Sen. McCain, Where Was the "Straight Talk"?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sen. McCain, Where Was the "Straight Talk"?

Years ago, Senator McCain publicly identified Jerry Falwell as one of the "agents of intolerance" in America. So given that the senator recently accepted an invitation to deliver the commencement address at Falwell's university, you'd have thought that McCain would at least briefly touch on the past disagreements he has had with Falwell.

Isn't that what you'd expect from the senator who founded a group called Straight Talk America?

But that's not what was delivered at Saturday's commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University. In exchange for kissing Falwell's ring this weekend, McCain should have been able to explain his views in a way that allowed some of his much-vaunted "independence" to survive. But McCain (and/or his speechwriter) chose to frame his speech in a way that ignored the proverbial elephant in the room.

At a time when abortion, gay marriage and other social issues are intensely dividing America, John McCain could have chosen to tackle this topic head-on. The John McCain of old might have done so. But this John McCain decided to duck.

As speeches go, it was a pretty decent one. But I think McCain took the easy way out. For starters, he framed his speech with an issue that has never been all that important to the Religious Right: foreign policy. McCain said:
... I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq. Many Americans did not. My patriotism and my conscience required me to support it and to engage in the debate over whether and how to fight it.

War is an awful business. The lives of the nation’s finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer. Commerce is disrupted, economies damaged.

... Americans should argue about this war. It has cost the lives of nearly 2,500 of the best of us. It has taken innocent life. It has imposed an enormous financial burden on our economy.

... Let us argue with each other then. By all means, let us argue. Our differences are not petty, they often involve cherished beliefs, and represent our best judgment about what is right for our country and humanity.

... But let us remember, we are not enemies. We are compatriots defending ourselves from a real enemy. We have nothing to fear from each other. .... It should remain an argument among friends; each of us struggling to hear our conscience ...
Perhaps McCain felt his message of tolerance and reconciliation would play better with this audience if he used the Iraq war (as opposed to abortion, stem cells or gay rights) to make his point.

But if McCain's statement that we "have nothing to fear from each other" was metaphorical and was intended to apply also to the culture wars, then I have a problem with it. I believe we have an awful lot to fear from the Falwell crowd.

Of course, admitting this wouldn't help McCain get the GOP presidential nomination. And these days that's about the only thing that the formerly straight-talking McCain seems to care about.

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