Some notes from inside the Vines Center at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where John McCain is scheduled to give the commencement address in a few minutes. Aides have handed out copies of McCain’s speech, and he makes no specific references to his dispute with Jerry Falwell and other Christian conservative leaders during the 2000 presidential race — a time when McCain called Falwell, among others, an “agent of intolerance” and a figure who exercised an “evil influence” over the Republican party.
But the speech itself — which touches on issues like Iraq and Darfur — is essentially about reconciliation. “We have our disagreements, we Americans,” McCain says in the prepared text of his speech. “We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about.”
At the end, McCain tells the story of the late David Ifshin, the anti-war radical who traveled to North Vietnam to denounce the United States during the Vietnam war, when McCain was being held as a prisoner of war. Later, Ifshin, who became a key figure in Democratic party politics, apologized to McCain and the two reconciled. Says McCain, again in the prepared text, “We disagreed over much. Our politics were often opposed, and we argued those disagreements. But we worked together for our shared ideals. We were not always in the right, but we weren’t always in the wrong, either.”