A silent generation’s warrior proud

Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

—Sen. John McCain, Nov. 4, 2008

In the end, Sen. John McCain gave perhaps his best speech of his campaign in conceding sometime after 11 p.m. last night, immediately encouraging healing the divisions of a long race and pledging to work together with the new president. He quieted supporters who booed the new president, and came off, at long last, as the classy veteran he had been before the Republican National Convention.

In losing, the McCain of old, the honorable statesman, was free once more. It’s weird, but it’s almost like that scene at the end of Return of the Jedi when Luke takes off Darth Vader’s mask and reveals the good man underneath all the harsh exterior. Except for, like, the burning-his-face-in-a-volcano part. And the whiny Anakin-ness of the prequels. And the asthmatic mask. And the choking of the rebel officer. And the always dressed in black like a Morissey fan. And the abject evilness for 30 years. And … well, let’s say we just forget I made this comparison. Move along. Move along. (Though, shit, I wasn’t the only one to think of this comparison, showing that us Star Wars geeks are legion, and I’m not even touching (for now) CNN’s Princess Leia-like hologram.)

Instead, recall that earlier I compared McCain to another venerable senator who tried but fell short of the White House. I meant, and still do mean, the comparison to Henry Clay as a compliment.

It’s odd, but since the Republic Convention in August, we’ve seen an angry, bitter McCain that observers hardly recognized. And this despite, as Christopher Beam noted in two articles on Slate, McCain himself holding back on some attacks (perhaps leaving it to his surrogates, “rogue” or not). As Beam wrote, it almost seemed “there was a hint of repentance about negative campaigning.” Last night’s speech perhaps signals a return to the self-styled Maverick of old, instead of a misdirected candidate and his rogue sidekick.

McCain is still a great hero who merely peaked at the wrong time — removing all other candidates, if you offered me a choice eight years ago between Sen. McCain and then-Gov. George W. Bush, I’d have voted for McCain every day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

McCain’s defeat all but assures that the country will never elect a president from the Silent Generation, the first generation (as defined by Strauss & Howe) that never had its own chief executive. That hardly diminishes the accomplishments of the generation of those born in the middle of the Roaring Twenties through the Great Depression and World War II, the generation of Martin Luther King Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Elvis Presley, George Carlin, Paul Newman, and Sen. John S. McCain.

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

On the other hand, it will remain to be seen what happens to Gov. Sarah Palin. Many in the GOP are touting her as the new star — she surely invigorated her party, if not keying on its best elements — but there are others in her party that would rather the GOP not go that way.

Her actions as a conservative of divisiveness, the Religious Right, and, in many painful ways, outright ignorance do not thrill the intellectual conservative set of of George Will and the late William F. Buckley. She is more like President Bush’s traditional supporters, and we see how well those coattails worked out for the Republicans Tuesday night. On the other hand, if she matures and stops blaming the press and everyone else for her party’s woes, gives up the victimhood and the bitterness, and actually offers real conservative substance, she will be a formidable adversary. I’m not alone in thinking that’s unlikely to happen.

It’s an irony that her speaking ability and magnetism may nevertheless carry her beyond the shortcomings of her beliefs — ironic because that was once the charge (unfairly, as I believe history will show) leveled by opponents at President-elect Obama, though it says here that Gov. Palin is no President-elect Obama.

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