Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) slammed “half-baked, spurious nationalism” as “unpatriotic” as he accepted the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal in Philadelphia on Monday evening.
The annual award bestowed upon “men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe” went to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) last year; previous recipients have included the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Clinton and Muhammad Ali.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, chairman of the National Constitution Center’s Board of Trustees, presented the medal to his former Senate colleague. “John McCain is the real deal,” he tweeted. “A model public servant. And my dear friend.”
President Obama did not attend, but tweeted to his 2008 presidential rival, “I’m grateful to @SenJohnMcCain for his lifetime of service to our country. Congratulations, John, on receiving this year’s Liberty Medal.”
During his speech, McCain thanked Biden, whom he’d known more than four decades — “back when we were young and handsome and smarter than everyone else but were too modest to say so.”
“We served in the Senate together for over twenty years, during some eventful times, as we passed from young men to the fossils who appear before you this evening,” he said. “We didn’t always agree on the issues. We often argued – sometimes passionately. But we believed in each other’s patriotism and the sincerity of each other’s convictions.”
McCain said he’d “try my best not to prove too unworthy” of the Liberty Medal.
“I’ve had the good fortune to spend sixty years in service to this wondrous land. It has not been perfect service, to be sure, and there were probably times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help. But I’ve tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I’ve been repaid a thousand times over with adventures, with good company, and with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America. And I am so very grateful,” he said. “What a privilege it is to serve this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent country.”
The senator called America a land “where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president,” and one that has “liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history.”
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” McCain continued.
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said he’s “served America’s cause – the cause of our security and the security of our friends, the cause of freedom and equal justice – all my adult life,” but “I haven’t always served it well. I haven’t even always appreciated what I was serving.”
“I’ve been inspired by the service of better patriots than me. I’ve seen Americans make sacrifices for our country and her causes and for people who were strangers to them but for our common humanity, sacrifices that were much harder than the service asked of me,” he added. “And I’ve seen the good they have done, the lives they freed from tyranny and injustice, the hope they encouraged, the dreams they made achievable.”