McCain Asks for a Little Respect

Amid heavy rain and scattered protests, John McCain trotted out the latest preview of his 2008 Blue State speech on the South Lawn at Columbia University this morning.

Here’s what he said about the war in Iraq, read over the phone from the prepared text by a soaked and somewhat gloomy Jason Horowitz:

I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks we have incurred. But if an American feels the decision was unwise, then they should state their opposition and argue for another course. It’s your right and your obligation. I respect you for it. But I ask that you consider the possibility that I, too, am trying to meet my responsibilities, to follow my conscience, to do my duty as best as I can as God has given me light to see that duty.

Americans deserve more than tolerance from one another, we deserve each other’s respect whether we think each other right or wrong in our views. As long as our character and our sincerity merit respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, for all the noisy debates that enliven our politics, a mutual devotion to the sublime idea that this nation was conceived – that freedom is the inaliable right of mankind and in accord with the laws of nature and nature’s creator.

The trick for McCain in 2008 will be to rekindle the fascination he held in 2000 for moderates and some liberals despite that fact that he sounds more hawkish than the Bush administration on Iraq and has embraced unapologetically conservative positions on social issues like gay rights and the teaching of evolution in schools.

Using today’s magnanimous-sounding appeal today to the inner Marquis of Queensbury in every American as a template, it’s not hard to see McCain’s plan to maintain his appeal to the broad middle. No voters, after all, identify themselves as being pro-rancor.

He’ll just have to count on most audiences being more forgiving than the presumably elite sample of friends and relatives who showed up this morning to watch their children officially become Ivy League graduates.

As he spoke, about 50 students among the graduates opened orange-and-white umbrellas emblazoned with the words “John McCain Does Not Speak for Me.”

Rickie Solinger, a 59 year-old mother from New Paltz, watched the ceremony from the front row of the guest sections flanking the students, holding a red-lettered sign that said “Parents Support Student Dissent.”

She said that she was mortified that the college had invited McCain to speak because of his support for the war and opposition to gay and lesbian civil unions. “I’m embarrassed that the university chose such a polarizing figure,” she said. “He crosses the line.”

In the end, it seems, McCain’s calculated call for respect and civility won out, with applause outweighing boos.

Go figure.