U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gave a speech recently that deserves to be heard or read by every American. McCain talked about what it means to be American, with all of its blessings and its obligations, and what America means to the world.
McCain was being honored with the Liberty Medal of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for his efforts to “secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe.”
Press coverage of the event focused on McCain’s veiled shot at the Trump administration for shirking America’s leadership role in the world: “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”
That was the money quote, but there was much more, including a condemnation of the “blood and soil” rhetoric of neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August:
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”
Context is as important as content. McCain, 81, has been given what he calls a “very poor prognosis” for an aggressive brain cancer. He appears to be writing the last chapter of an extraordinary life. He has gone from Naval Academy wild man to heroic prisoner of war to maverick Republican senator to conventional Republican nominee for president who, despite his “Country First” slogan, chose the spectacularly unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate.
He is now back in maverick mode, casting the deciding vote against his party’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill in July. He voted against GOP tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 because they were fiscally irresponsible and tilted to the rich. He might do it again.
President Donald Trump was unhappy with McCain’s remarks, saying, “I’m being very, very nice but at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.” To which McCain replied, “I have faced tougher adversaries.”
John McCain needs no lecturing on patriotism or duty. But his country still needs him.