John McCain likes wearing the “maverick” label.
In truth, U.S. Sen. McCain is a novice in the league of mavericks compared to one who has just died.
I refer to former U.S. Rep. John B. Anderson, the one-time Illinois arch-conservative Republican-turned civil rights activist. Anderson died Monday at the age of 95.
He is best known as an independent presidential candidate who, after losing the GOP nomination to Ronald Reagan, ran for president on his own. He didn’t win any electoral votes in 1980. He did, however, post the seventh-best independent candidate’s finish in the history of presidential elections.
I became smitten by the thought of this candidate actually winning the presidency. President Carter was under heavy criticism for (a) his handling of the Iranian hostage crisis and (b) the national economy. I couldn’t vote for Ronald Reagan. So I began to look at Anderson’s candidacy.
I knew about his beginning as a staunch conservative Republican congressman and his early opposition to the Civil Rights Act. I also witnessed his transformation from his former self to what he became.
He was a maverick’s maverick.
I was editor of the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier during the 1980 campaign. I consulted with the No. 2 man in the newsroom and we concluded that Anderson was the best of the three men running for president. With that, I drafted an editorial endorsement of Rep. Anderson. I turned it in to the publisher.
It took my boss no time at all to kick it back to me. “No can do,” he said. “We’re going with Reagan,” he informed me. So … we did.
But I gave it my best shot.
During that campaign, Anderson delivered a speech in which he said, in part: “The credit belongs to the man (who knows) the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause, who if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
John Anderson the maverick was neither “cold” or “timid.” He delivered his policy statements in a booming voice.
And to this day, I still believe he was the best choice in 1980.