Today, on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., thousands of Americans have traveled to Memphis to commemorate Dr. King's important work for civil rights and economic justice. Among those who gathered at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel was Republican presidential nominee, U.S. Senator John McCain. Senator McCain chose this anniversary to apologize for his vote in Congress opposing the creation of a national holiday to celebrate Dr. King's birthday. "I was wrong. I was wrong," he said.
Senator McCain admits that he was wrong in the past. He should, of course, be ashamed of his record, which includes far more than just a vote against a national holiday for Dr. King. In 1987, McCain supported the effort by Arizona Governor Evan Mecham to rescind Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday. (Governor Mecham, you may remember, had a knack for calling his African-American constituents "colored people" and "pickaninnies.") McCain went on record saying he supported the governor.
Unfortunately, these brushes with bigotry are part of a pattern. In 1990, Senator McCain voted against the Civil Rights Act. During the Clinton Administration, he voted to defund the national commission promoting Dr. King's vision for America.
Senator McCain is an American hero, so it is troubling to have to point out his words of support for bigots like Governor Mecham and McCain's opposition to important anti-discrimination legislation. But John McCain has also had warm words to say about his former strategist Richard Quinn, who called the King Holiday "vitriolic and profane." He defended Quinn as a "respected" and "fine man." McCain should have fired him instead.
Even today, McCain demonstrates a level of tolerance for bigots, including his embrace of extremist religious leaders such as Texas televangelist John Hagee, who has called Roman Catholicism a "the great whore," "the anti-Christ" and a "false religion." After pursuing and gaining the backing of this divisive charlatan, Senator McCain says "I was pleased to have the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee."
This is hardly the straight talk we keep hearing about. It's double talk. And it is part of a distressing pattern that should be of concern to Americans who want a President who will be a fighter for civil rights and stand up against bigotry and discrimination. It is also part of an even larger pattern of McCain double-talk:
• He says that he is for families, but then votes repeatedly against the minimum wage;
• He gives lip service to the goal of improving economic conditions for working families, but then votes against the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help workers obtain better pay and benefits and improved working conditions;
• He attacked Jerry Falwell and other right-wing zealots as "agents of intolerance," then delivers the commencement address at Falwell's Bible college;
• He opposed the misguided Bush tax cuts for the rich because they didn't do enough for middle class Americans, but now votes to make those tax cuts permanent;
• He predicted an easy victory in Iraq, but now says we may need to stay for 100 years.
Today, the real question for Senator McCain remains: Where will you stand tomorrow?