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.