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Sen. John McCain Addresses Shadow Convention

Aired July 30, 2000 - 11:45 a.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Howard Kurtz, thanks very much.

Indeed he is. It's something called the Shadow Convention, about four miles from this convention center, to represent those who aren't being heard, says Shadow Convention organizer Arianna Huffington, to focus on three issues: money in politics, poverty, and the failed drug war.

Here's John McCain.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for that very warm welcome. Thank you, Arianna, for that very wonderful introduction, and I'm very pleased to be here today at this obscure far too under-reported gathering. I am, of course, widely known for my discretion, and I thought losing myself in this crowd of like minded shrinking violets would be a good way to keep a low profile until the Republican National Convention begins tomorrow.


However, I don't want to use your kind invitation only for the purpose of self abdignation (ph). I thought I might do a little evangelizing while I'm here for the cause that motivated my late, lamented -- lamented by me at least -- campaign for the Republican nomination for president. That cause, my friends, is sustaining our nation's greatness. I believe in American exceptionalism. I believe we were meant to transform history. I believe that the progress of all humanity will depend, as it has for many years now, on the global progress of American interests and values. I believe we are still the last, best hope of Earth.

I used my campaign for the presidency to call for the reform of the practices and institutions of our democracy, and I was deeply gratified by the public's strong support to a commitment to break the iron triangle of money, lobbyists, and legislation, to reform government institutions to meet the demands of a new day, and to shake up our political system and restore a sense of purpose to politics beyond the personal ambitions of politicians.

But the reforms I called for were not ends in themselves, they were means to repair the American people's relationship with their government. Because I fear that if Americans no longer believe their government embodies the founding ideals that are the basis for American exceptionalism, then Americans will stop seeing themselves as part of something greater than the pursuit of their self interests. The cynicism, indifference and selfishness that will fill the void of declining civic pride and love threaten a swifter and more certain end to our civilization's greatness than any foreign enemy ever posed.

We began the last century with the leadership of the Republican Party's great reformer, Theodore Roosevelt, and his message of reform, renewal, and national greatness endured all the many arduous challenges of world wars and depression and civil injustice that stirred America in the last century to achieve her place of unsurpassed historical performance. His cause endures today despite the more insidious threats to our progress that I identified.

There is hunger in this country to better serve America and her great cause of freedom. I saw it everyday in my campaign and it moved me beyond description. I see it here among you good people. I see it in America's almost universal profession of respect and admiration for my friend Colin Powell and his call for a renewed American commitment to service. I saw it, frankly, in Jesse Ventura's victory. And I saw it in a recent unexpected legislative victory for the cause of campaign finance reform, the exposure to public scrutiny of theretofore secretly funded political action committees, the so-called "527s."


Americans want to be part of the great enterprises of our democracy. They're not all consumed with the vain pursuit of happiness and the accumulation of fortunes and pleasure seeking, but they look to their government -- a government that was created as a living testimony to the conviction that people who are free to act in their own interests will perceive their interests in an enlightened way. They look to their government for the example of how we shall live as one nation undivided by race, or wealth, or creed, in politics, and their government has let them down. We need to do something about that, my friends. We need change and we need it now.


As you all know, I have come to Philadelphia to address another convention, my party's convention. As I said during my campaign, the Republican Party is my home and I believe that among the two major parties, Republicans still offer the best chance for the changes that I feel are so necessary for democracy.


That's why I remained a Republican despite temptations to use other unconventional political means to satisfy my own ambitions. I understand that you didn't come here for the purpose of entertaining overt political appeals by representatives of Republican or Democrat parties. I believe that you believe it is necessary to seek long overdue changes to politics and governance outside the two-party system.

But I believe still, despite our imperfections, that Republicans are the party of reform, and it would be dishonesty by omission if I failed to state my belief clearly to you. Likewise, I am obliged not by party loyalty, but by sincere conviction to urge all Americans to support my party's nominee, Governor George Bush of Texas. I think it's quite clear...



I think it's quite clear that he's the candidate who offers change and that the vice president is the candidate of the status quo. And as most people know, I don't care much for the status quo. Governor Bush and I were in a tough contest, and as everyone knows, we don't agree on every issue, including of course the issue of a complete ban on soft money.

But we do agree on many more issues than we disagree on. We agree on important reforms, reform of public education, entitlement programs, the military, government spending and many others, and we agree completely that the way the public's business has been conducted in recent years, consumed by an almost mindless partisanship, is shameful and offensive to Americans who expect more from their elected leaders.


I am impressed by Governor Bush's approach to repairing an educational system that is currently failing too many of our children, a system afflicted by what he accurately denounces as the bigotry of low expectations. I believe and support his promise to reform Social Security and allow people the freedom to create personal wealth with part of their payroll taxes rather than simply drain a nearly bankrupt system. I fully endorse his support for faith-based institutions as the best means to help those Americans who have yet to share fully in the promise of freedom and to help them secure that most precious of all treasures, the hope that our children will lead better lives than have we.

