The 2008 Republican presidential nominee spoke with Independence Hall in his line of sight, having just been awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan institution built across the street from the spot where the Founding Fathers debated the nation’s future.
The award was presented by Joe Biden, the former vice president who served 22 years in the Senate with McCain. Biden is now chairman of the Constitution Center.
In his remarks, Biden paid tribute to McCain’s commitment as a captured Navy pilot refusing early release from his Vietnamese captors, to his bipartisan work in the Senate. Biden ended on a deeply personal note discussing his late son Beau’s admiration for McCain when Beau Biden went to Iraq on a tour of duty with the Army as a judge advocate general in 2008.
Beau Biden died of glioblastoma in 2015, the same form of brain cancer that McCain was diagnosed with in July.
McCain grew emotional at times during his remarks, recounting the 1991 speech of President George H.W. Bush on the 55h anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Bush is one of 29 recipients of the Liberty Medal. Last year the center honored Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
When it came to the portion of his speech about America’s place in the world, McCain gathered himself and delivered a blunt denunciation of the nationalist forces around the world, but most particularly of those at home:
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.We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.
The full speech can be viewed here.