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. Mandor

    I have enormous respect for McCain's integrity. Particularly for that campaign moment in the 2008 cycle, that the author quotes at the top of the article, when he said "No ma'am, he is a decent family man", etc. And I do respect the long years he put forward to campaign finance reform, even if it feels like the supreme court ganked all of his efforts there.

    But the main problem if I have with Sen. McCain, is he is a rabid interventionist. We are not the world's police; we can't afford to be, and the world doesn't even WANT us to be. Still, every time I turn around, McCain is championing another cause overseas in a conflict that does not threaten the United States in any way. and where we are not bound by any form of mutual defense pact. Worse is that it never seems to end. If he was for intervention in the boom years and help back some during major recessions I could work with that. But I think he would be so sure of what is RIGHT that he would never allow real-world consequences and limitations to enter into his private world, not until reality made it all come crashing down in front of him.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Your Name Here

      I suspect that Senator McCain is somewhat more sensitive to what he perceives to be "enemy aggression" than most of the rest of us due to his extended 5 year residence at the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam war. I also think that makes him a person of very strong character. I may not agree with everything he says and thinks, but I have tremendous respect for him.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  2. The King

    But this fossil never met a war he didn't want to jump into, or a war he was on the winning side of either. This curmudgeon has been on the government dole his entire life, he needs to stay in AZ and live off of his 3 monthly government checks.
    John McCain, King of the welfare queens.

    July 22, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  3. cc

    I didn't agree with McCain's policies in 2008 but I always respected him. In 2012 I not only disagree with Romney's policies but I find it very difficult to respect him-and impossible to respect most of his supporters.

    July 22, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Drakicus Poppistratious

      I am not A republican but I am A American, Some of you say very bad and dis-respectable things about John McCain , but the turth is John McCain is A American Hero. There are A very few great men like hem left in this Country, we do not have to agree with everything he say, but we should respect hem for everything he has done for the good our Country and he has done A lot. Now tell us, what have you done for your Country that's worth mentioning?

      July 22, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • donner

      What have I done? I point out to people how stupid they are. If you had been in Arizona the last time McCain ran for the Senate, and heard what he said to win, you would have the same amount of respect for him that I have. Which is zero.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  4. Jim

    That's the John McCain I thought I knew and would have voted for, if only that guy had run in 2008.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  5. Pris

    Take a look at John Stewart's piece on this subject. He connects Bachmann to the muslim brotherhood in one step – by a campaign donation by a bank that supports them. She tries to connect through somebody, who knows somebody who had an organization that kinda supported the MB. She and every person who signed that letter need to step down immediately.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Your Name Here

      John Stewart, now there's a reliable source to quote! Idiot!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • badPolitx

      @yourNameHere ....... Jon Stewart can run rings around almost ANY politician as well as ANY pundit out there!
      He is far more relevant than FOX! Idi0t!

      August 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  6. t3chsupport

    McCain would have been worth voting for if he wasn't dragging that slag around with him at the time. Palin totally killed it. She overshadowed any sense he made with complete, ridiculous tripe. She killed that campaign. I think Obama has done fairly well for as much opposition and obstructionism he's faced, but I think we could probably also do well with McCain... as long as he knows how to pick a VP that won't lead us to our doom if he kicks the bucket unexpectedly.

    I'd most certainly vote for McCain before I would EVER even consider voting for Romney.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  7. donner

    Now if he will come out and denounce right wing excrement like Hannity and Beck,we may have something.

    July 22, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Robert McCabe

      He should declare himself a liberal Democrat.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • chick fil a reservation

      donner party of four er three er two

      July 22, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  8. mmi16

    It seems we have the Idiot Brother & Sisterhood in Congress. Talk about lose wingnut – Bachman is fully nuts and hasn't a wing to fly on, maybe a broom, but definately not a wing.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:25 am |
  9. Reality

    As noted previously:

    McCain is probably correct but:

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? And what drives today's 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror?

    The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means. Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.

    Until then, no Muslim to include Ms. Abedin can be trusted anytime or anywhere..................................

    And no doubt Homeland Security keeps a watchful eye on said assistant.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Rickey

      Obviously you have never picked up a Quran let alone read it. the Quran itself doesn't preach or advocate violence on people. However check the Iman (minister, leader, teacher) out and his book of truths or guidelines. My point is that many religions have another book, ask the Mormons, Catholics etc. The problem isn't the book but instead the teachers that are very aware of how to incite and make themselves more important that the true message. They take advantage of their followers. It has happened in these groups as it has in Christianity. What Bauchman did was a bit of McCarthism that our country should not visit again.

