During his 2000 presidential race, John McCain first denounced the flying of the Confederate flag in South Carolina, then reversed himself, saying the flag was a “symbol of heritage.” On June 16, 2008, John McCain characterized that flip-flop as an “act of cowardice.” I suggest that the same label can be applied to many of McCain’s actions and omissions to this day.
Three days ago, Georgia Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland called Barack Obama and his wife “uppity.” Westmoreland claims he had no idea “uppity” was a racially charged term and has refused to apologize. Similarly, in 2000, John McCain initially refused to apologize when reporters revealed he had repeatedly used the term “gook.” When he finally repented for the “gook” comment three days later, McCain said, “I apologize and renounce all language that is bigoted and offensive, which is contrary to all that I represent and believe.”
But McCain’s renunciation of bigoted language does not appear to extend to denouncing those who use it. So far, I can find no report of John McCain or his campaign denouncing Westmoreland or demanding an apology. Instead, I’ve found multiple instances in which John McCain has supported or accepted support from other Republicans who made similarly incendiary racial comments:
- In February 2008, John McCain accepted the endorsement of George “Macaca” Allen
- In 2005, John McCain endorsed George Wallace, Jr., who spoke to a racial hate group four times
- In 2005, John McCain called Trent Lott “the finest leader we’ve had” — even after Lott was pilloried for wishing Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential campaign had succeeded
- As Hesiod has noted, in 2008, John McCain’s campaign paid $52,000 to a political consulting group called Richard Quinn and Associates. According to the Nation, in 2000, Quinn was responsible for dressing up “McCain volunteers in Confederate Army uniforms as they passed fliers to the demonstrators assuring them that McCain supported the Confederate flag.”
We’ve all committed our own acts of cowardice. Every day, millions of otherwise decent people of all backgrounds silently listen to friends’ racist jokes, fail to challenge the hateful actions of a teacher or boss, and back down before bullies. McCain’s admission of his own cowardice could have become a genuine act of leadership — he could have used it to inspire others to resist their own callow impulses and do the right thing.
But by remaining silent while members of his party smear his opponent with racial code words and by continuing to employ a political consultant who helped him embrace the Confederate flag in 2000, John McCain makes a mockery of his penitence and fails as a leader.
In short, in his own words and by his own standards, John McCain condemns himself as a coward to this day.
A version of this post was originally published at AsiansVote.com.