phrase in this day and age that smacks more of an oxymoron than anything else? Why do we have to glance back a century to Teddy Roosevelt to find a Republican president who cared deeply about protecting and preserving our environment? And why do we have to travel down memory lane over three decades to identify a fiscal conservative -- Ronald Reagan -- living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
John McCain is the right man at the right time to lead this country. America faces adversity, both at home and abroad, and adversity is a great clarifier. It reveals a person's true character. Senator McCain's life has been defined by the adversity he's faced. America would be in much better shape today had John McCain been sitting in the Oval Office on 9/11.
Like it or not, we are at war, and we will be at war for a long time to come. The threat of Islamofascism is real and we ignore it at our peril. While extremists threaten our European allies, rogue nations and fundamentalist regimes continue to pursue their anti-Western agenda. Our next commander in chief will need a far broader and deeper understanding of our complex relationship to the world than on-the-job training can provide.
John McCain is the only candidate in either party who has a 20-year record of unequivocal support for the State of Israel. He understands Israel's struggle against Islamic terrorists is the free world's struggle. He has called Israel a "great democracy" and proclaimed that the U.S. "will defeat terrorism against America, and we will stand with Israel as she fights the same enemy. If we fail in Israel, where will we succeed?"
He unhesitantly backed Israel's war with Lebanon in 2006, opposing European pressure for Israel to withdraw: "What would we do if somebody came across our borders and killed and captured our soldiers? Do you think we would be exercising total restraint?" He has stated that, as president, he would "immediately" move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an important symbolic act that no prior administration has had the courage to do in 60 years of Israeli statehood.
Most recently, he urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to block a proposed UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, stating "the United States should oppose any UN statement or resolution that fails to condemn vociferously the terrorist tactics employed by Hamas, including its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians."
McCain, no stranger to personal adversity, understands that "Israel has been tested more, in less time, than any nation on earth. The tests continue today in the form of suicide bombers and rocket fire, in the anti-Semitism so pervasive in the Arab press, and in the existential threats issued routinely by the Iranian president." His remarks and voting record reflect a long-standing commitment to Israeli security and skepticism about the readiness of Palestinians to peacefully coexist with Israel. "It is impossible to negotiate with people calling for one's destruction. Israel lacks a partner for peace. Talk of concessions or of negotiations is premature so long as Hamas remains dedicated to the use of violence and the extinction of Israel. We have seen that elections don't mean democracy; rule of law means democracy. There can be no comprehensive peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians until the Palestinians recognize Israel, forswear forever the use of violence, recognize their previous agreements and reform their internal institutions."
And yet, McCain is quintessentially his own man, meaning he has not and will not pander to any special interest group, including us. In an address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Congregations, he opposed the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst currently serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, a distinctly unpopular view in some Jewish circles. But right is on McCain's side -- Pollard betrayed his nation and should be punished for treason.
Consider the wisdom and courage McCain has displayed since the onset of the Iraq war. For four years, he stood alone in criticizing the Bush administration for sending in too few troops to quell the violence. When the President finally adopted McCain's approach a year ago, the Senator championed the surge when virtually everyone in both parties either thought he was wrong or lacked the moral fortitude to stand with him, stating "I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war." He did it knowing full well that it would cost him his media-darling status and potentially the presidency, but McCain had the courage and the vision to stand up for what he believed in, and he was right.
McCain's resolute view is that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, it will create a vacuum that would be filled by Iran and inspire radical Islamic extremists throughout the region, a dangerous scenario that would be especially threatening for Israel. He has also gone on record stating that he does not trust Russian President Vladimir Putin's role in supporting Iran's nuclear ambitions. Where President Bush observed that he looked into Putin's eyes and saw "a good soul," John McCain remarked that "I looked into Putin's eyes and I saw three letters -- a K, a G and a B."
The value of John McCain's foreign affairs experience is multiplied by his integrity and independence. He has served four terms in the Senate, pushing through such landmark legislation as the bi-partisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, partnering with Russ Feingold, a Jewish Democrat from Wisconsin. Topping his list of Jewish supporters is Joe Lieberman, the independent Democratic senator from Connecticut who was Al Gore's vice presidential running mate and could be John McCain's.
He is a slave to no ideology or faction. McCain is usually the driving force at the head of coalitions in Congress to get the job done and is deeply respected by his colleagues in both parties. No one in politics today is as likely to fight, expose and defeat waste and corruption. Of all the senators running for president, he is the only one who doesn't write "pork barrel" earmarks on legislation. In an age when too many candidates are driven by polls and focus groups, fashioning and re-fashioning their "core" beliefs, McCain is a man of unwavering conviction and integrity. He was among the first in the Republican party to identify global warming as a serious threat to the environment and to seek to address it. He also pushed the Bush administration to take the moral high ground on outlawing torture.
Experience, absolutely. Integrity, without a doubt. But John McCain's most conspicuous virtue is courage. A McCain presidency would do much to restore confidence in American leadership, both at home and abroad. Before he was Senator McCain, he was Lt. Commander McCain, a naval pilot who was shot down over Vietnam during his 23rd combat mission. He spent five and a half years in solitary confinement in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton," withstanding daily torture for not revealing information to his interrogators. He demonstrated his integrity and strength of character in the most difficult of circumstances, refusing an early "propaganda" release, citing the military policy of releasing prisoners in the order in which they are captured. When others despair, John McCain knows he has seen worse, and keeps striding forward. His "comeback candidacy" is a case in point.
There are times in this nation's history so perilous that they cry out for a steady, experienced leader, a person so trusted that we would put the fate of the country in his hands. This is one of those times, and Senator John McCain is that leader. He has a brand of courage that is nearly extinct in the public arena, a courage forged in part by those years spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and in part by more than two decades of fighting for what he believes in on the floor of the U.S. Senate, regardless of party line. He's the real McCoy in a field of wannabes and flip-floppers. He is that rare breed in politics, the principled leader who doesn't take his marching orders from party bosses or special interests, who actually says what he believes and means what he says.
John McCain has shown more clearly than anyone on the American political stage today that he loves his country and would never mislead or dishonor it. He is unique in his determination to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost. He deserves our respect, admiration and support.
Lloyd Greif is President and CEO of Greif & Co., a leading Los Angeles-based investment bank serving middle market growth companies, and benefactor of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Southern California.