And I salute him for challenging his opponents to run a positive campaign, to honestly and respectfully debate their differences on the issues of the day without resort to the derision and character assassination that have typified too many political campaigns in modern times. The selfish politics -- if you'd like, I do not need to continue.


The selfish politics of us versus them is, I hope, nearly exhausted. God knows the voters are. My friends, I am a conservative. I am a conservative. I believe...


I believe it is...

(SHOUTING) ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, CONVENTION ORGANIZER: You know, this is the convention where we can hear everything with respect.


MCCAIN: Thank you.

I guess I'm going to have to take Arianna with me wherever I go. I thank you all for -- my friends, I'm a conservative and I believe it's a healthy thing for Americans to be skeptical about the purposes and practices of public officials and refrain from expecting too much from their government. Self-reliance is the ethic that made America great. But healthy skepticism has become widespread cynicism bordering on alienation, and that worries me greatly. Government is intended to support our constitutional purposes, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

When the people come to believe the government is so dysfunctional or even corrupt that it no longer serves these basic ends, our culture could fragment beyond recognition as people seek substitutes for the unifying values of patriotism. We are a prosperous country, but many Americans, particularly the young, can't see beyond the veil of their cynicism and indifference. They can't imagine themselves as part of a cause greater than their self interest, and with every new Dow Jones record, something gnaws at my conscience telling me not to be lulled into a false contentment. This country has survived many difficult challenges: a civil war, world war, depression, the civil rights struggle, a Cold War -- all were just causes. They were good fights. They were patriotic challenges. Now we have a new patriotic challenge for a new century: declaring war on the cynicism that threatens our public institutions, our culture, and ultimately our private happiness. It is a great and just cause, worthy of our best service.

But those of us privileged to hold public office have ourselves to blame for the sickness in American public life today. It is we who have squandered the public trust, we who have time and again placed our personal and partisan interests before the national interests, earning the public's contempt for our poll-driven policies, our phony posturing, the lies we call spin, and the damage control we call progress. And we are the beneficiaries...


And we are the beneficiaries of a campaign finance system that is nothing more than an elaborate influence-peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder.


Most Americans believe we conspire to hold on to every political advantage we have lest we jeopardize our incumbency by a single lost vote. Most Americans believe we would pay any price, bear any burden to ensure the success of our personal ambitions no matter how injurious the effect might be to the national interests, and who can blame them when the wealthiest Americans and richest organized interests can make six-figure donations to the political parties and gain the special access to power such generosity confers on the donor.

Now, my friends, the opponents of reform -- the opponents of reform will tell you the voters don't care about this issue. They are wrong. Most Americans know that something is wrong with the conduct of our public affairs and the way we finance and conduct our elections are at the root of the problem. And we saw the first evidence of that public's disdain has begun to catch the attention of elected officials in the overwhelming vote against secretly financed political action committees. Admittedly, it is a small step, but it won't be the last. I promise you that.


Ask Americans to rank the importance of a soft-money ban and it will not score as high as education, or Social Security solvency, or other critically important crises. But ask them if they're proud of their government. Ask them if they feel their interests are as well represented in the highest councils of our government, as are the special interests. And when they answer no, as they will, ask them how important a concern that is to them, and they will say that concern is amongst the most important issues facing our nation.

My friends, our greatest nation will not forever endure the people's contempt for government, because if the people are not proud of their government, the embodiment of the ideals for which so many Americans gave the last full measure of their devotion, then they won't long be proud of their country. And national pride is as important to the happiness of Americans as is our self-respect.

I believe public service is an honorable profession. I believed that when I entered the Naval Academy at 17 and I believe it still. I've grown old in my country's service and I should not -- and I should be content with a life that is more blessed than I deserve. But the people who I serve believe that the means with which I came to office corrupt me. That changed me and incites in me a desire to defend not just my honor, but the honor of my profession, my government and my country.

For our sake, for our children's sake, and for the sake of an America that remains the greatest force for good on Earth, keep fighting, keep fighting. We'll break that iron triangle yet. I'm in your debt, and I take courage from your patriotism.

Thank you very much. Thank you.


SESNO: And "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" is coming up in just a moment.

But first, in case you're just joining us, a very quick wrap. That was John McCain speaking live at the Shadow Convention about four miles from the Republican National Convention site right behind us here. He showed himself somewhat caught between a political reform and a Republican hard place, as he stood by his reform agenda and said that he and others there should support the Republican nominee George W. Bush, because while they don't agree certainly on campaign finance reform, they do, he said, agree on a number of other issues.

McCain's speech there and what it means for the Republican Party will certainly be coming up in Wolf's discussion with his guests right next on "LATE EDITION," coming at your right now.



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