Agents of Intolerance

Transcript of Senator John McCain’s remarks on the religious right, delivered in Virginia Beach on February 28, 2000, at the height of his campaign for the Republican nomination.

[Intros and thank you’s]

We usually conduct a town hall meeting after I make brief remarks, and I want to do that today. But I want to start this morning by making a few remarks about our Republican Party, the party that’s been my political home since I entered public life. I am proud of that affiliation, for I’ve always been proud of the beliefs of our great party, our belief in personal freedom and personal responsibility, our belief in a strong national defense, and vigorous and capable world leadership, our belief in small but effective government and in fiscal conservatism.

Most important, I believe in our party, because underlying all our party’s conservative principles is our respect for the nation’s greatness and our appreciation for the ennobling political and social values from which our greatness is derived. Thus I have always felt quite comfortable describing myself as a “proud conservative,” a “proud Reagan conservative.” And as a member of Congress, I have compiled a record of a proud conservative. I have fought many battles for small government and low taxes, for personal freedom and responsibility, for a strong defense of our national interests and values. I have fought against wasteful spending, whether its patrons were Democrats or Republicans. Moreover, I have proudly defended the sanctity of life and the values that make families strong and our country great. I have fought these battles in good times and bad for our party, and I will fight them for as long as I have the strength to fight.

Throughout my presidential campaign, I have remained true to our conservative principles. It’s conservative to pay down the national debt, to save Social Security and Medicare. It’s conservative to insist on local control of our children’s education. It’s conservative to expose the pork barrel spending practices of both political parties. It is conservative to seek to improve the lives of our servicemen and women and the means with which we ask them to defend us. And it is conservative to demand that America keep its promises to our veterans.

I run for president, my friends, because I believe deeply in the greatness of America’s destiny. We are the world’s lantern of freedom and opportunity, the bright beacon of hope that our fathers fought to bequeath us, and our children were born to inherit. But I know, but I know that unless we restore the people’s sovereignty over government and their pride in public service, unless we reform our public institutions to meet the demands of a new day, and unless we renew our sense of national purpose, we will squander our destiny.

Toward that end, I have called for the reform of campaign finance practices that have sacrificed our principles to the demands of big money special interests. I have spoken against forces that have turned politics into a battle of bucks instead of a battle of ideas. And for that, my friends, and for that, my friends, I have been accused of disloyalty my party.

I am also proud to help build a bigger Republican Party, a party that can claim a governing majority, for a generation or more, by attracting new people to our cause with an appeal to the patriotism that unites us and the promise of a government that we can be proud of again.

And for that, I have been accused of consorting with the wrong sort of people. Well – my friends, I have always in what I believe to be the best interests of my country. And I always believed that what is good for America is good for the Republican Party.

I don’t believe it’s loyal to suggest that the Republican Party cannot stand on its own feet in the fight for public opinion without six- and seven-figure contributions from people with interests before government, but not necessarily ideas to sustain our country’s greatness. I don’t believe it’s loyal to suggest that the Republican establishment is more important to save than a Republican majority. I believe it is the heighth of foolishness to build a wall around our party in fear that we are so narrowly defined that new faces and fresh ideas, in accord with our basic principles, will jeopardize our values.

America is more than the sum of its divided parts, and so our party should be. America is more powerful than its established power centers, and so our party should be. America is greater than the accumulation of wealth, and so our party should be.

This is my message to my party and my country: It is an honest Republican message that threatens none of our party’s principles or the social values of any constituency in our party. On the contrary, it is an inclusive but principled message that trusts in the people to guide our nation in this new century.

I am a conservative, my friends, a proud conservative who has faith in the people I serve. But those who purport to be defenders of our party but who, in reality, have lost confidence in the Republican message, are attacking me. They are people who have turned good causes into businesses.

Let me be clear. Let me be clear. Evangelical leaders are changing America for the better. Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship, is saving men from a lifetime behind bars by bringing them the good news of redemption. James Dobson, who does not support me, has devoted his life to rebuilding America’s families. Others are leading the fight against pornography, cultural decline, and for life. I stand with them.

I am a pro-life, pro-family fiscal conservative and advocate of a strong defense. And yet, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate. They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters.

