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July 19th, 2012
02:15 PM ET

My Take: McCain takes down Bachmannism and stands up for America

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN)–One of Sen. John McCain’s better moments came in a 2008 campaign stop when a woman told him that she couldn’t trust Barack Obama because he was an Arab. Taking the microphone away from her, McCain said, “No ma'am, he’s a decent family man (and) citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

He had another great moment this week, when he stood up on the Senate floor to defend Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, against McCarthyesque accusations leveled against her by his Republican colleagues.

It all started on June 13 when Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, and four other Capitol Hill legislators — Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Trent Franks, R-Arizona, Thomas Rooney, R-Florida, and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Georgia — sent letters calling on five federal agencies to investigate an alleged plot by Islamists to infiltrate the hallowed halls of the U.S. government.

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“It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood,” Bachmann told radio host Sandy Rios in June. “It appears there are individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have positions, very sensitive positions, in our Department of Justice, our Department of Homeland Security, potentially even in the National Intelligence Agency.”

One of these individuals, in her view, is Abedin, a Muslim-American and top Clinton aide who was called out by name in a letter to the State Department.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, called on Bachmann to provide evidence for her smears. She responded with a long letter that Ellison dismissed on Anderson Cooper as “16 pages worth of nothing.”

In his remarkable Senate speech, McCain blasted Bachmann for spreading “vicious and disgusting lies” against someone he described as “an honorable citizen, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.”

“These sinister accusations rest solely on a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations of members of Huma’s family, none of which have been shown to harm or threaten the United States in any way,” he said. “These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis, and no merit. And they need to stop now.”

But McCain did more than defend a civil servant he described as a “friend.” He rightly spoke of American values as well.

“What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity,” McCain said. “When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”

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Instead of being chastened by criticisms of her “McCarthyism,” Bachman doubled down in response, charging on her website on Wednesday that the Obama administration “appeases our enemies instead of telling the truth about the threats our country faces.”

Still, it is McCain’s language that resonates.

Throughout our history we have had politicians who trafficked in fear. But alongside this ugly and divisive tradition stands a great tradition of conciliation—of voices who put the interests of the country over their personal interests and the interests of their party. This week, as on the campaign trail in 2008, John McCain was one of those voices.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Bachmann • Church and state • Culture wars • Islam • Middle East • Opinion • Politics • Prejudice • United States

soundoff (404 Responses)
  1. Lean6

    I'm glad that McCain saw political value in taking this stand...it needed to be said. I still think McCain is like a horrible lip sync'er though. I don't believe he crosses Bachmann without some political motivation. He shown his true colors too many times to fool me.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  2. jony

    McCain is just another RINO and I guess thats why the liberal media sticks up for him, to the rest of us conservatives he will always be a pansy sellout

    July 29, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  3. J100409

    Welcome back Sane McCain: we moderates have missed you!

    July 27, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • ezequiel gonzalez

      In reality i do not miss McCain. He is a good man, but very shallow in his ideas. The left is complaining that the right is acting like Senator MaCarthy bycalling liberals communistS, , MuslinS anti-Americans, etc. However, they are calling Conservatives KKK SYMPATIZERS, PRO HITLERS, ANTI MUSLINS AND ANTI BLACKS.. i AM WONDERING WHICH OF THESE GROUPS IS WORST

      July 28, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  4. howcanitbe

    I may not know all the factsd but I do know these letters were not an indictment of any sort. The did not accuse. They were just a inquiry asking for an investigation. Remember, Abedin was assitant editor for Islamist Journal. Her mother, Dr. Saleha Abedin, is a member of the Muslim Sisterhood, the Brotherhood’s female counterpart. She serves in the Bureau with the wife of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s new Brotherhood president. She is also a member of the Muslim World League, which terrorism expert Andrew McCarthy describes as “the Muslim Brotherhood’s principal vehicle for the international propagation of Islamic supremacist ideology.” The organization she leads, the International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child, is part of the Muslim World League. Its charter is written by Brotherhood leaders including Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, an open supporter of Hamas.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  5. WWRRD

