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. amax66

    Public employees at one time were called "civil servants". Public civil servants should be limited to a maximum of six (6) years of service at whicch time government employement would be terminated this would help to eliminate life long bureaucrats and big retirements and unions, also, for investment/retirement pay into a 40lk 50-50, health benefits would be employee only with additional employee payment for family.

    August 24, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  2. TomPaine

    Thank you, Senator McCain, for the sanity. And if it had been there when you made your VP pick in 2008 I probably would have voted for you.

    August 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  3. PsychicHazard

    Senator McCain,

    You're an individual I disagree with politically. I didn't care for you when you ran, after eight years of Bush II there wasn't a way in hades I'd have voted for you. I lumped you in with every other right-wing-christian-conservative blow-hard. In doing that, I did you a disservice. I don't care for your politics, but I've in the last year or so gained -great- respect for you as a politician and a human being. Out of the members of your party, you've taken consistent political stances and to my surprise, have been a strong defender of both human dignity, and basic civil discourse. I owe you an apology, and give you my thanks for remaining a decent, if politically different, human being.


    August 19, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  4. Phil

    Great quote by McCain in the 4th paragraph from the end. Read it again and really that anyone who says that must support gay marriage, right? Right?

    August 13, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Phil


      August 13, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  5. danielwalldammit

    You can divide the world into people who support Bachman and those who have sense and decency. Denouncing her should be minimal standards, not something that earns particular respect.

    August 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  6. Doug

    If I were Michele Bachman I would worry more about my gay husband than I would Clintion's secretary.. this pos has no shame at all.. Go away Bachman, we've heard enough.. !!!!

    August 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  7. jony

    You don't have to sell conservatives on the right to disagree...we live by it. Focus on the liberals they are the ones qick to demonize when someone holds a different view than their own

    August 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      Lol, Bachman is trashing a woman's career for her own gain, but you want us to know that liberals are the ones who demonize. Do you actually give a damn about anything you pretend to care about?

      August 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Satire right?

      August 14, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Dion

      Well last i checked some (not all mind you) conservatives love to denounce logic, science, and decency. And bachman is an example of all three. in a lame attempt to get votes and continue the train of fear, she attemts to railroad a woman simply because she is a different color. And i bet she kind of person that BELIEVES what she is saying.

      August 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  8. mike

    She is insane and so is her Gay husband. When he finally comes out or is outted by one of the people he tries to "convert", it will be awesome. Pray the Gay away!

    August 10, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  9. badPolitx

    Bachmann is bat$h1t crazy! One of the most ineffective people on the hill. Only fear and lies keep her in the spotlight. When she becomes irrelevant, she has to do something nutz to get back in the spotlight.
    Thank You, Jon McCain for saying the appropriate thing! I take back what I said in 2008.

    August 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  10. david mann

    Bachmann is an extreme religious, right-wing fanatic, and is just as dangerous as any Muslim extremist. I can't understand how she, and her soul-brother "Gomer" Gohmert, could ever get voted into office. I understand that racism is still present in America, but It's embarrassing to me as an American that there are that many ignorant voters in the US that would allow ANYONE as stupid as these two to hold office. Listen to either one of them for more than 5 minutes and it's obvious that they are both dumber than dirt.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  11. Bruce

    Nix-on Romney!!!

    August 7, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  12. Bruce

    I don't know why that I continue to be appalled by the lies and dirty tricks that the Republicans are using in their campaign... they have been doing it for decades!!!

    If you can't beat them then join them!

    The old proverb, "If you can't beat them, join them", was adopted by the Mafia years ago. The Mafia couldn't beat government so the Mafia joined government! The old Mafia, now being a part of government, now call themselves "Republicans"!

    August 7, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  13. JP

    i applaud mccain for standing up to the extremists in his party, they do need to gtfo and fast

    i am also very relieved that mccain is not president, all the video links below this one lead me to believe that if he was president we would have boots on the ground in iraq, afghanistan and syria, which we would not need

    August 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  14. Greg

    As much as I dislike Bachmann and her bunch of idiots, she has a point in this case. Has anyone here actually read the requests for Inspector General Investigations or the response letter? Has anyone commenting here read the transcripts of the trial referenced in them? They conclusively demonstrate (prove in fact) a concerted effort by muslim extremest to attack our beliefs and our laws. The Muslim brotherhood fronts and supports terrorist organizations. They state, without reservation, that Shariah law trumps US law within the US. Why does a person, with clearly disqualifying relationships, have a security clearance? Ask the question yourself. McCain needs to let the process play out, let the grownups do their jobs and see what comes of it.

    August 3, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Ed

      Whatever relationships may or may not exist, they are not "clearly disqualifying" or she wouldn't have the job. We don't practice guilt by association in this country. Well, at least most of us don't.

      August 4, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • JP

      huma is married to a former new york congressman, to level charges of her working for the muslim brotherhood is absolutely rediculous to say the least and bachmann definately owes her an apology for her insensitive and racist remarks, it is incredibly frightening that we are seeing discussion about this garbage

      August 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  15. anthony

    I LOVE YOU JOHN!!!!!! The Maverick strikes again. Why cant more republicans be like John McCain? This just goes to prove that John McCain is one of that last republicans with a Brain.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Joe

      Obama loves McCain too. The Democrat Party loves McCain. When has a worse candidate ever secured a nomination for a political parthy. This guy is pathetic. Now he's running around trying to get us into another war. He's never seen a war he didn't like. What are his qualifications? That his plane got shot down? I'd rather support a man whose plane didn't get shot down. Maybe it's the time he spent in a prisoner-of-war camp.

      August 3, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Greyman


      Mitt Romney.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  16. Adam

    Respect to Mr.McCain. I disagree with many of his policies, but he has more class then most up on the hill.

    August 1, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  17. ladyhawke

    I am impressed by McCain. He hit the nail on the head about what makes this country great. Too bad loonies like Bachmann, Gingrich, and the like are more concerned with fanning the flames of hatred, than in keeping this country heading in the right direction.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  18. Athiest

    Respect to McCain for not stooping to Bachman and other GOP level.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  19. skytag

    I don't think McCain would have made a good president, but he is a very honorable man and I respect him for having the courage to stand up for what's right, and for having the good sense to know what's right.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  20. Randall "Texrat" Arnold

    Michele is sure not doing Romney any favors with this!

    July 31, 2012 at 12:30 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.