I Never Thought I'd Applaud McCain And Bush

In speeches this week, both of them spoke truth to power and stood up for American ideals with intelligence and eloquence.
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Remember when Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were the axis of evil in the eyes of liberal Americans, with a little Karl Rove thrown in to torture us? Remember when John McCain stood onstage with Sarah Palin and we had trouble taking them seriously?

Today, that same former president and the current senator from Arizona deserve our praise. In speeches this week, both of them spoke truth to power and stood up for American ideals with intelligence and eloquence. Now granted, neither used the president’s name. But they didn’t have to. We knew exactly about whom John McCain was talking when he said in Philadelphia:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

Likewise, President Bush didn’t have to say the current president’s name in his speech to the George W. Bush Institute.

“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” he said. And, “Bigotry and white supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed.”

My only quibble here is that he used the word “seems.” There’s no room for “seems” in the conversation about this administration and the state of the country. Bigotry is emboldened by Donald Trump, and our politics are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication. How about we just call them lies.

I’ll always think of Bush as the man who gave us the devastating War in Iraq. But there is a but. However much and often I disagreed with him, thought him misguided, unfit for the job, led by war mongers, etc., etc., I never thought he was insane, or anti-American, or in bed with an oversees enemy and/or white supremacists.

“However much and often I disagreed with [Bush], I never thought he was insane, or anti-American, or in bed with an oversees enemy and/or white supremacists.”

I worried about what would happen to this country as future terrorists grew up with hatred for the U.S. as a result of our participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I didn’t worry about hatred among my fellow Americans. I worried the country was going in the wrong direction, as I did during the Bush I and Reagan years. But I didn’t worry it was going to fall off a cliff. I worried about the Supreme Court and a woman’s right to abortion. But I didn’t worry about the soul of the country. I didn’t worry that a madman might send nukes to North Korea. That we were governed by a bigot, an autocrat, a man void of empathy, a man void of any of the characteristics that make a great president.

I look back at how determined I was that John McCain could not be president. When the worst thing that could happen was to elect a war hero with conservative views, and a moron for vice president. Now that, in the alleged words of Rex Tillerson we have a moron for president, McCain would be a dream.

These days I read anti-Trump conservatives like David Frum and Bret Stephens, and delight in Republican strategist Steve Schmidt’s frequent use of the word malfeasance to describe Trump, and I think how close conservatives and liberals really are, how easily we could be united as Americans, when faced with someone as un-American as Donald Trump.

We may disagree about the size and role of government, about taxes, and about women’s access to healthcare, which at one time was the most important thing I could worry about. But we agree on the most fundamental aspects of what made this country so special to begin with. And we fear that as those qualities slip away, as civility and the norms by which the government was once led quickly disappear, we will cease to recognize this country. To paraphrase something I saw on Twitter this week, the U.S. isn’t dead, it’s just living in Canada.

Unfortunately, the men willing to speak up are either retiring like Bob Corker, already retired from politics, like George Bush, or approaching retirement, like John McCain. There are other men and women in Washington, members of the Republican Party who believe in the American principals so elegantly laid out in McCain’s speech this week. I would hope most of them do. There are plenty who I’m sure read Bret Stephens and David Frum and sigh, and wish that John McCain or George W. were president. But those men and women are weak, and frightened, and have completely lost their way. And because of their egos and a belief that above all they must keep their jobs and maintain a Republican majority, we will continue to watch the fast and furious degradation of the government of this nation.

It only takes a few good men and women. But it takes a few firmly planted in the halls of power to rally those around them for anything to change. They are the men and women who, as Senator McCain might say, are our last best hope to rid ourselves of the axis of evil that has taken up residence in the White House.

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