    McCain would have made a good President. He really screwed up by picking Palin. It's a good thing Bachman lost. She is as looney as it gets.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • dcross07

      Agree completely. McCain is the heart and soul of what I consider a "good" politician and American citizen. He stands up for common sense. I didn't vote in the last presidential cycle because I didn't believe in Mr. Obama's ability to help the country or Mr. McCain's dubious choice for VP. If he had pick anyone else, I believe he would be the current President and would make a fine one. As it is, we are still on a 34 year slide in decent Presidents and will not recover on this cycle for sure. I cannot believe that these 2 gentlemen are the best that America has to offer. Neither represents the America I love and want to see for my children!

      July 27, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  6. t3chn0ph0b3

    Bachman and her cohorts should be expelled from Congress for egregious ethics violations. No more McCarthys. Ever.

    July 25, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  7. Big_D

    Why doesn't somebody shoot her in the face? That's right, the crazies are all in her own party.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  8. donner

    The only live campaign event I ever attended was an appearance by John McCain in 2000. I took my daughter along. At that time I had a lot of respect for the man. But I'm afraid after the Sarah Palin debacle, John would have to send every American citizen $10000 just to get back to even. And that is tragic.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • WWRRD

      Yes, The campaign process currently requires candidates, especially Republican ones to cater to the right wing nuts. McCain did it using Palin, and now Romney is when he takes that stupid hard line on illegals, and when he renounces his track record on reforming healthcare in Massachusettes.

      Once they do this in a big way, they completely lose the middle and independent vote in the general election. There won't be another Republican President for a long while. Not while Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Nichelle Bachman, Paul Ryan and others are in Congress. American are too afraid of giving the White House to these nuts while these folks are in office.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  9. Ivan

    Welcome back McCain. We've missed you

    July 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • kaylene Hughes

      This is the John McCain I voted for last election. Come back – run for President.

      July 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      I voted for Obama, and will again. I can't blame you for missing McCain. I almost feel sorry for "normal" conservatives these days. I think many who disagree with Obama, ( said "normal" conservatives who just lean that way politically but don't base everything on hatred for the president) will just not vote. It must be miserable, reading news about Romney every day, hearing the stuff from the Tea Party. My dad voted republican for decades, but that was a different party. Many republicans will vote for Obama, or WON"T vote for Romney because it's too disgusting for them. Well, we are going to take back The House, and keep the Senate and the White House, and you guys can have some time to form a new party, because the old GOP is dead and gone, and the new one is NUTS. I ALMOST feel sorry for you.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Think Instead

      This is the John McCain I might have voted for.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  10. MissB58

    Did anyone notice that she is very adamant about the "deep penetration" of the muslims in the US? I think she has more on her mind than Muslims. She is probably running empty and needs sum lovin'.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  11. Hugh Jass

    Too little, too late, Grampa McCain. You should have stepped on these people when they were still larvae. Now they are full-grown stinging insects.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      If one gets a sting, and there's nothing else available, one puts some mud on it for relief. I'm glad that those of us on the Left are finally slinging some mud and not being overly dignified in our ads, as in decades past. These right wing nut jobs deserve to lose everything, they are trying to kill our democracy. I DO like the entomological metaphor.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  12. Hugh Jass

    This election has been a disaster for the GOP. After the embarrassment of not being able to put forward a decent candidate and having to settle for Mitt because he wasn't Cain, Perry, or Bachmann, they can't get him a VP or make him stop talking. Admitting he only went to NAACP to enrage the Tea Party was the worst thing he could have said short of pretending Condi Rice had agreed to be VP. I don't see them ever winning the White House again after this "Mitt, Cain, and Bachmann are all competent in our eyes" thing has gone down. They'll get some senators and congressmen, but not the prize.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  13. nena

