22 May 2006

McCain Chief of Staff Responds to Student Critic

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John McCain was jeered and booed by New School graduates at his speech at their commencement. His host, university president and Medal of Honor winner, former Senator Bob Kerrey was called “a war criminal.” And student speakers attacked McCain’s speech (which the Senator chose to deliver also at Columbia and at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University) even before he had delivered it.

Jean Rohe, blogging on Huffington Post, was proud of hersef and her fellow students.

Yes, McCain was undoubtedly shouted-out and heckled by people who were not politely absorbing his words so as to consider them fully from every angle. But what did he expect? We could’ve all printed out his speech and chanted it with him in chorus. Did he think that no one knew exactly what he was about to say? And it was precisely because we listen to the views of others, and because, as I said in my speech, we don’t fear them, that we as a school were able to mount such a thorough and intelligent opposition to his presence. Ignorant, closed-minded people would not have been able to do what we did. We chose to be in New York for our years of higher education for the very reason that we would be challenged to listen to opposing viewpoints each and every day and to deal with that challenge in a nonviolent manner. We’ve gotten very good at listening to the views of others and learning how to also make our views heard, even when we don’t have the power of national political office and the media on our side.

I think we must remember that as big as this moment may seem to me today and perhaps to other supporters who are reading this article, this is a very small victory in a time when democracy is swiftly eroding under the pressure of the right wing in this country. We all have much work to do, and for the most part the media do not represent us, the small people who don’t hold any special titles but who feel the weight of our government’s actions on our backs each and every day. I never expected to get the opportunity to speak the way I did yesterday, but I’m so glad that I did. I hope that other people found strength in my act of protest and will one day find themselves in my position, drawing out their own bravery to speak truth.

Mark Salter, Senator McCain’s chief of staff, was moved to reply to the young lady’s blog comments:

Ms. Rohe and those of her fellow graduates who hailed their school’s President as a war criminal and who greeted the Senator’s reference to a friend’s death with laughter proved only one thing, one sad thing, that they could learn a thing or two about tolerance and respect from the students of Liberty University. Like the protestors at the Garden, many in the audience at Liberty University disagreed with various of the Senator’s views. Some disagreed with his support for campaign finance reform. Some disagreed with his support for comprehensive immigration reform with a path toward legalization for undocumented workers. Some disagreed with his position of climate change. Some disagreed with his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Whatever their differences with him they listened to him attentively and respectfully, as one American to another, divided in some respects, united in much more important ones.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Senator, the man you dismiss so derisively. Once upon time, even among the young, the words courage and hero were used more sparingly, more precisely. It took no courage to do what you did, Ms. Rohe. It was an act of vanity and nothing more. And please don’t worry about the Senator’s discomfort with you. He has managed to endure much worse. McCain was once offered release from imprisonment and torture because of his father’s position as a senior military officer. He declined because he would not leave his comrades behind, and thus, willingly, accepted four more years of hardships life will spare almost all of us from. In his political career he has shown the same character he showed as a Navy officer all those years ago. He has, over and over again, risked personal ambitions for what he believes, rightly or wrongly, are in the best interests of the country. What, pray tell, have you risked? The only person you have succeeded in making look like an idiot is yourself.

You took exception to the paragraph in which he lightly deprecated the vanity of youth. Well, Ms. Rohe, and your fellow graduates’s comical self-importance deserves a rebuke far stronger than the gentle suggestions he offered you. So, let me leave you with this. Should you grow up and ever get down to the hard business of making a living and finding a purpose for your lives beyond self-indulgence some of you might then know a happiness far more sublime than the fleeting pleasure of living in an echo chamber. And if you are that fortunate, you might look back on the day of your graduation and your discourtesy to a good and honest man with a little shame and the certain knowledge that it very unlikely any of you will ever posses the one small fraction of the character of John McCain.

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