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Mark Shields: GOP Presidential Candidate Lindsey Graham Deserves Voters’ Attention

In the matter of selecting a 2016 presidential nominee, the Republican Party could go a lot further and do a lot worse — and almost certainly will — than to choose Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

What sets Graham conspicuously apart from so many of the merchants of venom currently infecting American politics is that if you’re on the other side from him, you may be an adversary, but, to Graham, you’re never a political or personal enemy.

For evidence, please just go to YouTube and search for “Joe Biden, Lindsey Graham.” You will see an interview with Graham, who was campaigning in Iowa, done by the Huffington Post.

Asked about the vice president, Graham said the following: “The bottom line is if you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you’ve got a problem. You need to do some serious self-evaluation.”

Then, growing emotional as he recalled his condolence call to Biden after the death of his son, Beau, Graham, while acknowledging their deep political differences, said of Biden: “He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in politics. He’s as good a man as God ever created.”

Wow. How quaintly old-fashioned. Graham must not have read the memo about how anyone who is on the other side from us politically is not simply mistaken or misinformed. Under prevailing customs, it’s not enough to just disagree with your opponent; you are also expected to disparage and to dislike him, even questioning his motives and often his patriotism.

Americans regularly tell pollsters that they really want elected leaders who will work across the political divide and seek bipartisan compromises. More than anyone in the 2016 field of presidential hopefuls, that describes Graham, as demonstrated by his public record.

A certified conservative, Graham was key to working with Democrats to craft an immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which passed the Senate. He has led repeatedly in breaking Senate gridlock holding up the confirmation of federal judges.

For daring to work across the aisle — effectively — Graham has been rewarded with Senate primary challenges in his home state and a whopping 1 percent support in virtually all Republican polls for president.

Perhaps liberated by such modest national support, Graham has emerged as the candid maverick who, refreshingly, spreads the ugly truth. To primary voters who are accustomed to being flattered and coddled by candidates, Graham refuses to caress all the erogenous zones of the body politic.

To a voter at an Iowa town meeting who suggested simply prohibiting the practice of the Muslim faith from the United States, Graham, according to the Des Moines Register, did not trim: “You know what? I’m not your candidate. I don’t want you to vote for me.”

Social Security, which Graham strongly supports, will have to be, he announces, “means-tested,” which means cutting benefits for the more affluent retirees. Both a budget hawk and a defense hawk, he tells voters that the United States will not be able to painlessly “grow our way out” of our national debt and that, as president, he would send some 30,000 U.S. troops into the Middle East including Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

This is not to suggest that Graham is some plaster saint. He is not. After the massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, Graham initially defended the flying of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state Capitol as “part of who we are” before following Gov. Nikki Haley’s lead in consigning the divisive banner to the museum.

But for refusing to demonize his opponents and for frankly admitting he actually likes and admires people in the Other Party, as well as for his independent leadership, Graham deserves voters’ attention and respectful consideration.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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