    Bachmann and the rest of the ignorant goof balls should be sent to the hottest and farthest desert on the planet. They have no place living among the honest, decent folks. She is full of air, what a screw ball. The republicans should be ashamed of themselves, voting people to Congress like this dangerous woman is scary and dangerous. She, Palin and Romney, Newt and Limbaugh, and the Fox News sickos and many Republican politicians are a disgrace to our country. Reps. L. Gohmert, R. Tex, Trent Franks, R Arizona, Thomas Rooney, R Florida and Lynn Westmoreland, R Georgia should be kicked out of office for good. They are the kind of people that incite anger and hate. They are not qualified to be servant of Americans.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Solo

      I'll grant you the fact that Republicans have not been putting forth their best in the past few years – McCain was the last, decent hope of that – but, please don't make comments about American patriotism – Obama won't even produce a birth certificate. It'll all come out in some Oprah interview ten years from now how he couldn't because of some racial agenda or something. Spare me.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • midwest rail

      " Obama wont even produce a birth certificate. " Delusional idiocy.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      Ummm, he already has produced a birth certifcate and the State of Hawaii has said it is valid and that he was born in Hawaii. Sorry, I forgot that one fat white dude in Arizona and another in New York with bad hair aren't satisfied...

      July 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "Obama won't even produce a birth certificate." Are you crazy? His birth certificate was on file all along.. Really, you make yourself look stupid by saying stuff like that, and it's why your party is running a liberal Mormon this year instead of someone who could actually challenge the president: too many of you are Tea Clowns.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Alex

      Obama has produced his birth certificate, both short and long forms. He's produced newspaper clipping from Hawaiian newspapers announcing his birth-authenticated by CONSERVATIVE professionals able to authenticate forgeries. In the history of it's statehood, Hawaii has NEVER produced the long form of a birth certificate, but did so, at the request of the President, to try to put this ridiculous smear campaign to rest.If you don't understand this, then I suggest you research it yourself. It's just frightening how misinformed some truly are.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Fed Up

      It was not the State of Hawaii that declared his citizenship- it was one person making the declaration – and the "long form" you refer to was a faxed copy. Hardly solid evidence.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  14. BANNY THE B

    MCCARTYISM IS BACK AGAIN AND ONCE AGAIN THE ICON ON THE FAR RIGHT; ANTI MUSLIM, ANTI JEWISH

    WITH A FETISH THAT ONLY FAR RIGHT CHRISTIANS ARE TRUE AMEICANS.

    AS A FORMER ARMY VETERAN THIS IS NOT WHAT OUR DECEASED MILITARY MEN & WOMEN FOUGHT FOR

    IN WORLD WAR 2. ARE WE LOSING ALL SENSE OF TOLERANCE FOR RACE, RELIGION & CREED?

    July 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Why are you yelling at me?????

      July 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • LinCA

      @BANNY THE B

      You'd be taken more seriously if you turned off your caps lock.

      Just one question. How can you be a former veteran?

      July 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  15. Hugh Jass

    Is Bachmann's outburst a calculated attack on the Democrats in an election year, or has she really slipped over the edge into full-blown schizophrenia? And you gops wanted to run her for PRESIDENT? Why are the Republicans so hateful?

    July 24, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  16. tesa

    THIS is the John McCain that should have won the Presidency. This is the guy who was worth supporting. ... Not the one who showed up on the campaign trail backed by haters and Nazis. Too bad. He's a good guy.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      What's the difference between Bachmann and Palin? Is he anti-Palin as well?

      July 24, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      The GOP has been taken over by those "haters and Nazis" "YOU PEOPLE" let this happen to your own party. Fix it yourselves. We will take back the House, keep the Senate and the White House, and see if you're ready in 4 years.
      This all reminds me of the commercial for cheese, about letting it "mature."

      July 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  17. donner

    These same men dined with Mitt Romney on Plant Kolob during the celebration of Joseph Smith's 51st marriage.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  18. Davis

    Two former participants in the CIA’s Mars visitation program of the early 1980’s have confirmed that U.S. President Barack H. Obama was enrolled in their Mars training class in 1980 and was among the young Americans from the program who they later encountered on the Martian surface after reaching Mars via “jump room.”

