Sen. John McCain: Pres­i­dent Obama’s ter­rific speech.

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY JOHN MCCAIN

Pres­i­dent Obama gave a ter­rific speech Wed­nes­day night. He mov­ingly mourned and hon­ored the vic­tims of Satur­day’s sense­less atroc­ity out­side Tuc­son, com­forted and in­spired the coun­try, and en­cour­aged those of us who have the priv­i­lege of serv­ing Amer­ica. He en­cour­aged ev­ery Amer­i­can who par­tic­i­pates in our po­lit­i­cal de­bates— whether we are on the left or right or in the me­dia — to as­pire to a more gen­er­ous ap­pre­ci­a­tion of one an­other and a more mod­est one of our­selves.

The pres­i­dent ap­pro­pri­ately dis­puted the in­ju­ri­ous sug­ges­tion that some par­tic­i­pants in our po­lit­i­cal de­bates were re­spon­si­ble for a de­praved man’s in­hu­man­ity. He asked us all to con­duct our­selves in those de­bates in a man­ner that would not dis­il­lu­sion an in­no­cent child’s hope­ful pa­tri­o­tism. I agree whole­heart­edly with these sen­ti­ments. We should re­spect the sin­cer­ity of the con­vic­tions that en­liven our de­bates but also the mu­tual pur­pose that we and all pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans serve: a bet­ter coun­try; stronger, more pros­per­ous and just than the one we in­her­ited.

We Amer­i­cans have dif­fer­ent opin­ions on how best to serve that noble pur­pose. We need not pre­tend oth­er­wise or be timid in our ad­vo­cacy of the means we be­lieve will achieve it. But we should be mind­ful as wear­gue about our dif­fer­ences that so­much more unites than di­vides us. We should also note that our dif­fer­ences, when com­pared with those in many, if not most, other coun­tries, are smaller than we some­times imag­ine them to be.

I dis­agree with many of the pres­i­dent’s poli­cies, but I be­lieve he is a pa­triot sin­cerely in­tent on us­ing his time in of­fice to ad­vance our coun­try’s cause. I re­ject ac­cu­sa­tions that his poli­cies and be­liefs make him un­wor­thy to lead Amer­ica or op­posed to its found­ing ideals. And I re­ject ac­cu­sa­tions that Amer­i­cans who vig­or­ously op­pose his poli­cies are less in­tel­li­gent, com­pas­sion­ate or just than those who sup­port them.

Our po­lit­i­cal dis­course should be more civil than it cur­rently is, and we all, my­self in­cluded, bear some re­spon­si­bil­ity for it not be­ing so. It prob­a­bly asks too much of hu­man na­ture to ex­pect any of us to be re­strained at all times by per­sis­tent mod­esty and em­pa­thy from com­mit­ting rhetor­i­cal ex­cesses that ex­ag­ger­ate our dif­fer­ences and ig­nore our sim­i­lar­i­ties. But I do not think it is be­yond our abil­ity and virtue to re­frain from sub­sti­tut­ing char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion for spir­ited and re­spect­ful de­bate.

Pub­lic life has many more priv­i­leges than hard­ships. First among them is the sat­is­fy­ing pur­pose it gives our lives to make a con­tri­bu­tion to the progress of a nation that was con­ceived to de­fend the rights and dig­nity of hu­man be­ings. It can be a bruis­ing busi­ness at times, but in the end its re­wards are greater than the in­juries sus­tained to earn them.

That doesn’t mean, how­ever, that those in­juries are al­ways easy to slough off and bear with per­fect equa­nim­ity. Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are not and can­not rea­son­ably be ex­pected to be in­dif­fer­ent to the cru­elest calum­nies aimed at their char­ac­ter. Imag­ine how it must feel to have watched one week ago the in­com­pre­hen­si­ble mas­sacre of in­no­cents com­mit­ted by some­one who had lost some es­sen­tial part of his hu­man­ity, to have shared in the heartache for its vic­tims and in the ad­mi­ra­tion for those who acted hero­ically to save the lives of oth­ers — and to have heard in the cov­er­age of that tragedy voices ac­cus­ing you of com­plic­ity in it.

It does not ask too much of hu­man na­ture to have the em­pa­thy to un­der­stand how wrong an in­jury that is or ap­pre­ci­ate how strong a need some­one would feel to de­fend him or her­self against such a slur. Even to per­ceive it in the con­text of its sup­posed po­lit­i­cal ef­fect and not as the claim of the hu­man heart to the dig­nity we are en­joined by God and our found­ing ideals to re­spect in one an­other is un­wor­thy of us, and our un­der­stand­ing of Amer­ica’s mean­ing.

There are too many oc­ca­sions when we lack that em­pa­thy and mu­tual re­spect on all sides of our pol­i­tics, and in the me­dia. But it is not be­yond us to do bet­ter; to be­have more mod­estly and cour­te­ously and re­spect­fully to­ward one an­other; to make progress to­ward the ideal that beck­ons all hu­man­ity: to treat one an­other as we would wish to be treated.

We are Amer­i­cans and fel­low hu­man be­ings, and that shared dis­tinc­tion is so much more im­por­tant than the dis­putes that in­vig­o­rate our noisy, rough-and-tum­ble po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. That is what I heard the pres­i­dent say onWed­nes­day evening. I com­mend and thank him for it. The writer, a sen­a­tor from Ari­zona, was the 2008 Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent.


Sen. JohnMcCain (R-Ariz.) ar­rives at the “ To­geth­erWe Thrive” me­mo­rial ser­vice in Tuc­son onWed­nes­day.

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