This, to say the least, has been one of the strangest presidential races in years; especially for conservatives. When this marathon began many months ago, the right’s choices ranged from liberal Rudy Giuliani to Libertarian Ron Paul, with a handful of conservatives of differing degrees in between. And then there was John McCain.
“Maverick” John McCain, as he was always known prior to his emergence as a threat to the felicity of the liberal media, was acutely unloved by many on the Right, most definitely including yours truly. And so it was with trepidation that I tuned into his acceptance speech at the Republican convention.
When he took the floor at the convention center, I couldn’t help being struck by the appearance of this very old-looking man with his crumpled gait; not surprising though, when you consider his age and the treatment his limbs received at the hands of his Vietnamese captors. This cringe-inducing entrance was not helped by his naturally squeaky voice and almost total lack of stage presence as he began.
Far from joining in the apparent exuberance of the crowd, I felt a profound sense of pity for him. After all, in this land of photo op-celebrity and glib sound-bytes, this man didn’t stand a chance against the prince of same. And after the whirlwind that hit St. Paul the night before in the form of Sarah Palin, I shuddered at the thought that McCain would not only fail to match the oratory of his opponent, but run the risk of being outshone by his running mate as well. I was wrong.
The major portion of the speech was representative of McCain himself; one minute raising conservative hopes by touting the need for smaller government, offshore drilling and school choice, followed by teeth-gnashing reminders of why they had never called him one of their own. And when he segued into his Vietnam experience I thought; oh no, here comes the John Kerry “reporting for duty” moment.
But what we heard was different. What we heard was dramatically different. What we heard was the voice of humility. And what a sound it was, amidst the sea of narcissism that typically pervades most Beltway oratory. This was not an “aw shucks” tale of humble beginnings that usually emanates from political podia, it was a story of true humility; the realization that one is small among much larger things.
In talking about national security he said, “I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it.” This sent a Chris Matthews-like chill down my spine, because it takes a special kind of man to be face to face with the kind of evil he endured and not only fail to be embittered by it, but to emerge spiritually stronger because of it. And this also is a type of humility.
In relating his tale of personal growth through bitter experience, he seemed to be telling the country that it was time to grow up and start putting more important things before self, like standing up for “beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.” Hearing these words spoken by a man who for five years was deprived not only of the comfort of his beloved country, but of the freedom she so greatly cherishes and fights for, brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.
Watching this man who still clearly bears the wounds from his time in the Hanoi Hilton, put me in mind of the story of a meeting George Washington had with some of his disgruntled officers near the end of the Revolutionary War. Having trouble reading his prepared remarks, he reached for his spectacles saying, “Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.”
But for me, the highlight of the speech was when he thanked God for the privilege of being America’s “imperfect servant.” He went on to promise that he would “fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him.” That millions of Americans get down on their knees every night and do the same is a notion that is foreign to many on the Left but may just well propel John McCain to the White House.
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