Why? Because I don’t pander to them. Because I don’t ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message. I believe in the cause of conservative reform. I believe that because we are right, we will prevail in the battle of ideas, unspoiled by the taint of a corrupt campaign finance scheme that works against the very conservative reform of government that is the object of our labors. The Republican Party will prevail because of our principles, because that’s what it’s about, my friends. Principles, not special interest money or empire or ego.

The union bosses who have subordinated the interests of working families to their own ambitions, to their desire to preserve their own political power at all costs, are mirror images of Pat Robertson. Just as we embrace working people, we embrace the fine members of the religious conservative community. But that does not mean that we will pander to their self-appointed leaders.

Some prefer to build walls and exclude newcomers from our support. Apparently, appeals to patriotism can only be heard by card- carrying Republicans and only certain Republicans at that, not the kind of Republicans who might dissent from the soft-money ethics of a tired party establishment. Apparently, Republican reformers, independent reformers or Democratic reformers, any group that might, like the Reagan Democrats of 20 years ago, be attracted to our cause of conservative reform and national greatness, are too great a threat to the Washington status quo. That surprises me; that surprises me since the essence of evangelism is to seek converts.

My campaign is bringing new people into the Republican Party every day. I don’t apologize for this; no, I wear it as a badge of honor. I will not padlock the Republican Party and surrender the future of our nation to Speaker Gephardt and President Al Gore. My friends, we are building a new Republican majority, a majority to serve the values that have long defined our party and made our country great.

Social conservatives should flock to our banner. Why should you fear a candidate who believes we should honor our obligations to the old and the young? Why should you fear a candidate who believes we should first cut taxes for those who need it most? Why should you fear a candidate who wants to reform the practices of politics in government so they fairly reflect your aspirations for your family and country?

Why should you fear a candidate who would sign, without hesitation, a partial-birth abortion ban or who would work tirelessly with anyone to improve adoption and foster-care choices for those who might be considering the taking of unborn lives? Why should you fear a candidate who shares your values?

My friends, I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore. Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.

I recognize and celebrate that our country is founded upon Judeo- Christian values, and I have pledged my life to defend America and all her values – the values that have made us the noblest experiment in history.

But political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value. The political tactics of division and slander are not our values. They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party, and our country.

Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

Many years ago, a scared American prisoner of war in Vietnam was tied in torture ropes by his tormentors and left alone in an empty room to suffer through the night. Later in the evening, a guard he had never spoken to entered the room and silently loosened the ropes to relieve his suffering. Just before morning, that same guard came back and retightened the ropes before his less humanitarian comrades returned. He never said a word to the grateful prisoner, but some months later, on a Christmas morning, as the prisoner stood alone in the prison courtyard, the same Good Samaritan walked up to him and stood next to him for a few moments. Then, with his sandal, the guard drew a cross in the dirt. Both prisoner and guard stood wordlessly there for a minute or two, venerating the cross, until the guard rubbed it out and walked away.

This is my faith, the faith that unites and never divides, the faith that bridges unbridgeable gaps in humanity. That is my religious faith, and it is the faith I want my party to serve, and the faith I hold in my country. It is the faith that we are equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the faith I would die to defend.

Don’t let anyone fool you about me, my friends, or about this crusade that we have begun. If you want to repair the people’s confidence in the government that represents us, join us. If you want to restore the people’s pride in America, join us. If you want to believe in a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests, join us.

We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Pat Robertson. We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, not the party of special interests. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones. Join us. Join us. Join us, and welcome anyone of good faith to our ranks. We should be, we must be, we will be a party as big as the country we serve.

Thank you, and God bless, and thank you for being here today. Thank you.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Religious Right, Republican Party, Uncategorized
19 comments on “Agents of Intolerance
  1. 1mime says:

    This is O.T. but is of such importance to seniors that I wanted to post it. Seniors on Medicare who receive home health frequently are told that their services have maxed out. Per a federal case on this issue, there are changes in this regard. If you or a loved one/parent/grandparent/friend receive Medicare, this is very important information for you to share with them. There is a link within the article that provides the court’s ruling.

  2. 1mime says:

    Follow the $$ Rob. Check outthemajor donors to Ryan and the GOP and you will see exactly how this veto by Ryan is rationalized.

