ATLANTA (BP)–Sen. John McCain visited Chick-fil-A corporate headquarters in Atlanta March 7 with Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, calling the Baptist-rooted business a “great American success story” and crediting former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with having conducted an “honorable campaign” for the GOP nomination for president.
In a 20-minute town hall speech, McCain spoke about climate change, taxes, the economy and national security. In a question-and-answer session, he addressed immigration and the war in Iraq, as well as what he’s looking for in a running mate.
In a brief news conference after the town hall meeting, McCain refused to further define a statement he made last June when he referred to the Terri Schiavo case as a “great American tragedy,” except to tell Baptist Press it was “very sad.”
McCain, accompanied by Perdue and Dan Cathey, son of the restaurant chain’s founder, Truett Cathey, a longtime Southern Baptist, stood on a riser backed by a giant American flag in front of hundreds of employees sitting in chairs and standing at railings in a four-story open atrium.
Perdue, a member of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock, endorsed McCain March 3 and, at Chick-fil-A, he described McCain as a man who knows what he believes.
“These are not politically crafted beliefs that he has come up with in the last few months in order to run for president,” Perdue said. “These are deeply held lifelong commitments and principles to this country, to its independence and to its success and prosperity.”
McCain called Chick-fil-A “the great American success story” and credited the corporation for its training and education programs. “The contribution that Chick-fil-A and the Cathey family has made is a marvelous thing,” McCain said.
Running through a litany of tax, health-care and government regulation issues, McCain said later that Chick-fil-A also is an example of how America has one of the “hardest working and most productive” workforces anywhere.
McCain initially took a few minutes to credit each of those he ran against for the GOP nomination with kind remarks, beginning with Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor.
Calling Huckabee “a great, great man,” McCain asked an alert crowd if they paid attention to the Republican candidate debates.
“The greatest line in all of the debates we had is when they asked Gov. Huckabee — who, as you know, is a Baptist minister —- What Would Jesus Do?'” McCain recounted.
“He said, ‘Jesus would be smart enough not to run for public office.’ I thought that was a pretty good line right there. And he ran a very honorable campaign,” McCain told a laughing crowd.
And true to an earlier promise to tell the predictably conservative crowd things they may not want to hear, McCain said he believes climate change is real, but whether it is or not, there is a “nexus” between a dependency on foreign oil and national security requirements and a responsibility to leave behind a “cleaner planet.”
“Suppose we develop these green technologies, we eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, and we reduce and eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions, so we give our children a cleaner planet,” McCain said. “Suppose that the climate change is taking place, that significant changes and damage is being done to our planet today -– and we do nothing. Then what kind of a planet are we going to hand our children and our grandchildren?”
The “real” reason he’s running, McCain told Chick-fil-A employees, is because of an adversary who is so “evil” that it is unimaginable.
“We face a transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism,” McCain said. “And this evil wants to destroy us. They’re not committed to just taking Iraq. They’re not committed to just making sure they control the Middle East. It’s the United States of America they want because they hate and want to destroy every value, every thing we hold dear in the world. And this is a challenge and we will never surrender.”
Citing the incident of two mentally disabled Iraqi young women who were killed when vests loaded with explosives were detonated on them in a marketplace by remote control several weeks ago, McCain asked, “Now how evil is that?”
“If I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama bin Laden,” McCain repeated his oft-quoted promise.
Praising the American military, McCain said he also recognizes that America is divided about the war and frustrated. “I understand that,” he said. “But thank God no American is divided in support of the brave young Americans who are serving our country in uniform today.”
After the speech, several students from Impact 360, a program for students age 18-20 sponsored in part by Chick-fil-A, asked McCain several questions.
One student asked at what point could America claim certain victory in Iraq.
Calling the situation there a “counter-insurgency,” McCain said establishing a “rule-of-law” and a fair judicial system is daunting, but that the progress is “remarkably good.” Still, he said, American troops may be required to provide a “support role.” Further, as in the case of South Korea, Japan, Germany and Kuwait, America may want to have a security arrangement with Iraq which keeps some troops there — “not fighting” and “not in a war,” but as part of an arrangement “after the war is won.”
In a lighthearted moment on a serious issue, McCain fielded a question on illegal immigration.
“Yes, illegal immigration,” McCain joked. “This meeting is adjourned.”
As a supporter of an immigration reform bill that some critics had said offered amnesty for illegal aliens, McCain said the issue is three-pronged.
“It is an emotional issue with America, it’s a national security issue with America,” McCain said, “and it’s also a Judeo-Christian-valued issue with America.”
He said the immigration debate will continue -– but first the borders need to be secured. As for the related issues, they need to be addressed “in a humane and compassionate way,” McCain said. “We’re a Judeo-Christian-valued nation and we will address it in a Judeo-Christian-valued way because we love all of God’s children.
“I hope we know that we have to place our national security requirement first, and that’s our first and foremost priority first, but I also think we have to address it in a way that we can look back years from now and say we’re proud of the way we handled this compelling national security issue,” McCain said.
To a student’s question about reciprocating John Kerry’s invitation in 2004 to become his vice presidential nominee, McCain answered, “We are fellow veterans. But we have very vastly different philosophical, fundamental political views. I respect those views. I just totally disagree with them. He is as he describes himself as a liberal Democrat … and I am a conservative Republican. So when I was approached and we had that conversation back in 2004, I mean that’s why I never even considered such a thing….”
In another question about what he thinks is important in a running mate, McCain said he had not yet begun the process, but said a VP’s priorities should be in line with his own.
“So I would want that individual not only to share my values and principles and vision but also [my] priorities,” McCain said.
On the tone of the campaign thus far, McCain commented that Americans want “a respectful debate in this country. They are tired of the mudslinging. They are tired of the character assassination. I will have respectful debate with either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama, but I will also tell you, there will be stark differences. We have very different views of the role of government in America.”
In the brief news conference, Baptist Press asked McCain in light of his position on the sanctity of human life and his position on “judges who … legislate from the bench,” to clarify comments he made last year about Congress’ intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. He told MSNBC, “It’s an American tragedy.” Baptist Press asked McCain to define what he meant by that.
“It’s very sad when you see a situation such as this, it’s very sad, I think just by looking at the situation it was a terrible situation and one that probably the state should had handled in retrospect and it was a very sad, sad situation and moved all of us who are — and the plight of this situation moved every American,” McCain said.
Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama said during a debate Feb. 26 that he regrets his 2005 vote allowing Congress to get involved in the case involving Terri Schiavo, the severely disabled woman from Florida who died of starvation and dehydration after nutrition and hydration were discontinued.
Obama made the comments during a Democratic debate with Hillary Clinton. Both were asked if there were any words or votes they’d “like to take back.” Clinton cited her vote authorizing the war in Iraq; Obama, his Schiavo vote.
During a debate last year, Republican John McCain called the matter a “very, very difficult issue” and seemed himself to have some regrets.
“All of us were deeply moved by the pictures and the depiction of this terrible, tragic case,” McCain said. “In retrospect, we should have taken some more time, looked at it more carefully, and probably [we] reacted too hastily.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.