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A Study in Contrasts: McCain and Obama on the Wall

2:12 PM, Nov 11, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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It is always interesting to see how these two respond to the same event. In the case of the fall of the Berlin Wall, both Obama and McCain delivered remarks -- Obama, via video, to the assembled masses in Berlin, and McCain to the students at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (what a difference a few million votes make). Obama never mentions the words Russia or Soviet Union. As Ed Morrissey writes, to hear Obama tell it you'd think "there was some vague tyrant that used to oppress eastern Europe but has since receded into the mists of history."

Neither did Obama mention any other president besides, of course, the references to himself. Obama gave a "shout out" to Joe Medicine Crown (indeed an impressive WWII vet) before his remarks on the Ft. Hood massacre the other day, but he didn't give any shout outs in his Berlin remarks to the great men (and women) who made that wall come down. As Scott Johnson writes,

Omitted from the remarks, among other things, is any mention of the Soviet Union or Communism, Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher or Pope John Paul. Obama neither decries the villains nor salutes the heroes of the story. Rather, Obama celebrates himself. He is an agent of destiny. He is the fulfillment of history.

You can watch the video of Obama's speech here. Then read McCain's speech, the full text of which you can find after the jump. McCain gave shout outs to people like Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl, and Margaret Thatcher. He praised Democrats like Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Scoop Jackson. And he remembered Ronald Reagan, "whose message of solidarity with the oppressed carried into the coldest gulags of the Soviet Empire, and who stood before the bleakest symbol of the Cold War and told Mr. Gorbachev to tear the awful thing down."

McCain went on,

In retrospect, this all seems unobjectionable. But I can assure you, my friends, it was anything but. Some objected because they thought America had no right to preach moral values when we failed to live up to them ourselves at times. Others objected because they felt the most America could do for human rights was to lead by example, but not take sides on the internal matters of other countries. Still others objected because they saw issues of morality and human rights as secondary to the real business of foreign policy - to the trade-offs, and deal-making, and interest-seeking of the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be.


We heard all of these arguments back then, and we hear them again now - for this great debate over human rights and foreign policy is as old as America itself, and it continues to this day. I know the Bush Administration spoke a lot about freedom, and democracy, and human rights. But that does not make them dirty words, and it does not make them ideas unworthy of our support today. Quite the contrary. The good thing is, America's long-running debate over whether, and how, to support human rights offers a lot of lessons to guide us at present. I'm just old enough to remember some of them, so I'd like to suggest a few of these lessons to you today.


Most important is this: The United States has a special responsibility to champion human rights - in all places, for all peoples, and at all times. Why us? The answer, I think, is simple: It's who we are. Human rights - the right to life and liberty, to the protection of property, and to rule by the consent of the governed - these values are the core of our national creed. And it is fidelity to these values - not ethnicity or religion, culture or class - that makes one an American.


And yet, human rights are not just American values; they are universal values. We embody them, but we do not own them. We think it should not be just the purpose of our government, but of all governments, to protect human rights. And when we see rulers who violate the basic rights of their citizens, it offends a sense of justice in us that we believe is shared by all people, regardless of their differences. It leads us to demand better of governments, for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. Since America's earliest days, human rights have shaped not only who we are, but how we conduct ourselves abroad. And this should never change.