      July 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Reality

      o "Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." (Surah 5:51)
      "Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons...he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home..." (Surah 8:12-)

      "Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God's religion shall reign supreme." (Surah 8:36-)

      "...make war on the leaders of unbelief...Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them..." (Surah 9:12-)

      "Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]...until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued." (Surah 9:27-)

      "It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it." (Surah 9:31-)

      "If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men." (Surah 9:37-)

      "Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home." (Surah 9:73)

      "Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9:121-)

      "Say: 'Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom..." (Surah 17:111)

      "'How shall I bear a child,' she [Mary] answered, 'when I am a virgin...?' 'Such is the will of the Lord,' he replied. 'That is no difficult thing for Him...God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!...Those who say: 'The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,' preach a monstrous falsehood..." (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

      "Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him...He has given you the name of Muslims..." (Surah 22:78-)

      "Blessed are the believers...who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)...These are the heirs of Paradise..." (Surah 23:1-5-)

      "Muhammad is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another." (Surah 48:29)

      "Shall the reward of goodness be anything but good?...Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents...They shall recline on green cushions and fine carpets...Blessed be the name of your Lord..." (Surah 55:52-66-)

      July 22, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Reality

      o On the koranic passages and world domination:
      "Mohammed could not have known the size of the world, but several passages in the Koran show that he envisioned Islam dominating all of it, however large it might be: “He it is who sent his messenger . . . that he may cause it [Islam] to prevail over all religions´(Koran 9:33, M.M. Ali; see also 48:28 and 61:9). M.M. Ali designates these three passages as “the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam in the whole world.”

      Mohammed’s successors, the caliphs, quoted passages like these to inspire Muslim armies as they advanced out of Arabia, imposing Islam by the sword upon a peacefully unsuspecting Middle East and North Africa, as I described in the previous chapter.

      Islamic armies, imbued with what Mohammed claimed was divine authorization, imposed Islam by force over vast areas, all the while extorting wealth from subjugated Jews and Christians to fund their ongoing conquests. As I noted, major defeats at Tours, France, in A.D. 732, and again at Vienna, Austria, in A.D. 1683, halted Islam’s attempt to take all of Europe by force. Gradually Islamic forces were forced to retreat from Europe, except for part of the Balkans. But Islam has again set its sights on a conquest of Europe and of European civilization, wherever the latter has spread to North and South America and other regions. Muslim strategists ask their followers, Why do we find in these modern times that Allah has entrusted most of the world’s oil wealth primarily to Muslim nations?

      Their answer: Allah foresaw Islam’s need for funds to finance a final politico-religious victory over what Islam perceives as its ultimate enemy: Christianized Euro-American civilization. So, Islam follows Nazism, fascism and communism as the world’s latest hostile takeover aspirant.

      Nazis, fascists and communists failed. Does Islam have a better chance at success? I believe it will flounder if we awaken to its threat in time; yet, if there is not adequate planned resistance, Islam does have a better chance of succeeding. Communism’s world takeover attempt was guaranteed to fail because its economic policy was naively contrary to human nature. Advocating the rubric What is mine is thine, and what is thine is mine, communism failed to see that human nature will not keep those two balanced propositions in equilibrium. Like

      a female black widow spider consuming her mate, the latter part of the formula makes a meal of the former, leading to the collapse of any system based upon that formula.

      In contrast, political systems do well if they can persuade people to adhere to What’s mine is mine and What’s thine is thine maxims.

      Only if a strong religious incentive is added does such an idealistic formula have any long-term chance. Even then success will be spotty. But communism (and Nazism, for that matter) excluded religion. And that mistake was the final nail eventually clamping a lid on communism’s coffin. Communism, on a historical scale, perished while still in its childhood.

      Islam is not repeating communism’s mistake. Mating political cunning and incredible wealth with religious zeal, Islam does have a chance to succeed and will succeed unless major parts of the Western world unite to take appropriate countermeasures. But many Western leaders, unable to believe that a mere religion could possible be a serious political threat, keep proclaiming themselves as Islam-friendly, reasoning that all religions are good-aren’t they?

      A Muslim strategist in Beverly Hills, California, declared several years ago, as quoted by a friend of mine: “Now that the struggle between Western democracies and international communism is winding down, it is time for the real and final struggle to begin, and we are going to win!”

      Don Richardson

      July 22, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  10. 66Biker

    So he has his moments of being a gentleman. Big deal... He's still a Republicon wingnut. Don't forget that he choose Sarah Palin for his running mate when he ran for President in 2008. That's about as wingnut as you can get. But he is honest when he speaks (at least once in awhile, as much as it pains the Republicon Party) I will give him that. Recently he said that he picked Sarah Palin over Mitt Romney for his Vice Presidential candidate in 2008 because she was "the better candidate." So in that roundabout Republicon way, he's saying that he thinks that Mitt Romney is such a bad candidate that even Sarah Palin is a better choice without coming right out and saying that...

