- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sen. John McCain told graduates of Liberty University yesterday that Americans “have our disagreements,” but “we are not enemies,” during his commencement speech at the conservative school in Lynchburg, Va., home to his one-time political adversary the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Mr. McCain once had labeled Mr. Falwell, along with others in the evangelical movement, as “agents of intolerance,” but the men appeared united yesterday, with Mr. Falwell calling the Arizona Republican “a great American.”

“[Mr. McCain] has helped make your future a continuing reality,” Mr. Falwell told those at the commencement ceremony. He introduced the senator, telling the 2,458 graduates in attendance that “this is a historic year” for the evangelical, Christian university.

Mr. McCain spoke at the university in what some are calling a move to win favor with religious conservatives as he positions himself for a potential bid for the presidency in 2008. He was quick to address his past philosophical differences with Mr. Falwell during the speech.

“By all means, let us argue,” Mr. McCain said. “But let us remember we are not enemies. … I have not always heeded this injunction myself, and I regret it very much.”

In 2000, Mr. McCain made his “agents of intolerance” claims against Mr. Falwell and others after he lost the presidential primary in South Carolina. He said he faced a smear campaign by evangelicals who supported then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush for the party’s nomination.

Mr. McCain touched on a number of topics during his speech at Liberty University, including his time of service in Vietnam, the importance of liberty and the war on terror.

Addressing the war in Iraq, Mr. McCain said, “I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq. Many Americans did not. My patriotism and my conscience required me to support it and to engage in the debate over whether and how to fight it.”

“I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country’s interests and values required it.”

He also addressed the cost of the Iraq war in both human lives and to the nation’s economy.

In what observers may see as a reference to growing diplomatic tensions with Iran, Mr. McCain said, “At a minimum, it has complicated our ability to respond to other looming threats.”

Mr. McCain expressed his common ground with those in attendance while turning his attention to global threats, citing Osama bin Laden and Islamic extremism by name.

“Americans deserve more than tolerance from each other. We deserve each other’s respect,” he said. “We have so much more that unites us than divides us. We need only to look to the enemy who now confronts us, and the benighted ideals to which Islamic extremists pledge allegiance — their disdain for the rights of man, their contempt for innocent human life — to appreciate how much unites us.”

Mr. McCain was greeted with a standing ovation after Mr. Falwell’s initial remarks, and the crowd broke into applause more than half a dozen times during his remarks. He was treated with warm applause at his speech’s conclusion.

Mr. McCain was immediately ushered out of the university’s center after his commencement address, as it was noted he had a political event to attend in Utah in the afternoon.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide