On This, John McCain Has Been a True Leader – HuffPost

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I hope Senator John McCain has many years left, and that he is able to enjoy them with his friends and loved ones. He has served our country with bravery and with distinction, and suffered a great deal for it while being held as a prisoner of war. There is no doubt that he loves America. I also hope the next person who sits in his Senate seat is a Democrat, just as I do for any seat held by a Republican.

As for McCain’s political positions on major issues over the years, I’ve disagreed with him most of the time ― including right now on Trumpcare ― although less often than some other Republicans. And yes, he brought Sarah Palin on to the national stage, something that will always be a low point in his career. Let’s not revisit those issues here, or offer a list of the damaging legislation or policies he supported. That doesn’t mean they are forgotten ― it’s simply not the purpose of this post.

I want to contrast McCain to his Republican colleagues on a particular matter, one that is even more important given the current occupant of the White House. That matter is race-baiting or “othering” one’s political opponent in a way that engenders hate and plays ― or more accurately, preys ― on racial and cultural anxiety. In my book, Obama’s America, I wrote about the events discussed below, and this post draws on that material.

On October 10, 2008, at a town hall-style McCain campaign event in Lakeville, Minnesota, a supporter held the microphone and said that he was “scared” of what would happen if Barack Obama was elected president. Just take a second to ask yourself how Donald Trump would have responded.

Here’s what McCain said: “I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you ― I have to tell you ― he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared” of “as president of the United States.” The crowd ― people there because they were on McCain’s side ― strongly booed him. Rather than whip his people into a frenzy, he went against them. You can question his motives if you like, but let’s focus on the fact that what he did was the right thing for America.

Not long afterward, at the same event, a woman took the microphone and said: “I can’t trust Obama.” McCain nodded along, as that sentiment is, like it or not, within the bounds of acceptable political discourse. Then she revealed why she can’t trust Obama: “he’s an Arab.” McCain immediately shook his head no, gently took back the mic, and corrected her:

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].” The senator could have done nothing, and just let the woman go on, or even encouraged her delusional thinking in some way. Her remark gave him the opportunity to further heighten fears about Obama as The Other, as foreign, even as a possible terrorist, given untrue stereotypes about Arabs. Instead, McCain defended his opponent, the person standing in the way of his greatest ambition.

It’s also important to note that he overruled Palin and his top advisers, who apparently wanted to attack Obama in the campaign’s closing weeks over the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. According to a GOP official: “There’s a slippery slope in politics on the racial divide, and Sen. McCain made it very clear early on that he did not want to get into that area.”

To be sure, McCain could have given an even better answer in Lakeville if he had defended Arabs and Arab Americans. As Colin Powell noted when asked about this exchange on Meet The Press nine days later: “The really right answer is: So what if he is [an Arab]?” McCain, unlike Powell, was running for president, and his willingness, in the heat of the moment, to go as far as he did deserves praise. This is even more evident when you compare what he did to how other Republican presidential candidates acted only a few years later.

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