  3. Stephen says:

    I voted for McCain in 2008. Honestly believed he would of been a fine president. I voted for Bush in the 2000 general election. Wish I could do a do over on that. Me and millions of people. Florida will be close again. But the wife and me will vote for Hillary this time. Doing out part to push back the anarchy that Trump is bringing.

  4. Kenneth Devaney says:

    I was living in Seattle and changed my party registration to Republican so I could vote for McCain in the Washington primary. My Republican friends gave me the idea as a tangible way to combat the the “Christian” and other social movements that were hijacking their party. To be truthful, I also really liked McCain back then and might have voted for him in the general if he had been the nominee. Not that it mattered, he got clobbered that night as I recall.

    Watching Jerry Falwell on tv in the 80’s and 90’s used to create so much anger in me. I buried many friends, co-workers and one family member during the AIDS crisis. Watching these Family values and Christian groups permeate the fabric of the party and make themselves and their cause synonymous with the Republican brand sickened me. My anger at the Republican party was allowing themselves to be used this way in exchange for a few more votes. They allowed themselves to be infected with an inefficient virus…it killed the host.

    My party on the other hand has completely lost touch with all but urban centers and pockets of suburbs/exurbs. That might be ok if they had a partner who does represent the real needs of that portion of the electorate they don’t have much connection with but they don’t. Other than addressing cultural grievances I don’t see how the Republican platform helps these folks in any real way or even offers the country a serious alternative in governance. Apparently all our challenges can be solved with more tax cuts and a skeletal government. My now 27 year old daughter and her friends haven’t found their voice and candidates yet but they are growing impatient. I hope they blow it all up and start the conversations we should be having.

    I’m so sorry for the ramble…your article took me back to a time and space I had forgotten and reminded me the path we took that to get to 2016.

    • 1mime says:

      Kenneth, I’m curious. What issues/needs of yours are not being met by the current Democratic Party? (If you don’t mind sharing.)

      • Kenneth Devaney says:

        Sorry mime,
        just caught your question. My needs are met. I was fortunate to grow up when the public schools were really good and inexpensive access to a public university punched your ticket out of places like where I grew up. My beef with my party is its lack of courage to have a real conversation with the public. Maybe we can balance the costs of being the world’s super power/cop and trade route security service with an all volunteer force and still offer first world quality education and health care to all citizens. That requires a serious discussion about taxes. Inadequate wealth distribution chokes off mobility and the general welfare. I appreciate that 42-44% of the population still thinks they are struggling because minorities and gays are …whatever they think we’re doing or getting for free but there is a majority willing to have the adult conversation. Lets have it.

        I’ve talked to many good republicans in my time who now have no home. We should drop the tribal labels and maybe create another party with a laser focus on income disparity, our role in world affairs and basic human necessities here at home and see if we can achieve a better outcome. I know Democrats don’t have all the answers and right now Republicans aren’t even in the same book let alone the same page.

      • 1mime says:

        thank you, Kenneth. That is a conversation we’ve put off for too long. One of my pet peeves with the Dem Party (which I’ve expressed before) is their lack of organization. There seems to be a laid back attitude that things will take care of themselves because they are “just”. There’s too much “running in place”. Before we can be a change agent, we have to command sufficient presence at every level of politics. That has not been a focus of the DNC. I think the Dem Party gets it right on social values – and our governance is praiseworthy, but we’re not selling our message nor our accomplishments commensurate with what we have actually achieved.

        Of course, it would help if Republicans worked with Democrats to solve big problems, but that hasn’t been the case for a very long time. I am amazed that Obama was able to achieve as much as he did given the obstruction he has faced for 8 years. Hillary won’t find the going any easier especially if we are unsuccessful in re-taking the Senate and knowing the House is not in play.

  5. formdib says:

    The words of a politician I would be happy to agree to disagree with. Is that too much to ask?

    • 1mime says:

      What are your areas of disagreement with McCain’s speech, Formdib? I agreed with practically everything except that I am pro-choice, even as I respect those who hold a different POV. (problem is the tolerance is not reciprocal-ever).

      • formdib says:

        1) Pro-choice is a good place to start.

        Disagreement: I’m pro-choice, he’s pro-life. I am pro-choice up to and including late term abortions.

