Representative Jean Schmidt of Ohio took to the floor last week to say that Congressman Jack Murtha's call for an exit from Iraq as soon as possible makes him a coward. I say it makes him the man I want as our next President.

In terms of patriotism and unwavering love for our troops in Congress, there is no one that ranks ahead of Jack Murtha.

Until recently, both parties have accepted that as gospel.. Republicans often used him to legitimize their positions because he was on their side when it came to the procurement of high-tech weapons systems that he saw as critical for the safety of our troops on the battlefield. Democrats often let him lead the way on taking care of troops on the homefront, on issues of pensions, and on pay and health care for the men and women in uniform.

There's no mystery as to why he cares so much for troops and veterans. He served this country honorably as a Marine, first in Vietnam and then over the course of a military career that spanned decades. If the term "Born on the Fourth of July" ever applied to someone, it would be Congressman Murtha.

But it isn't because of his patriotism or military service that I want him in the Oval Office (though it certainly doesn't hurt). Last week, Jack Murtha showed incredible guts and clarity of thought that have been so lacking from the national debate. Unfortunately, as the media are wont to do, they have oversimplified what the Congressman said.

Congressman Murtha did not propose that all troops pull out tomorrow. He observed that the current course in Iraq is not working, and since the President seems uninterested in setting forth a new course with achievable and measurable goals, troops should begin a modified redeployment following Iraqi elections that is more consistent with their safety. Further, he said, while the US should continue to engage in a diplomatic policy to help Iraqis stand on their own two feet, a quick-strike force should remain in the region, and US Marines should maintain a presence just over the horizon, to ensure that the country does not destabilize.

What Murtha has done is present an idea so simple and clear in thought that it has rocked the wishy-washy establishment that is Washington, DC. Prior to Murtha's plan, possible Democratic contenders for the White House were all over the map with a bunch of half-baked and arbitrary plans for Iraq. Senator Russ Feingold proposed bringing everyone home by the end of 2006. His caveat was that it could change, and he offered no reason for his December 2006 date. John Kerry proposed bringing 20,000 troops home by Christmas, with no explanation as to how he reached that number.

Democrats like Feingold and Kerry are plagued with what has dogged Democrats for too long -- wanting to have things both ways. When weapons of mass destruction were not found, Democrats were quick to criticize the President. But because they were afraid to look "weak," they refused to say they may have made a mistake in voting for the war. Now, still petrified by the fear of being labeled a coward, no Democrat until Murtha would dare posit the obvious -- maybe it's time for troops to come home as soon as they safely can.

Jack Murtha was not afraid of the attacks he knew would come. Murtha had the political courage to propose something clear that wouldn't appease all sides. While others spouted political half-measures out of a fear of being branded cowards, Murtha spoke tough and true because he'd spent a lifetime confirming he was brave. Most of all, Murtha has done something that no one has yet done in all this political posturing on the war: Put the troops first.

For that, he has my vote for President.