I’ve voted for U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha since 1994, my first election as a Johnstown resident. I did so because I liked his style of quiet leadership, moral authority, a talent to bring people of differing viewpoints together to work for the interest of the American people, an emphasis on a strong national defense and his belief that if he brought people to the region by bringing in new enterprises, or by empowering local residents to rise to the middle class, he would create the critical mass needed to reverse this area’s fortunes.

By and large, he has done it.

Yet, for the first time in 12 years, I am having doubts about supporting him in this upcoming election.

Murtha was, until recently, representative of an endangered species of Democrat – a reminder of what that party used to be: People-oriented, strong on national defense, a promoter of international cooperation; a relic of a time when to be called progressive didn’t mean that people of conscience must support a woman’s absolute and unrestricted rights to abortion, same-sex marriages and the subordination of the national interest to the whims of a snobbish international community or worse, to the caprice of non-state actors.

I liked President Kennedy’s notion of the Democratic Party. As a dreamer myself, I am still attracted to Kennedy’s “idealism without illusions,” that is, a capacity to dream of a better world while being painfully aware of our mediocrity and shortcomings and their effect on policy.

All that died with him in November 1963 and with him, that old Democratic Party that Murtha has symbolized for me.

Murtha has been generally pro-life, he remains mostly a social conservative, but has given in, I’m afraid, to the currents now reigning in the Democratic Party and has aligned himself too closely with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, becoming too cozy with politicians who are anything but pro-life or keenly interested in protecting the integrity of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman.

He has surrendered on one issue that endangers our national security: The successful prosecution of the war in Iraq and the projection of American power in the Middle East to attenuate the threat of terrorism here and elsewhere. By giving in on one issue, he has undermined my trust that he will be able to hold much longer on the two other issues.

To date, Murtha has failed to explain how a “redeployment” of our troops from Iraq will enhance our national security and our interests in the region against the ambitions of the Islamofascists and the defiance of an emboldened Iran.

My disagreement with Murtha does not mean I will vote for his opponent, Diana Irey. Although Irey strikes me as a dynamic, articulate person, she’s just “the anti-Murtha.”

Anyone can be an anti-Murtha, but I want to know more about what Irey intends to do for this region and she has failed to articulate that.

Murtha has one month to explain how his policy suggestions on Iraq will enhance, not undermine, national security; to distance himself from Pelosi, and to become again the “Old Murtha” I once knew, before I vote for him.

Irey has the same amount of time to convince me that she’s something more than an “anti-Murtha.”

Otherwise, I will abstain from voting in this election, or write in the name of another candidate whom I believe will do a better job representing our district.

Pedro O. Vega also keeps an Internet "blog" at www.vivificat.org. He may be reached via e-mail at pov@vivificat.org. His column appears on the second Sunday of each month.

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