        Zika is a good example why: you won’t know if you’re dealing with microcephaly until late in term. The parents, though mostly willing to be parents, may simply not have the bandwidth or additional resources to handle a child with permanent, lifelong impairments, and the child is going to suffer a lower quality of life regardless. It will cost ‘society’ more as well.

        If the parents are still determined to have the child, that’s great. Just because a person suffering from microcephaly has lower quality of life doesn’t mean that they can’t have a good one, and shouldn’t be represented. So it’s up to rational, thinking adults to choose.

        Not for that choice to be forced on them because religious folks get their panties in a bundle.

        Zika / microcephaly isn’t the only impairment like that.

        Where I agree to disagree:

        For how pro-choice I am, I honestly do sympathize with the impression, in fact gut instinct, of preserving life on even a basic conception level. When I think of the pro-life / pro-choice issue from the perspective of a person who truly truly believes, no matter how the debate goes, that life begins at conception and therefore the United States systematically murders millions of children a year over feckless people ‘changing their minds’, I can see how enraging and gut-wrenchingly disturbing the whole system can feel — even if that initial belief, that life begins at conception, is not believed by others.

        I can even sympathize with partial or late-term bans on abortion, once the procedure becomes increasingly dangerous to the mother and the foetus arguably crosses some threshold of ‘life’ (via pain, awareness, discernable baby-like structure, or so forth).

        The problem with that arbitrary threshold is that it’s more arbitrary than ‘at conception’ and ‘at birth’, both of which are much clearer. Any ‘middle ground’ given risks also re-evaluation of that middle ground toward a slippery slope in either direction, displeasing everybody. Furthermore, concepts like ‘life’, ‘consciousness’, and ‘soul’ cannot be scientifically defined between the development of a foetus and a fully birthed baby. After all, preemies.

        This is before we even start getting into the whole issue of women’s rights, rape babies, whether miscarriage constitutes murder, manslaughter, or neglect, etc. so forth and so on.

        So whereas I sympathize with pro-life beliefs, I don’t feel like partial abortion is the middle ground. Rather, I’d like to see McCain talk more about what sort of sociological support structures we could build so that abortions don’t have to occur and unwanted births have some institutional method of providing the children qualitative lives as members of society raised by society, via adoption and other services. I feel McCain circa 2000 would be on board that discussion, back before we had the whole stupid fucking stem-cells = souls debate (which has incidentally held back our medical development by a generation, resulting in both lower qualities of life for living AND babies born with preventable lifelong impairments, thus INCREASING abortions, as well as keeping medical care more expensive for everything. There is no middle ground there: if you’re anti stem cell research, you’re wrong).

        2) His commentary on evangelism is great where it calls out evangelists for nothing short of hypocrisy. However, maybe it’s in how I’m reading this speech, but it feels like McCain is trying to say ‘good’ evangelism is a necessary function of moral leadership.

        The disagreement: I think appeal to any specific religious base for moral code should be removed from the basis of government ethical discourse completely. The separation of church and state should dictate that the morals the government are founded in should be based on rationalist, humanistic principles divorced from any religious influence.

        Where I agree to disagree: frankly, I know I’m being extreme, and I actually kind of don’t like atheists that cry foul that religious people’s morals are off BECAUSE the morals are based in some way in belief. As far as being an atheist goes, I’m really more on the “I just kinda don’t care and the question of God’s existence occupies very, very little of my interests or inquiries. I could take it or leave it either way” spectrum of atheism.

        I also feel that the functional areas of social cohesion and morality you find in religions worldwide offer great ideas that can be appropriated for use in the ethical governance of a pluralistic society.

        Therefore, I don’t necessarily feel like McCain is wrong to cite evangelist morals as part of his principles, especially if he’s self-critical enough to notice the difference between different types of evangelism, meaning he doesn’t just accept the statements based on identity, but based on their content.

        Nevertheless, if evangelist morality is to be cited as a source of inspiration for government principles, then I have to be clearly told that that applies to other, non-Christian religions too. If McCain can say the same thing about Buddhism and Sharia Law as he can about Christian morality with a straight face, then hey, we’ll work something out.

        I really can’t claim to be working for wider social cohesion and an ethical society without recognizing the influence of Christian beliefs on the culture of the United States of America.