    Andrew D. Basiago, 50, a lawyer in Washington State who served in DARPA’s time travel program Project Pegasus in the 1970’s, and fellow chrononaut William B. Stillings, 44, who was tapped by the Mars program for his technical genius, have publicly confirmed that Obama was enrolled in their Mars training class in 1980 and that each later encountered Obama during visits to rudimentary U.S. facilities on Mars that took place from 1981 to 1983.

    Their astonishing revelations provide a new dimension to the controversy surrounding President Obama’s background and pose the possibility that it is an elaborate ruse to conceal Obama’s participation as a young man in the U.S. secret space program.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Anne

      I've not followed the entire discussion since the article was posted, but WHAT does your comment have ANYTHING to do with ANYTHING??....

      July 24, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Davis

      Read the article again. The hints are there.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Whewre exactly is the evidence to back up your post?

      July 24, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      Cool story, dude. Lay off the LSD for a while, ok?

      July 24, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Andre

      Did you guys not understand that Davis is making a satirical point with his story? ROFL Good one bro.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Jules

      If Stillings is 44, he would have been 12 in 1980. Nice try, though. Loosen the aluminum foil helmet a little bit to restore circulation.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  19. Lew

    The vast majority of beliefs of many Americans, and virtually ALL Republicans, are rooted in simplistic and usually incorrect black and white interpretations of complex situations, which are composed of many shades of gray but almost no black, or white. For sure there are some people in America who support Muslim extremism, I know a few decent folks who are as hate filled as Bachman and the Tea Party – and like her their hate is baseless – aimed at Americans who would be worthy of hate – except they don't actually exist outside the minds of some fools who happen to be Muslim. Not one of the ones I know would condone violence, but they also make excuses for the violent few, again on the basis that those people are responding to abuse by Americans – and again that abuse doesn't really exist, except when hate filled fools like Limbaugh or Backman propound their weird fantasies.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Mike

      Wow. Your arrogance is astounding. Absolutely astounding. Try reading that drivel back toy yourself while thinking "What qualifies me to reach these conclusions?"

      July 24, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      Simple answers suit simple minds, man. When you try to tell them it's not simple, their eyes glaze and they snore. They prefer stuff like "aliens took it" or "all black people are lazy" or "all Republicans think alike." You know what I mean?

      July 24, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Andre

      Well-said, Lew.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  20. Small "c" christian

    Once upon a time, politics was considered something of a honorable calling. Some people rose to the occasion sufficiently to be called "statesmen", people whose impact on society far outstripped their foibles- whatever they were- and earned them the admiration of friends and indeed, of foes. History has also shown us that these men were often better at their job than we thought at the time, as well
    Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, JFK, FDR, Truman, each had detractors while in office, but in the end, they were honorable to their country, which some today cannot claim. Self-aggrandisement has become the order of the day, as has a newer phrase- "career politician". And a "career politician" is someone who's only interest is in getting themselves elected, re-elected, and re-elected ad nauseum. These folks are only interested in themselves, and it shows when people like Michelle Bachmann manage to stick their nose in front of the media time and time again.

    America needs a statesman again- someone who puts the needs and concerns of America first, not the needs of a few "influential" contibutors whose only real interest is in owning the office. But has the current, ugly, "bought and paid for" version of politics become so entrenched that we can't fix it? That is the question...

    July 23, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • david mann

      Didn't you hear? The Repugnicants declared "The Blowfish" (AKA Donald Trump) the "Statesman of the Year". THAT'S how seriously lacking the Republicans are for any concept of what you're talking about. Can we fix it? Not if we keep electing clueless morons like Bachmann and (Gomer) Gohmert. People need to consider the consequences of their vote.

      July 25, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Joe

      He caused the deaths of 600,000 soldiers when our country's population was 20,000,000. That would be 9,000,000 deaths in todays figures. He made no reasonable offer to bring the Confederate States back into the fold. The scars of that war lasted 100 years, and there is lingering ill feeling about it today. I, talking about Abraham Lincoln, the single most over-rated president in our history.

      July 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.