Last week’s Republican National Convention heard plenty of testimonies to John McCain’s character.
Indeed, while the frenzy over Sarah Palin’s selection as the party’s vice presidential nominee may have dominated media coverage of the gathering of the Republican clan, almost every speech from the podium — including Palin’s own — vouched for the honor and decency of the party’s presidential candidate.
Most of the speeches were predictable recitations of the senator’s military record, topped with equally predictable recollections of the days when he was something of a political maverick. Even McCain got into the act, delivering an acceptance that was a lot longer on biography than ideology — let alone any kind of domestic agenda.
Because the Republican nominee and his supporters have throughout the current campaign relied on personal history rather than practical policies to advance his candidacy, the getting-to-know-McCain speeches added little if anything to the narrative of a convention where all the excitement seemed to be generated by Palin.
McCain needed better testimonials.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party’s militantly right-wing base — which McCain fears more than any nominee since Gerald Ford in 1976 — left no space for them.
A good testimonial does not recount known history; it tells listeners something fresh about the man or woman in question, something unexpected and redefining. By that standard, the best statement on behalf of John McCain that I heard last week was not presented from the podium of the convention that nominated him.
It was not even heard in the hall.
The finest testimonial on behalf of the Republican nominee for president came in a speech delivered far from the convention center by former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, a man who has known McCain for decades and had something meaningful to say about the senator.
Addressing a gathering at St. Paul’s University Club, where gay and lesbian Republicans had convened their Log Cabin Club event, Kolbe offered a heartfelt, at times emotional, endorsement of McCain.
McCain, Kolbe recalled, was the first political figure to whom the former congressman revealed that he was a gay man.
The revelation came when Kolbe learned that he was about to be “outed” in a magazine.
The veteran Republican congressman, who had for decades struggled to keep his sexuality a secret, was scared and unsure.