        3) Incidental standards.

        The disagreement: The rest is just the usual wiggle words of political cliches that couldn’t possibly be avoided, the ‘Reagan Republican’ and ‘pay down the debt’ and ‘greatness of America’ stuff. It’s nearly impossible to write a meaningful political speech without them, but they’re not going to earn my trust and admiration of a politician.

        Hell, the whole ‘Reagan Republican’ thing is annoying if anything. Stop trying to be like Reagan and be the NEW name-defining leader or something. You know? Be BETTER than Reagan.

        Agree to disagree: But anyway, reading those words still indicates the man is capable of stringing together whole thoughts with awareness of the history and values of the people he’s talking to. I know that his ideas for how to pay down the debt may differ from mine or something, but that he’s a person who could work WITH me to do it if we were both in a position to.

        Whereas there’s no talking to the likes of Trump or Cruz and there wasn’t really any talking to Bush, all three for completely different reasons.

        That’s all.

      • 1mime says:

        Thanks for taking time to reply, formdib. I share your belief in a strict separation of church and state including the Evangelical movement. I was struck by McCain’s admiration for James Dobson, whose religious organization, Focus on the Family, rigidly interprets the Bible and by extension, people’s lives. I had a formal interaction with Focus on the Family in my capacity as a School Board Member in the early 90s. I was tapped for an interview regarding a decision by our board to refuse a petition by members of his movement to remove certain books from our libraries. The broadcast of my commentary was edited in such a manner as to distort my remarks which did not sit well with me. This was my only direct involvement with FOF, but it was a useful lesson going forward.

        I felt then and still do that religion has no place in matters of government and conversely, that government has no place in religious affairs. Further, for me, all religions should be accorded the same respect as long as they do not advocate violence. As for Jerry Falwell, I have never had any respect for his “ministry” or for him personally.

  6. 1mime says:

    Did McCain write this speech, Chris? I never heard or read this speech…but I would vote for a candidate who would pursue a political platform that embraced the ideas contained within it. What has happened to Sen. McCain? Did the party swallow him whole and spit out a man who looked more like “them”? It is a wonderful speech and I applaud the ideas behind it and the man/woman who composed it. I hope it was John McCain. It offered a shining moment in his political and personal career.

    McCain stated: “I always believed that what is good for America is good for the Republican Party.” /What has emerged, instead, is a party that believes what is good for it is good for America.

    • goplifer says:

      Yes, that was McCain uncensored. Since then, he has been a bit more censored.

    • goplifer says:

      And by the way, he stands in a long history of Republican Senators from Arizona with those remarks. Barry Goldwater described the religious right as “a bunch of kooks.” Goldwater’s wife was one of the founders of Planned Parenthood. Goldwater himself was pro-choice across his entire career.

      • 1mime says:

        Currently, Senator Flake appears to be following in the long line of rational conservatives in AZ.

        How, then, does a Sheriff Joe Arpaio take root in states which produce leadership like McCain, Goldwater, and Flake?

      • Kebe says:

        1mime –> Joe Arpaio is Maricopa County (aka. Phoenix & suburbs). AZ is more than just greater Phoenix. Visit Tucson some time. Not quite what Austin is to TX, but it has some of the same effects. I believe Gabby Giffords is from Tucson, e.g.

      • 1mime says:

        I understand that AZ has many special places, but my point is this: how can a state that elects rational, moderate conservatives tolerate, no, condone, a man like Arpaio? It doesn’t compute for me….except through the lens of discrimination. Discrimination is not acceptable to me nor should it be for anyone be they AZ citizens or elected representatives. AZ has to take responsibility for the good and the bad. This is a bad man and he is a discredit to your state. Evidently, the people of this county find his rhetoric and methods appropriate or they wouldn’t keep him in office, but state leaders could get involved (back a different candidate, reprimand Arpaio, publicize his activities, etc.) and they have chosen to look the other way.

      • Kebe says:

        Arizona hasn’t been my state since 1991-1993. They were still recovering from Evan Mecham’s anti-MLK disaster in the 80s.

  7. […] speech in February of 2000, posted here in its entirety, was the last gasp of the Party of Lincoln. For a few weeks that spring it looked as if sane, […]

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