The Nation's Pulse

Straight Talk Times Two

John McCain puts up his dukes -- as does North Carolina's attorney general.

By 4.13.07

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With the airwaves filled with the fate of Anna Nicole Smith's baby and Don Imus's endless apologies for thoughtless remarks, it came as a surprise this week to have, on the same day, two clear, measured, straight-forward addresses on important issues. One, by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper was on legal justice; the other by Senator John McCain, was on Iraq.

Cooper delivered the result of his department's investigation of the Duke University Lacrosse players' rape case: Innocent. The state was dropping the case, he said, and minced no words or used no euphemisms to express his dismay at the way District Attorney Mike Nifong had handled the case. "In the rush to condemn," he said, "a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly." He called the three young athletes victims of a "rush to accuse."

That rush to accuse and condemn served the purposes of several individuals and groups. Nifong, who was in a contested primary election race, apparently saw it as a means to get the votes of the community's large black population. On the Duke campus lacrosse was widely seen as an "elitist" sport, played by rich young white men. After the accused had made her rape charge, Nifong told the Raleigh News & Observer that he was convinced a rape had occurred and that the accused were "hooligans." How's that for a presumption of innocence?

Righteous indignation was the order of the day. A columnist in the Raleigh newspaper said that lacrosse should be "shut down." Duke President Richard Brodhead, who, despite his name, is narrow-minded, did just that. He also fired the coach and suspended two of the accused players (the third had graduated the day before the indictment).

One English professor complained about a "culture of silence that seeks to protect white, male, athletic violence" at Duke. Silence was not the order of the day for the self-righteous on campus. Eighty-eight members of the Duke faculty exhibited their penchant for thoughtful tolerance by taking out an ad in the student newspaper denouncing the accused and calling the incident a "social disaster."

A group of students demonstrated, one holding a sign that read, "The DNA will talk, even if the cowards of men's lacrosse won't." The DNA talked all right. It showed no involvement by the three men, although Nifong hid this evidence. Its later discovery led to his removal from the case. He now faces a trial before the state's bar association on charges of ethics violations.

This sorry state of affairs ended 395 days after it began. Attorney General Cooper called Nifong a "rogue prosecutor." During that time, a large segment of the community had suspended its belief in the presumption of innocence and the media, long shorn of its traditional role of exercising skepticism, happily piled on. Perhaps this sorry affair will cause those who rushed to judgment to reflect on their errors. While you are holding your breath for that to happen, take satisfaction in the fact that justice was ultimately done. .

Meanwhile, Senator McCain was addressing the students at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, in a carefully written and soberly delivered speech about the importance of Iraq in the war against ideologically driven terrorism. McCain delivered the speech without a TelePrompter and maintained eye contact with his audience throughout. This underscores its seriousness to him, for it means he must have rehearsed it carefully several times. There was nothing off-the-cuff about it.

In 2000 he dubbed his campaign bus the Straight Talk Express. Many did not agree with his maverick stance on issues, but none could charge that he did not say what he meant. As for Iraq, he has supported our involvement as part of the larger war, though he has often criticized the way it has been conducted.

On Wednesday he said, "As General Petraeus implements his plan to correct the flawed strategy we followed in the past and attempts to spare the United States and the world the catastrophe of an American defeat, it is an equal disservice to dismiss early signs of progress."

What came through in McCain's address was the conclusion that Congressional Democrats believe that if we withdraw from Iraq al Qaeda and its allies will be satisfied and leave us alone -- which will not happen. McCain understands the goal of the militant Islamists: domination of the Greater Middle East and, ultimately, the rest of the world.

He said of this, "Will this nation's elected leaders make the politically hard, but strategically vital decision to give General Petraeus our full support and do what is necessary to succeed in the war in Iraq? Or will we decide to take advantage of the public's frustration, accept defeat and hope that whatever the costs to our security, the politics of defeat will work better for us than for our opponents? For me, I would rather lose a campaign than a war."

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”