Monday, May 15, 2006

John McCain Speaks At Liberty U

John McCain Speaks At Liberty U
John McCain has taken a lot of heat for agreeing to be the commencement speaker for Jerry Falwell's Liberty U. Like many, I thought it a bit of unattractive though understandable pre-2008 campaigning--fire up the Republican base and all that.

As he has done many times in the past, however, McCain has confounded expectations.

The speech he gave is remarkable. He cautions the students to avoid the arrogance of youth, discusses the horrible cost of the Iraq war, tackles genocide in Rwanda and Darfur, reminds those on the extreme sides of the political spectrum that we should treat each other with compassion and understanding, and ends with a personal tribute to a Democratic friend.

While it is nowhere near its league, I was reminded in parts of Lincoln's Second Inaugural, one of the greatest and most compassionate speeches ever written.

If McCain can go into Liberty U and make this kind of speech, I think it's pretty clear that he is his own man, and that he will continue to adhere to his ideals though 2008 and thereafter.

Here are a few great quotes:

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.

Americans should argue about this war. It has cost the lives of nearly 2500 of the best of us. It has taken innocent life. It has imposed an enormous financial burden on our economy. At a minimum, it has complicated our ability to respond to other looming threats. Should we lose this war, our defeat will further destabilize an already volatile and dangerous region, strengthen the threat of terrorism, and unleash furies that will assail us for a very long time. I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks we have incurred. But if an American feels the decision was unwise, then they should state their opposition, and argue for another course. It is your right and your obligation. I respect you for it. I would not respect you if you chose to ignore such an important responsibility. But I ask that you consider the possibility that I, too, am trying to meet my responsibilities, to follow my conscience, to do my duty as best as I can, as God has given me light to see that duty.

Twelve years ago, we turned a blind eye to another genocide, in Rwanda. And when that reign of terror finally, mercifully exhausted itself, with over 800,000 Rwandans slaughtered, Americans, our government, and decent people everywhere in the world were shocked and ashamed of our silence and inaction, for ignoring our values, and the demands of our conscience. In shame and renewed allegiance to our ideals, we swore, not for the first time, “never again.” But never lasted only until the tragedy of Darfur.

Now, belatedly, we have recovered our moral sense of duty, and are prepared, I hope, to put an end to this genocide. Osama bin Laden and his followers, ready, as always, to sacrifice anything and anyone to their hatred of the West and our ideals, have called on Muslims to rise up against any Westerner who dares intervene to stop the genocide, even though Muslims, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, are its victims. Now that, my friends, is a difference, a cause, worth taking up arms against.

It is not a clash of civilizations. I believe, as I hope all Americans would believe, that no matter where people live, no matter their history or religious beliefs or the size of their GDP, all people share the desire to be free; to make by their own choices and industry better lives for themselves and their children. Human rights exist above the state and beyond history – they are God-given. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be wrenched.

This is a clash of ideals, a profound and terrible clash of ideals. It is a fight between right and wrong. Relativism has no place in this confrontation. We’re not defending an idea that every human being should eat corn flakes, play baseball or watch MTV. We’re not insisting that all societies be governed by a bicameral legislature and a term-limited chief executive. We are insisting that all people have a right to be free, and that right is not subject to the whims and interests and authority of another person, government or culture. Relativism, in this contest, is most certainly not a sign of our humility or ecumenism; it is a mask for arrogance and selfishness. It is, and I mean this sincerely and with all humility, not worthy of us.

We are a better people than that. We are not a perfect nation. Our history has had its moments of shame and profound regret. But what we have achieved in our brief history is irrefutable proof that a nation conceived in liberty will prove stronger, more decent and more enduring than any nation ordered to exalt the few at the expense of the many or made from a common race or culture or to preserve traditions that have no greater attribute than longevity.

As blessed as we are, no nation complacent in its greatness can long sustain it. We, too, must prove, as those who came before us proved, that a people free to act in their own interests, will perceive those interests in an enlightened way, will live as one nation, in a kinship of ideals, and make of our power and wealth a civilization for the ages, a civilization in which all people share in the promise and responsibilities of freedom.

Thanks to Ben Casnocha for marking this in his del.icio.us feed!

And for those who condemned McCain for agreeing to speak at Liberty U, but didn't bother to actually read what he had to say, shame on you.

2 comments:

MJ said...

This is a nice speech. But the idea that McCain is speaking truth to power or something like that is baloney. I hope he gives the same speech at Columbia and the New School, and frankly, it would be great if he would give it at Baylor, SMU, and Brigham Young. But going to Liberty is just tacking to the right for the primaries. It's cynical and craven conciliation to the people he had the huevos to stand up to in 2000 (and took the punishment for it).

Also, this speech is laden with code words. The attack on "relativism" is code. It was not relativism that caused us to stay out of Rwanda or that kept us from invading Iraq before 9/11. It was lack of political will in the former case and geopolitical realism in the second. The opposite of "relativism" for the audience at Liberty is "absolutism" and the brand of absolutism that they espouse should scare you.

Chris said...

MJ,

McCain could have gone in and given a "red meat" speech. Remember, this is an audience that picketed him because he DOESN'T oppose gay marriage.

But he didn't do that. He went in and give a speech about what he believes, nuanced to better sink in with his audience, but hardly conciliatory to an audience what wanted a defiant support of Iraq, a repudiation of gay marriage, and some intelligent design and immigrant-bashing thrown in.

As for your implication that McCain is supporting absolutism, I disagree (though I fervently agree that the absolutism of the Liberty picketers should scare everyone!). It seems like McCain isn't advocating that people become absolutists. He's telling them that it's good to have strong beliefs, but that those beliefs need to be tempered with the understanding that 1) You don't know everything, especially when you're young, 2) We're all on the same side, and 3) Dissent is a crucial part of democracy that we should welcome and respect.

If anything, he gave a speech that I hope makes that graduating class think about the real meaning of "liberty," rather than simply accepting a Falwellian orthodoxy.