With John McCain’s stirring acceptance speech last night he made it official. This is a contest for the very soul of America- the most basic and vital campaign waged in modern American History. It is a contest between the country that was created by the framers of the constitution and the country that we have slowly been becoming.
Maybe its just that I have been reading between the lines for so long, but I am sensing things- I heard a refreshing tone in McCain’s speech last night that I have been longing for since Ronald Reagan left office.
I am talking about the promise of America. When the Jefferson, Adams, et al laid the plans for the country they even more concerned with creating safeguards against new ruling classes arising as they were about getting rid of the old ruling class. They wanted to leave behind the dead hand of aristocracy and plutocracy that made the old world of Europe stagnant and devoid of real opportunity.
They knew that success and power accumulate in groups at the top and lead to abuses after a while. The contest between Democrats and Republicans is so often a duel of special interests and agendas that we loose sight of the reason why we have elections in the first place. Elections are part of the process because they are the most efficient way to insure that ruling elites cannot become entrenched and can be changed without blood when a majority of the people thinks its necessary.
The continuing danger in our two party system is that those two parties are sometimes more interested in cooperating on their own business than they are on the people’s business. The government in Washington is always in danger of becoming more of an insider’s club than an instrument of the will of the people. Change, which is a theme for both Presidential campaigns, is a reflection of the public’s sense that things have gotten too cozy again.
It is not a question of whether we want change. Change always happens. The question is: : What kind of change do we need?”
I would submit that the first thing on the list of things to change ought to be that sense that the current elite is becoming more like a ruling class. I’m not just talking about the current administration and its corporate connections, I am talking about the political machines, the entrenched bureaucracies and the vested interests that, together, make up “business as usual”. It is not a Republican or a Democrat ruling class, it is worse than that. Elections are designed to fix that. I am talking about folks who have climbed inside the power structure, rolled up the windows, locked the doors, turned on the A/C and tuned the radio to the Insider Network. Elections don’t fix that because there are a great many Democrats and Republicans who broker positions and power, for their own comfort and gain- not for the good of the republic. It is a way the have of trying to insulate themselves from the restorative powers of elections.
The first thing I liked about McCain’s speech is that he reminded us that he is a maverick and a reformer. That he has always been the guy who blows whistles on the cozy and the bureaucratic. He served notice on this when he acknowledged his own party’s short comings. When he said, “We were elected to change Washington and we let it change us. We’re going to change that!” It was not a personal mea culpa, it was a signal that he is an American first and a Republican by affiliation only- that he sees the problem and intends to do something about it. “We're going to change that.” He pledged, “We're going to recover the people's trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.”
“Back to basics”, this leads me to the most important thing about John McCain’s speech. Beyond the party, there is the underlying philosophy. The most accurate summation ever written of the American political milieu was these two sentences by Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”
America has always had a basic culture of self-reliance, responsibility, enterprise and liberty. There have been many changes enforced on America by liberal activism, some have been beneficial but many have eroded the liberty and self-reliance of our people. It is the conservative impulse to let culture shine through, combined with his combative reformism that makes John McCain’s speech important and inspiring.
This guy has always been a pain in the ass for all his colleagues in the Senate. He does not toe the party line nor does he respect the trans-party structures of power. He, like his VP choice has Character. Put a bunch of people with character together in one country and your have a republic, a powerhouse of ideas and achievements. If you have a bunch of people with no character, you wind up with a totalitarian state with a stagnant economy because without people willing to stand up for something, you get fascism. McCain says, “I am going to say what I think is right.”
Obama, as Sarah Palin pointed out, “…says one thing about you when he is in Scranton and another thing altogether at a wine and cheese reception in San Fransisco.”
For McCain, it is not about his personal glory or success. He has been there and done that he is about repaying a debt on a different level. Here is something his opponent could never say:
“I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.” John McCain is about America and her promise and Obama is about Obama and his chance to “make history.”
Can you picture John McCain standing in front of a massive rally in Germany, a country that forced us to destroy her cities and kill her people in order to prevent her from subjugating the world to Nazi brutality, and uttering this, “I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.” Then his next words are, “But I also know how much I love America…” as if THAT, the love of Obama, is what is important. You men out there, try going home tonight and telling your wife, “Honey, you may be a little homely and sorta boring but you mean well and I love you.”
John McCain knows that nobody’s perfect. Nothing in this world is perfect. He, better than anybody, knows America is a work in progress. But he knows there is no excuse to be made. America is the best.
To keep us focused and working on helping her to continue to grow into the dream of the founding patriots, we need to have a leader who can call on us with a more confident voice than that, a voice that inspires and encourages, a voice with Chuchillian echoes of determination and pride- like the end of John McCain’s speech last night. How about the call he made at the end of his speech. Here it is:
“I'm an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach.
Fight with me. Fight with me.
Fight for what's right for our country.
Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.
Fight for our children's future.
Fight for justice and opportunity for all.
Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.
Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.
Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We're Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.
Thank you, and God bless you."
Yes indeed, America and whole hearted Americans make the history around here Mr Obama.