- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Sen. John McCain closed the final chapter of his upstart presidential bid with a nostalgic speech, drenched in Republican themes, that completely avoided the central issue that both propelled his campaign and made him an anathema to hard-core Republicans.
Despite his decade-long quest to pass sweeping campaign finance proposals, a goal many Republicans see as a violation of the First Amendment, Mr. McCain made no mention of any of his proposals that dominated his campaigning speeches for months.
He did not repeat his sharp criticism of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, his Republican rival, or Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic contender. He alluded only briefly to "cynicism" among voters, a feeling he attributed on the campaign trail to the flood of money in modern politics represented by those two men.
"When we quit seeing ourselves as part of something greater than our self-interest, then civic love gives way to the temptations of selfishness, bigotry and hate," he told convention delegates after entering to music from "Star Wars," the theme song of his campaign.
"I guess he may have decided the First Amendment is good after all," joked Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican and an opponent of Mr. McCain's campaign bills.
He added, however, "It does underscore the fact that we are here to unify the party there are philosophical differences, our tent is bigger than ever but we are all here to get the president elected and keep the House and Senate."
Mr. McCain also heaped praise on Mr. Bush, a distinct change from the campaign circuit, where he portrayed Mr. Bush as an opponent of reform who is beholden to wealthy interests.
"He wants to give you back a government that serves all the people no matter the circumstances of their birth," Mr. McCain said last night.
"I support him, I am grateful to him," Mr. McCain said, abandoning the sometimes bitter campaign of words that characterized the primary season. "And I am proud of him."
After he dropped out of the primary race in March, Mr. McCain was coy about his attitude toward Mr. Bush. He vowed to support him, but was evasive about how explicitly he would endorse him or whether he would campaign for him.
His warm words last night and the warm welcome delegates gave him, including a standing ovation at his entrance suggest that Mr. McCain, who has been mentioned as a possible secretary of defense, will become an important part of the campaign. Mr. Bush will reportedly stay at Mr. McCain's ranch later this summer after the two campaign in key Western states such as California.
"If you believe patriotism is more than a sound bite and public service should be more than a photo op," he said, drawing huge applause, "then vote for Governor Bush."
Mr. McCain began his campaign last fall with little apparent chance of success. But as better-known and better-funded candidates dropped out in the face of Mr. Bush's record war chest, Mr. McCain gained momentum.
He took the unusual step of skipping the Iowa caucuses to focus on the New Hampshire primary, which he won by an astonishing 16-point margin. That victory catapulted him to national prominence and led to speculation that he could snatch away the nomination from the well-oiled Bush campaign.
But Mr. McCain's tendency to speak bluntly, and his support of a campaign finance bill that Republicans oppose, stalled his effort. He lost the South Carolina primary soundly and lost many conservative voters after he harshly attacked Christian leaders as the "forces of evil." He won the important Michigan primary, but largely on the backs of independent voters, who were allowed to vote in that state.
He withdrew from the campaign March 9 after Mr. Bush trounced him in key primaries including California.
Mr. McCain expressed no bitterness over his loss.
"I have been an imperfect servant of my country over 40 years, and my mistakes rightly humble me," he said last night.
Mr. McCain, 63, struck an almost wistful tone when he talked about his advancing years and his dashed expectations he never became an admiral like his father and grandfather and he never made it to the White House.
"The years that remain are not too few, I trust, but the immortality that was the aspiration of my youth has, like all the treasures of youth, slipped away," he said.
Mr. McCain did not directly attack President Clinton, a frequent target of his wrath on the campaign trail, but made a clear indirect reference.
"Too often, partisanship seems all consuming, differences are defined with derision," he said. "Too often, we seem to put our personal interests before the national interest, leaving the people's business unattended while we posture, spin, and poll."
Most of Mr. McCain's lengthy remarks were devoted to his father and grandfather, both admirals in the Navy, and the millions of men who served in World War II. Those veterans were a common theme in Mr. McCain's campaign speeches in which he promised to revamp the military.
Mr. Bush has adopted the military theme. To emphasize the point, vice-presidential candidate Richard B. Cheney the former secretary of defense was seated with the national commanders of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars during Mr. McCain's speech.
"Their families, their schools, their faith, their history, their heroes taught them that the freedom with which they were blessed deserved patriots to defend it," Mr. McCain said of the World War II veterans.
Despite his warning that the modern generation is plagued by cynicism, he struck a hopeful tone about the future.
"I have faith that just beyond the distant horizon live a people who gratefully accept the obligation of the freedom to make of their power and wealth a civilization for the ages," he said, "a civilization in which all people share the promise of freedom."

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