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. Scratch

    What in the hell is the "National Intelligence Agency?"

    July 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  2. Kittyg

    Time for McCain to get lost! I voted for him in 2008 because I believed him to be the lesser of 2 evils! Sick and tired of voting on that basis! He's just as much a Socialist, mamby pamby as any of the Congress today.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Scratch

      Do you disagree with what he said in this particular speech?

      July 23, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  3. Jane

    I voted for McCain because of he was this type. I hated him catering to the far right to get elected. It seemed the one time in his life he lost his integrity. I am so glad to see him back in form because I have a lot of respect for him.
    I will vote for Obama this November. I still wish McCain could have won though. I kind of think he would have steered us to the middle and the big backlash bringing in so many right winger that happened 2 years ago would not have happened. I don't dislike Romney but I think his policies are really wrong and he is just not enough of a maverick and centrist that McCain is.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      "You People" (ha ha ) let this happen to your own party. Now we will stay in charge. The GOP used to be an adversary, maybe even correct on a few issues. Now, it's THIS ......this.......this thing it has become. I'm a DEM, this is "you people's" mess, so clean it up. We'll see you in a few years, (and we'll keep running the country until then.)

      July 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  4. Grim Reaper

    Huma-Congressman Weiner's wife? think about it. Bachman and her gaggle are nuts. Ellison is a do nothing tax dodger from my district.

    McCain is the only class act in the joint. Odummy sure isn't.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  5. TomH

    "No drama" O-bomb-a isn't even one percent the man and person McCain is. Kick ass, donkey or elephant, and he does it with great eloquence to boot. Denied the presidency twice by those few that knew he would (rightfully) kick theirs, makes me sick and angry still ...

    July 23, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Cynthia L.

      I'm an Independent and WAS leaning toward McCain for Pres., BUT then came Sarah Palin's hatefulness, Joe the Plummer the dumber, forgetfulness about how many homes he owned, his turn-around support for torture, his hawkishness for war, war, and war. Even today, while I admire that he is standing up against boorish Michele B., he turns around and wants us to jump right into Syria. Glad I voted Obama. Will again.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  6. lilred

    I did not vote for McCain and I disagree with him on many things. But I have to applaud his prinicipled rejection of prejudice. I wish there were more of his ilk on both sides of the aisle. If there were we might get something done.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Solo

      McCain is stubborn yet sophisticated, even at his age, and was our best hope for real leadership in the White House – how this country decided to elect a junior Senator with next to nothing for experience and questionable citizenship, is beyond me (let's all thank the You Tube generation and the society soccer moms for their racial guilt.) McCain chose unwisely for his Veep role and it cost him the election – but not his class, dignity, or strength. He could have left Vietnam due to his family connections, but chose to stay and suffer horrible things at the hand of an enemy – because he did not want special favor and believed in staying with his comrades. Do you think Obama would have done something similar? Not a chance. He's already demonstrated as much lying and greed as he berated Bush for.
      I'm not a huge Romney fan, but anything is better than Obama. McCain should be running this country – and it's sad he is not.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  7. Maria Carvalho

    John McCain is a man of high principles, the kind of Republican I used to know. It is encouraging to see someone speak for sanity and civility. I will never cease to wonder why he made that surrealistic VP choice. He was my choice for president.
    But then, the Tea Party hapenned. How can a aprty go so wrong in such a short time?

    July 23, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  8. Jason

    Religious Studies is just another word like "spiritual". This person doesn't really have an beliefs. Now about John McCain. I do believe his is a man of honor. However it seems like he feels like we need to be the worlds protector. The reality is that Syria isn't our friend and never will be. This isn't nice but the longer this goes on the better it is for the US. We don't need to get involved here. Just look at how well our involvement went in Egypt. Now the Muslim Brotherhood controls things and p.s. they hate our guts. Not sure that wasn't Barry's plan all along.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Cynthia L.

      Give Egypt time and they will tire of the Muslim Brotherhood. Besides, it's their country and they can vote in whomever they want, when they want now – that's freedom to choose. It's a process, they will make mistakes and they will overcome them when they see that they can throw the bums out if need be. That's what free elections are for.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  9. nytw

    McCain is a hard left liberal who is a disgrace to America.

    July 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • JakeMarley

      McCain was a candidate of the left wing media cabal, led by that arch-liberal Limbaugh. What do you expect for a guy from the state that brought us Barry Goldwater?

      Things are getting better, though. One of the few growing jobs in America today is blogging for the new mainstream, where we recognize that anyone claiming to be a 'centrist' isn't even qualified to be a RINO. "In your heart, you know we're Right !"

      July 23, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Your Name Here

      nytw, you're a hard left idiot who is a disgrace to America!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  10. colspan

    McCain has dabbled with the far-right nutjobs, and it arguably cost him the Oval Office. Bachmann's a completely paranoid lunatic who shouldn't be eligible to hold a seat in Congress.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  11. Mary

    Bachmann is such a loose cannon in Congress. She is in such fear of everything and anything I'm surprised that she has the strength to leave her house. Hopefully there will be efforts for censuring her and get her out of politics all together.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Michael Murphy

      Oh Make no mistake she is not afraid and knows exactly what she is doing. She is using fear and posturing to try and keep in the news because she is up for reelection. She, like Glen Beck make money off people's fears and lack of knowledge, using their positions to lend credibility to their lies and innuendo's. She needs to go back to her home never to be heard from again

      July 23, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  12. Mike

    This finally shows the difference between what "was" the Republican Party and what it has become under nuts like Bachmann and the other Tea Party candidates who are tearing the GOP and this country up with their craziness. We3 need more GOP members standing up for what is right and not get caught up in what the Tea Party wants. "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!!"

    July 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  13. Dee

    Wish I had voted for McCain in 2008! Sorry now, but WILL NOT make that mistake again. Enough Obama!

    July 23, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Mike

      Do you really think Sarah Palin is that far different than Bachmann????

      July 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Michael Murphy

      I did vote for McCain and sorry I did and would not vote for any of the Republicans today. They are all crazy and only serve the wealthy and seek to sell this country to the highest bidder. Especially Romney, He is a coward that refused to fight in Vietnam but was in favor of sending other men there to die, What a creep

      July 23, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  14. Hypatia

    Now if only someone could tell the old coot that getting involved in other people's wars is not good for anyone...

    July 23, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  15. CityGirl

    Yes but he is terrified by the NRA. Why will he not stand up to these people and talk sense about assault rifles?

    July 23, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • Dan

      They have GUNS.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  16. JG

    McCain, if you hadn't had that crazy woman as your running mate four years ago you would be president today, and I know I at least would have voted for you. I'm sorry things worked out this way.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:38 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 23, 2012 at 4:48 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!|.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Brent Slensker

      Prayer is quite a bit like doing NOTHING....

      July 23, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  18. Bob Ramos

    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.

    The most evidence that the GOP is trying to ignore these jerks is that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said "Hell No" to their request for hearings on this matter.

    July 23, 2012 at 4:43 am |
  19. cachead

    The trouble with McCain is his penchant for diving into every military skirmish in the world. Every once in a while he returns to the maverick he once was, but he is just too much in the pockets of right-wing of his party.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:52 am |
  20. Cheese Wonton

    The irony few seem to be aware of was that the patriotic Ms. Bachmann took Swiss citizenship just last May. She has no right to lecture anyone on patriotism or loyalty to the US. Frankly, she is the one who should be run out of government as untrustworthy.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • Brent Slensker

      And the Swiss took her?/ I doubt they'd get along....

      July 23, 2012 at 11:04 am |
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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.