On this Memorial Day, I can think of few if any tributes to the enduring military values of this republic more significant than that offered by Senator John McCain when he spoke at the U.S. Naval Academy on April 2nd.
McCain’s speech to his alma mater — the alma mater of the four-star Navy admiral who was his father and the four-star Navy admiral who was his grandfather — came in the midst of the Western senator’s so-called “biography” tour. He undertook it because research showed that, while he is quite famous, most voters don’t know that much about him in depth aside from his having run for president in 2000 and 2008, being a Vietnam War hero, and having a reputation as a maverick. And he undertook it because values are important to John McCain, as anyone who’s read his classic memoir, “Faith Of My Fathers,” is aware.
Ironically, McCain’s Annapolis speech didn’t get much coverage at the time. Of the cable news nets, only MSNBC, the most liberal of the three, carried any of it live, and then just a snippet. Even Fox News did not carry the Annapolis speech live, choosing instead to carry on with its usual morning chatfest.
It’s unfortunate, because the speech captures much of the humor of the man and, more importantly, a sense of the American martial tradition.
If the usual hit squad tactics of our recent politics don’t come to dominate the general election campaign, we’re in for a fascinating clash between two candidates who represent what are frankly rather exotic strains in American life.
In Barack Obama, the representative of an exotic multi-racial, multi-cultural future that repels and frightens many Americans even as it attracts many others.
In John McCain, the representative of a military tradition which for most Americans, who increasingly never serve in the military and have no direct experience with it, is exotic in its coming out of a storied past.
There is probably no more traditional educational institution at the core of America’s military heritage than Annapolis. Merely allowing women to receive appointments as midshipmen was a lengthy cause celebre that led many — including possible Obama running mate Jim Webb, the Annapolis grad and Vietnam War hero who was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy and opposed women in combat — to no end of protest.
McCain, an old friend of Webb’s, as it happens (he calls Webb “a legendary fighting man”), talked about the taut Annapolis discipline with amusement.