    July 21, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • frs

      Nonsense. I don't agree with McCain's politics and it sounds like you don't either. Nevertheless, he is a standup guy. Always has been straightforward and shown courage when supporting what he thinks is right for the country. Just because you disagree on politics does not make him less than honorable.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  11. 1812overature

    Being a Democrat it is rare that you will see me thinking kindly of a Republican. However, Senater John McCain still ranks as an officer and a gentleman in my eyes. Thank you for showing respect to our President, and thanks also for defending Huma Abedin Deputy Chief Of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. You Sir, happen to be an honest and honorable citizen.

    July 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • keithgreysr

      Agreed! Despite subjecting us to Sarah Pain, Sen. McCain is still "an officer and a gentleman" and represents the best of American values, especially when he speaks out against the McCarthyism that is so rampant in the GOP.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  12. Fladabosco

    PS: Bachmann is an idiot!

    July 21, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  13. Ryan

    McCain should run for president

    July 21, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  14. CtEd

    Mccain was a great public servant before he ran to the right in 2008, then he got wacky, but now it seems he;'s back to his old self. If had stayed his old honorable self he'd probably be president.

    July 21, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Fladabosco

      I think you are so right, I'm not the type to vote for Republicans but I might have voted for him. But he seemed to have changed.

      I respect and thank him for his service.

      July 22, 2012 at 3:48 am |
    • Linda K

      I think there are probably millions of people in this country who would have voted for McCain if he hadn't sold his soul to the GOP and let them force Sara Palin on him. I KNOW I would have voted for him, and I'm a left-leaning centrist. My respect for him would reappear in a heartbeat if he would go back to his "Maverick" ways and stand up to the insanity that has become the Republican Party.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 21, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • PAUL


      July 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  16. PraiseTheLard

    To correct Ms Bachmann, it appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Christian Brotherhood,

    July 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Cheese Wonton

      There is, in fact, a Christian organization operating within the halls of Congress called The Brotherhood that is a Christian organization that preaches to people in power. Find out who Abram Vereide was and who Doug Coe is today. Find out who created the National Prayer Breakfast. They are every bit as scary as the Muslim Brotherhood and wield tremendous influence in our government.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  17. Donald in CA

    I give McCain credit, he hasnt went totally off the rails like his right wing racist friends. When people of color become the majority, its coming, i hope they show the white right how to behave.

    July 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  18. ja-coffalotte

    McCain was a bad pilot and a disaster for the State of Arizona.

    July 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  19. socalgal

    Go ahead and admit it...you elected the wrong man.

    July 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Fladabosco

      Hmm, you can't mean Bush since he wasn't elected.

      Allow me to imagine what a McCain-Palin White House would have brought us, projecting from what happened during the years of Republican majority in Congress and the Bush/Cheney error of 2005-2009: the banks would now own 50% of the wealth of the country. We would have wars in Venezuela, Iran and anywhere else there is oil. The debt would be 10 times GDP. Unemployment would be at 25% and unemployment benefits would be cut to 2 weeks. Health care costs went up per person almost 50% during those 4 years so the average cost for a family of 4 would be at $19,000 per year.

      So yes, in 2004 we elected the wrong man. Poor Obama is getting blamed for what Busg/Cheney/Congress did to this country and while I don't always agree with what he has done, it's NOTHING compared to the damage done by his immediate predecessor.

      July 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • JohnK

      Why, because he showed a fundamental decency and called out one of the Republican's many extremists? It just shows you how low the rest of your party has fallen.

      I didn't hear anything from Romney and most other Repugs on this issue.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  20. donner

    Only gutless stinking filth would vote for a cult member that wears a magic diaper 24/7. Elect a Mormon as president and Jesus Christ will reach down and wipe America off the face of the earth.

    July 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Mormonism is just as valid as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any of the other made-up religions that have been used to control the feeble-minded for millenia.

      July 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Fladabosco

      Anyone who hold up ancient scripture as absolute truth in the face of obvious facts is foolish, whether they wear a turban, robes, a tailored suit or overalls and rattlesnakes.

      July 21, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Linda K

      Mmm, I wouldn't vote for Romney for dog catcher, but IF he wins, it will be interesting to see if your prophecy comes true. If so, we won't have to worry about anything at all, will we, because Jesus, being the vindictive SOB that you believe him to be, will wipe us all out. Problem solved! I love you religious fanatics – you're such easy targets.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:50 am |
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