Today Senator John McCain will be speaking at the NAACP Convention in Cincinnati. It comes two days after an address by Barack Obama to the same body. It is quite unique that McCain chose this forum made up of delegates who will strongly support Obama on November 4th. You might say there are few votes to be gained. Why, then, is McCain speaking to an audience that will most likely be unreceptive to both his message and his candidacy?
It has everything to do with John McCain and his character. This blog has repeatedly said that John McCain would be the most difficult Republican nominee for any Democratic challenger. John McCain’s heroes include Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. While he is an admirer of President Ronald Reagan, it is clear that the McCain brand of conservatism is more in tune with fiscal issues and the role of government than with the obsession with social values pushed by the evangelical right.
The Republican party has a long and rich history. It was the party that abolished slavery. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Supreme Court of the United States had as its head Chief Justice Earl Warren, a Republican. Supreme Court rulings of the day advanced the cause of civil rights. In the 1960s, when civil rights legislation was passed, it would have been impossible without the support of moderate Republicans. It was done, however, at a price. Conservative Republicans and conservative Democrats ended up working together in a Southern Strategy that literally estranged the Republican party from black America. So, while the Republicans may have lost the support of the African American community over the past 45 years, it has not been insensitive to the plight of black America at crucial times in history. John McCain understands this part of the Republican legacy.
Mr. McCain’s record on civil rights has not been stellar. Just recently, he apologized for having opposed the Martin Luther King National Holiday. He was a successor to conservative Republican, Barry Goldwater, who voted against civil rights legislation in the 1960s, and McCain never repudiated his predecessor. Yet, in an election where the Democratic nominee is an African American, one could understand why McCain would bypass the NAACP meeting. McCain has chosen otherwise and that says a lot about his character.
It is my belief that an Obama victory would result in both generational and transformational change in US politics, but I also believe that a McCain victory would have both a transitional and a transformational effect on the Republican party. The more moderate Republican view of the world which was prevalent in different periods of American history, would once again play a determining role. This means a more bipartisan approach to politics and a search for wider consensus on public policy issues. To some, this election has a candidate of the left, Obama, against one of the right, McCain. But in the matter of African American relations, McCain is the right change for the Republican party.