McCain Ends “Classy”

Now that the campaign is over, can John McCain be noble again?

Remember back in September, when Time’s Joe Klein, in a post titled, “Apology Not Accepted,” blogged:

Back in 2000, after John McCain lost his mostly honorable campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he went about apologizing to journalists—including me—for his most obvious mis-step: his support for keeping the confederate flag on the state house.

Now he is responsible for one of the sleaziest ads I’ve ever seen in presidential politics, so sleazy that I won’t abet its spread by linking to it, but here’s the McClatchy fact check.

I just can’t wait for the moment when John McCain—contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat—talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.

Well, that “moment” has come. And it seems several of Klein’s peers have already accepted McCain’s… concession speech.

James Fallows at his Atlantic blog Tuesday night:

An extremely classy speech by John McCain

Would things have been different if we had seen more of this man during the campaign? We will never know. But all congratulations and honor to him for comporting himself this way at this time.

A wonderful moment for America, which McCain did absolutely nothing to diminish. (The booing yahoos in his crowd are a different matter.) Going out on a high note.

James Surowiecki, at his New Yorker blog:

I don’t quite understand how this is possible, but in giving his concession speech, and particularly the part of it that dealt with America’s history of racial oppression, John McCain was about as good a public speaker as I’ve seen him be throughout the entire campaign. No problem reading from the teleprompter, no weird smiles, no awkward pauses. He actually sounded like he meant it. And his line about how being an American was the connection that meant more to him than anything else was, I think, genuinely moving.

Of course, there is one way in which this makes sense. McCain, it’s always seemed to me, is at heart someone who loves the idea of what the Japanese call the “noble failure.” I don’t think his campaign was noble. But his farewell was.

At Reason, Matt Welch blogged:

McCain’s Classy Concession

Aside from the speech’s almost astounding graciousness, note McCain’s visceral disgust at the anti-Obama/Biden sentiments in the crowd….

And from Tina Brown’s Daily Beast column:

Last night President-Elect Barack Obama gave America back its idea of itself. Just by winning he restored the nobility of a dream that has inspired the world for 230 years…Even McCain seemed a different man when he conceded. Noble again. A Man of honor. The curse of this campaign has been lifted from him too.

Ending “classy” (President Bush’s chosen adjective, too). “Noble again.”

And it’s not just the northeastern media elite feeling this way.

A reaction to McCain’s concession speech from the heartland (Kansas City Star):

If only McCain had been this classy on the campaign trail, he may have had a better shot at winning the presidency.

And, from across the pond (Telegraph):

Welcome Back The Real John McCain

John McCain just showed what a class act he is with a truly moving concession speech. It was a taste of the old McCain, a figure I suspect we will see a lot more of in the weeks and months to come.

Of course, McCain’s gracious concession speech is only notable because it contrasts so sharply with the sad and shabby campaign that he chose to run. Five classy minutes should not expiate several months’ worth of name calling, insinuations, and intellectual dishonesty. Honor cannot be worn like a jacket, to be slipped on and off as the situation dictates. John McCain irrevocably ceded his moral high ground during the course of his campaign, and the press should realize that one good speech doesn’t change that. Joe Klein has it right: Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.