A think tank named for the late senator John McCain is launching an ad campaign emphasizing the importance of human rights, encouraging Americans to vote and calling for a new generation of “mavericks” to uphold the late Arizona Republican’s legacy.
The ad, which will run online in five markets across the country, is part of the first major initiative by the McCain Institute for International Leadership since the senator’s death from brain cancer in August.
The minute-long, black-and-white spot makes no mention of President Trump, with whom McCain frequently tangled on foreign policy and other issues. Yet it in some ways offers a veiled rebuke of the president: It highlights the faces of a diverse country and includes audio of McCain stressing the importance of “truth against falsehood” in remarks he delivered at the 2017 Munich Security Conference.
“A spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance cannot be paralyzed by fear,” McCain can be heard saying in the ad. “We cannot give up on ourselves and on each other. We stand for truth against falsehood, freedom against tyranny, right against injustice, hope against despair.”
McCain was a particularly fierce critic of Trump’s cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as of his questioning of U.S. obligations under the NATO alliance.
The video concludes by urging viewers to “defend the dignity of all people” and vote in next month’s midterm elections — although it makes no mention of either political party. The ad was directed by Jesse Dylan, musician Bob Dylan’s son, who directed Will.I.Am’s viral “Yes We Can” video in support of Barack Obama in 2008.
Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide and writing partner, said the idea for the ad campaign was born this spring, while the senator was still alive. The project’s goal, he said, is to encourage Americans to get engaged with politics, petition their government and make human rights a priority.
“I thought John’s voice was one of the most influential, potent voices for the dignity of human beings — wherever they live — that we had,” Salter said. “I think now, why I’m supportive and encouraged about what the institute’s doing here, is that they’re trying to create a collective voice that’s bigger than any one person’s voice.”
The timing of the video’s release — in the midst of an international outcry over the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi — is a coincidence, Salter said, although he noted that McCain probably would have been among the loudest voices demanding accountability from Saudi Arabia for the journalist’s death.
“It was the first time really on a public policy issue since he passed away where I said, ‘Boy, I think I know what he would’ve said,’ ” Salter said. “I think he would’ve been pretty strong and pretty vociferous.”
The McCain Institute, which was launched in 2012, is based in Washington and run through Arizona State University. McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, was recently elected chair of the organization’s board.
Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, the institute’s executive director, said the center launched a research project and found that many Americans, particularly young people, “don’t really have a clear idea of what human rights are.”
The ad, which will run online in the Austin, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Nashville and Phoenix media markets, is part of a two-year campaign to try to boost civic engagement regardless of party, he said.
“We very much don’t view it as about Trump or about individual politicians or policies in any way; we’re trying to get above that,” said Volker, who is also the Trump administration’s part-time special envoy for Ukraine. “It’s very easy to not like Trump and then to blame everything on him. That’s not a constructive way to think about this.”
In a video message accompanying the ad’s release, Cindy McCain says that her husband “always believed in the need for people to speak out and serve causes greater than ourselves.”
The initiative will also feature a website with a “Maverick Pledge” as well as a large “Mavericks Needed” banner on the side of a building on ASU’s Tempe, Ariz., campus.