Monday, May 22, 2006

Senator John McCain's Commencement Speech at the New School in New York

U.S. Senator John McCain was heckled during his delivery of the commencement address at the New School University in New York this last weekend. For copies of the speech click here and here. McCain's address is a magnificent statement of America's enduring principles and values. It is also a fair and humble speech, that places America's faults within the context of the opportunities afforded to make such mistakes. My favorite passage is in the first paragraph highlighted below, which suggests that argument and debate about our security and values are both rights and obligations of our citizenship and heritage:
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.

Our country doesn't depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to love our freedom, not just for the private opportunities it provides, but for the goodness it makes possible. We have to love it as much, even if not as heroically, as the brave Americans who defend us at the risk and often the cost of their lives. We must love it enough to argue about it, and to serve it, in whatever way our abilities permit and our conscience requires, whether it calls us to arms or to altruism or to politics.

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. I stand that ground not to chase vainglorious dreams of empire; not for a noxious sense of racial superiority over a subject people; not for cheap oil--we could have purchased oil from the former dictator at a price far less expensive than the blood and treasure we've paid to secure those resources for the people of that nation; not for the allure of chauvinism, to wreak destruction in the world in order to feel superior to it; not for a foolishly romantic conception of war. I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country's interests and values required it.

War is an awful business. The lives of the nation's finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer. Commerce is disrupted, economies damaged. Strategic interests shielded by years of statecraft are endangered as the demands of war and diplomacy conflict. Whether the cause was necessary or not, whether it was just or not, we should all shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us. However just or false the cause, however proud and noble the service, it is loss--the loss of friends, the loss of innocent life, the loss of innocence--that the veteran feels most keenly forever more. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes war.
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. 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.
The Wall Street Journal criticized the hecklers in an editorial, warning that to the extent that McCain's antiwar critics represent core elements of the Democratic Party, a Democratic victory in upcoming elections would not bode well for American national security:

The left's larger goal is to turn the Democratic Party solidly against the war on terror, and especially against its Iraq and Iran fronts. Mr. Lamont's performance will be noticed by Democratic Presidential hopefuls, some of whom (Al Gore, John Kerry) are already maneuvering to get to Hillary Rodham Clinton's antiwar left. Well before 2008, this passion will also drive sentiment among Democrats on Capitol Hill. If they recapture either the House or the Senate this fall, a legislative drive to withdraw from Iraq cannot be ruled out. We doubt all of this will help Democrats with the larger electorate, which whatever its doubts about Iraq does not want a precipitous surrender. Americans haven't trusted a liberal Democrat with the White House during wartime since Vietnam, which is when the seeds of the current antiwar rage were planted. The great mistake that leading Democrats and anti-Communist liberals made during Vietnam was not speaking up against a left that was demanding retreat and sneering at our war heroes. Will any Democrat speak up now?


M1 said...

You wrote ...places America's faults within the context of the opportunities afforded to make such mistakes...

Is this apologetic akin to an attempt of mitigating the accountability of a band of armed robbers who collaterally kill 5 in a heist gone awry by contextualizing their actions per way of the opportunities affored them by the insider knowledge they had of the bank's routines, and of the military training the robbers all had? This rings far from humble in my ears.

McCain said...We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions...

Well that sounds all fine and dandy but what good does discussion do if it has little if any bearing on the policies implemented by the Administration?

What good is discussion when its fruits are dissociated from impinging on those who hold the levers of power?

Even the musings of Congress have little bearing on the Admin's core policies and the actions they incur. If Congress perceives itself to be kept in the dark then what of the 2 shift working citizenry? What chance do they have to ferret out the truth beyond the slickified proclamations of the Admin?

How, I also ask, can the citizenry engage in actionable and meaningful discussion when a preponderance of the Admin's guiding agendas and actions are shrouded in utter and carefully designed obfuscation?

Can this Admin do no wrong by you aside from not building a thick, long, and high enough fence along the US-Mexican border. Quite seriously, what line must this Admin cross for you to say, "That's too much even for this doting Burkean!!"

Donald Douglas said...

Isn't McCain really speaking about enduring American values? The cause for which we fight is more than one administration, no? Why should he be heckled so? Clinton first passed the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998, and he continues to support the policy last I heard. Are Clinton's commencement addresses heckled so? What is it about these values that is so detestable? And I mean in the realm of ideas. Is the idea of freedom (and ink-stained fingers) ridiculous? Is it the use of force per se, or American power? Collateral damage? What? Bush is not perfect, but I prefer him to the alternatives. I don't prefer a fence along the border; it'd be so Stalinist. But is not the Times story troubling? Or is it sovereignty itself to which you object? Let's just get rid of the whole border thing and be done with it, right?

M1 said...

I believe that many a statement and action deserves to be contextualized. I think that such contextualization of his speach has provided substrate for the critique levelled at him and his words.

But values? Pie in the sky values? Bring 'em on! I live for values and they are not the values of an Iranian demagogue an his mortifying mullahs. The values he discussed meet little if any pathetic opposition from M1. I pretty much buy in to them all. Let's however implement theses values and not just discuss them - though discussion is great, and even greater when the fruits of a chit chat have a conduit to the realms of influence and our not just relegated to dumpsters filled with tossed election ballots.

You are absolutely right about Clinton. It was Bill that set the stage per policy and action that has led us to war with Iraq. Some armed intervention was inevitable. Many delusional lefties do indeed forget this and see our presence in Iraq as Bush's fault. This is not true. In fact it is completely false. However the nature and timing of our presence in Iraq is entirely this Administration's fault and the nature of our occupation is unspeakably horrendous.

OK, let's drop the border issue. I agree that the influx is worrisome and deeply problematic. But enuff said of this.

Wanna hug?