Wednesday, May 17, 2006

John McCain at Liberty U.

Senator John McCain stood yesterday beside the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Christian conservative leader he denounced as ''evil" six years ago, and spoke of regret, reconciliation, and the danger of going too far in a political argument.

That was last Saturday. More as the LINK to the Boston Globe article.

Here is the text of the speech he gave, which I suppose can be characterized as "reaching out" and "regret." I wasn't there to discern any tears that may have stained his cheek. But working just from the text and knowing it is being delivered by a sitting U.S. Senator looking at the White House makes me want to ask for the salt shaker.

It’s funny, now, how less self-assured I feel late in life than I did when I lived in perpetual springtime. Some of my critics allege that age hasn’t entirely cost me the conceits of my youth. All I can say to them is, they should have known me then, when I was brave and true and better looking than I am at present. But as the great poet, Yeats, wrote, “All that’s beautiful drifts away, like the waters.” I have lost some of the attributes that were the object of a young man’s vanity. But there have been compensations, which I have come to hold dear.

We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about. We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

He concludes with a story about someone whose beliefs and opinions put them on opposite sides back in the days of the Vietnam War. Later they became friends.

I had a friend once, who, a long time ago, in the passions and resentments of a tumultuous era in our history, I might have considered my enemy. He had come once to the capitol of the country that held me prisoner, that deprived me and my dearest friends of our most basic rights, and that murdered some of us. He came to that place to denounce our country’s involvement in the war that had led us there. His speech was broadcast into our cells. I thought it a grievous wrong then, and I still do.

A few years later, he had moved temporarily to a kibbutz in Israel. He was there during the Yom Kippur War, when he witnessed the support America provided our beleaguered ally. He saw the huge cargo planes bearing the insignia of the United States Air Force rushing emergency supplies into that country. And he had an epiphany. He had believed America had made a tragic mistake by going to Vietnam, and he still did. He had seen what he believed were his country’s faults, and he still saw them. But he realized he had let his criticism temporarily blind him to his country’s generosity and the goodness that most Americans possess, and he regretted his failing deeply. When he returned to his country he became prominent in Democratic Party politics, and helped elect Bill Clinton President of the United States. He still criticized his government when he thought it wrong, but he never again lost sight of all that unites us.

We met some years later. He approached me and asked to apologize for the mistake he believed he had made as a young man. Many years had passed since then, and I bore little animosity for anyone because of what they had done or not done during the Vietnam War. It was an easy thing to accept such a decent act, and we moved beyond our old grievance.

We worked together in an organization dedicated to promoting human rights in the country where he and I had once come for different reasons. I came to admire him for his generosity, his passion for his ideals, for the largeness of his heart, and I realized he had not been my enemy, but my countryman . . . my countryman . . . and later my friend. His friendship honored me. We disagreed over much. Our politics were often opposed, and we argued those disagreements. But we worked together for our shared ideals. We were not always in the right, but we weren’t always in the wrong either, and we defended our beliefs as we had each been given the wisdom to defend them.

David remained my countryman and my friend, until the day of his death, at the age of forty-seven, when he left a loving wife and three beautiful children, and legions of friends behind him. His country was a better place for his service to her, and I had become a better man for my friendship with him. God bless him.

One of the group at Harry's Place, a progressive blog, says...
One of the many differences between McCain and President Bush is that it's virtually impossible to imagine Bush speaking in such terms.

None of this means McCain is going to get my support or my vote in 2008. Especially on social and economic issues, he's wrong far more often than he's right. If he is the Republican nominee (far from a given), I would be likely to support almost any Democrat who ran against him. But he would be a more decent and honorable opponent than Bush has ever been.

The comments thread is far less forgiving. All that is lacking is eggs, tomatoes and cat-calls.
Further down the thread there are more civil comments. Sadly, the most rational comments are from a Marxist site. I am weary of both extremes of the political spectrum who have all the answers and who would fashion everyone else to fit their particular mold. Maybe that's why I am attracted to what McCain said. Something about the image of John McCain addressing that particular group of students makes me think of Daniel in the lion's den. Or a fox in a henhouse. I haven't decided.

Andrew Sullivan has a snip from The Economist regarding the speech.
What Mr McCain's trip to Liberty University is really about is a subtle but substantial change in the balance of power and ideology in the Republican Party. Mr McCain is neither a wilful maverick nor a liberal who somehow found himself in the wrong place. He is a different kind of Republican...[representing] a challenge to many Republican power-brokers, particularly tax-cutters and lobbyists. That is why Mr McCain provokes such a furious debate within the party. But his particular range of ideas probably presents the Republicans' best chance of winning a third presidential election in a row.
Sullivan's take:
I dislike some of McCain's big government impulses; but he cannot conceivably be worse than Bush on that score. His impulse to meedle [needle?] , and even to bully, his opponents is not pretty either. But if the GOP passes him by, they will, I think, come to regret it. And so will America.

Poor Mr. Bush. Sullivan is a putative Conservative Republican. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

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