Remarks of President-elect Barack Obama – as prepared for delivery
Bipartisan Dinner Honoring Senator John McCain
Monday, January 19, 2009
I’m here tonight to say a few words about an American hero I have come to know very well and admire very much – Senator John McCain. And then, according to the rules agreed to by both parties, John will have approximately thirty seconds to make a rebuttal.
But in all seriousness, on this night, we are glad that the days of rebuttals and campaigning are for now behind us. There is no doubt that throughout the summer and the fall, John and I were fierce competitors who engaged in a vigorous and sometimes heated debate over the issues of the day. And in a great democracy, this debate is both healthy and necessary.
But what is even healthier and more necessary is the recognition that after the season of campaigning has ended, each of us in public life has a responsibility to usher in a new season of cooperation built on those things we hold in common. Not as Democrats. Not as Republicans. But as Americans.
And there are few Americans who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain. It is what he has strived for and achieved throughout his life. It is built into the very content of his character.
I could stand here and recite the long list of John’s bipartisan accomplishments. Campaign finance reform. Immigration. The Patients’ Bill of Rights. All those times he has crossed the aisle and risked the ire of his party for the good of his country. And yet, what makes John such a rare and courageous public servant is not the accomplishments themselves, but the true motivation behind them.
It has not been a quest for fame or vanity that has driven this man. It has not been the need to compromise for politics’ sake that has shaped his distinguished career. It is rather a pure and deeply felt love of his country that comes from the painful knowledge of what life is like without it.
Few of us can imagine what John endured during the days he spent in that lonely prison cell, but perhaps we can imagine that surviving such an ordeal provides a unique and renewed perspective about what is important and what is not; about what is worth fighting over and what is not.
We can imagine that the pettiness and bitterness and immaturity that often pervades our politics seems even more unworthy of our country from this perspective; that the incessant bickering and partisanship for the sake of scoring a few political points seems even smaller. And what seems bigger and more worthy of defending are those ideals we hold in common as Americans: liberty, equality, and opportunity.
Those are the ideals that John has spent and risked his life fighting for, and his example is one for all of us to remember and to follow as we seek to defend those ideals against the common threats to our prosperity and our security.
So I’d like to thank John for all he’s done and ask him to come join me on stage for a moment.
Thank you, John, for your service to America and the service you will continue to render in the months and years ahead. And I’d like to close by asking all of you to join us in making this bipartisan dinner not just an inaugural tradition, but a new way of doing the people’s business in this city. We will not always agree on everything in the months to come, and we will have our share of arguments and debates. But let us strive always to find that common ground, and to defend together those common ideals, for it is the only way we can meet the very big and very serious challenges that we face right now. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless America.